Monthly Archives: November 2016

Leaving COP22

cop22-marrakechI am in the Madrid airport waiting to board my flight to Philadelphia. It was a good, but exhausting week in Marrakesh. One thing that became very clear to me is that people all over the world, from scientists to religious leaders to community organizers are working to find solutions to climate change. Some are working on mitigating the rise in temperatures. Some are working to remove carbon from the air. Others are helping people adjust to the epic changes in the environment. But the recent American election was a pall on the whole community. Only America has leaders who deny there is a problem and who are working to make things worse rather than better.

On the last day of COP22 I went to a very interesting session on the work of faith communities toward climate justice. They argued that climate change is a peace issue since the stress on the environment will lead to violence as people are forced to migrate and compete for scarce resources. The Pentagon is very aware that global warming is a threat to peace and security.

Two of the presentations were very helpful to me. One drew upon the recent history of transitional justice to address how to move forward. Many countries in the 20th century had civil wars or oppressive regimes that were devastating to the people. Crimes were committed and people wanted the perpetrators to be punished. But that would only prolong the violence and would force the guilty to hide their culpability. South Africa under Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela pioneered a process of Truth and Reconciliation that gave amnesty to the guilty if they revealed the extent of their crimes.

lion-made-of-tires-cop22The speaker argued that something similar could be done to deal with climate change, but on a global scale. Some countries in the Northern hemisphere are guilty of having done the most damage to the world. Much of this damage was done before climate scientists knew the effects of industrialization and can be dismissed as ignorance. But for the past 20 years there has been overwhelming evidence that the climate is changing because of human industry. And there have been many powerful people who continued to profit from industries that are threatening the lives of a billion people.Even those of us at the COP contributed to global warming by flying to Morocco! The truth needs to be acknowledged but the threat of retribution makes it hard for the guilty to participate in creating a more hopeful future.

The other presentation was by a Quaker representative who spoke about the “quiet diplomacy” she has been involved in with the national negotiators. They had dinners where they could speak freely off the record. Often the negotiators are constrained by nationalist politics and cannot publicly disagree with their governments. But they spoke freely about their grief and fear. The speaker argued persuasively that people are more willing to participate in addressing climate change when their human rights are respected. As we work to reverse the damage done by burning fossil fuels, we must also care for those whose livelihoods are affected. This needs to be seen as the top national priority for all nations since all nations will be affected. She said, “We are the problem, but we are also the solution.” A scholar in the audience responded to the papers by stating that what needs to happen is that we reclaim a sense that the earth is sacred. Why is that so hard for American Christians?

The earth is the Lord’s

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This is a picture of a mother bear and her cub who became stranded on an ice floe. They could no longer hunt for food because they were at sea. This is what climate change looks like. This is just part of the damage that we are doing to the world. These two creatures of God starved a few days later.

For nearly 300 years Moravians have used daily watchwords from the Bible as part of their spirituality. The texts for each day are chosen in Herrnhut more than a year in advance. I was wandering around the COP22 exhibitions yesterday (Nov. 17) when I received the texts for the day in my email. They were perfect for the occasion:

Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. Deuteronomy 10:14 (NASB)

Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. Romans 1:20

One of the most distressing things for me in the recent election is that so many Christians voted people who deny climate change and who believe that humans have no responsibility to care for the earth. I have found that many Christian churches, including the Moravian Church do not place the doctrine of creation at the center of their theology, but the Daily Text reminds us that the earth is the Lord’s. This world is God’s creation and God loves the world.

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I meditated upon these texts while looking at the NASA display of carbon in the atmosphere. Most of that carbon came from humans burning fossil fuels and other things. Some of it is from the wildfires that have increased because of climate change. The earth is the Lord’s and yet we are covering the skies with greenhouse gasses and ruining the health of the planet.

It is sinful to mar God’s creation wantonly and without regard for the harm that we do. We Christians are called to love God and love our neighbors. Surely that includes taking steps to address the climate change problem even if it means that we need to change our economy. It is time for Christians to repent. If our politicians do not lead, the people must.

Wandering and wondering in Marrakech

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I walked several miles around Marrakech today, in part because I was lost. I wandered far from the tourist zone and walked past shops where men were repairing cars and other items. I was angry and frustrated for awhile and then reminded myself that I was in one of the great cities of the world and it was a beautiful day with blue skies. Eventually I found the Souk just off the main square – Jemaa el-Fnaa. It is a medieval labyrinth filled with shop after shop. Many of the people were selling spices and dried herbs. But they also had oils, perfumes, soaps, pottery, jewelry – you name it. I wandered deep into the souk into the area where people buy their poultry (hanging up in the window), meats, eggs, and vegetables. The fish stalls did not improve the smell, but around the corner there were fragrant spices. It was hard to pass through without buying anything, but I managed it.

When I came out of the souk I found I was at the Bahia Palace, which I had gotten lost trying to find. It is a large, 19th century palace with lovely mosaics. Every doorway is a work of art. For some reason it reminded me of King George’s little place in Brighton Beach. After the palace I had a large lunch sitting on the square. I was disappointed there were no snake charmers or other performers, but the king does not always get his wish. 2016-11-16-12-09-54

After lunch I went to the baths for a hamman, which is a special Moroccan form of steam bath. It is a square room with a ceiling that comes to a point. The walls are heated. I’m so broad it was hard to lie on the bed without touching the walls. Just when I thought I couldn’t take the heat any more the attendant came in and gave me a scrub with sea salt. Felt much better than I expected, but it left me feeling a little raw. So I really enjoyed the goo she covered me with after. Slimy, but aromatic. I chose the one with grapefruit in it. After another long time in the heat, I showered and was led to a room to recover with mint tea and water. Then it was time for the massage, which was just perfect after my long walk. All this for only $70!

2016-11-16-17-55-24I felt so great after the hamman and massage that I went to a shop I had seen on the first day. Mufasa still had my business card. We drank tea and he helped me find presents for the girls in the family. And then we went upstairs to the rugs. Mountains of rugs. Berber, persianesque, arabic. They showed me about a dozen. They were all too expensive, but we finally made a deal on a Berber rug and all the presents. I’m sure he got the better of the deal, but it seems to be a reputable place. And it fits in my suitcase. A fellow from the shop gave me a ride home on his Vespa carrying the rug. So I got to do something I really wanted to do, which was to cruise through a foreign city on a Vespa.

Tuesday at COP22

Today was the day that the heads of state arrived at COP and all of the high level folk gathered for ceremonies and meals and speeches. I’m just a lowly observer with a RINGO and so I spent part of the morning viewing the displays. I had a long chat with French marine biologist who had a display on the effects of carbon on the oceans. She was surprised that I was interested in the topic and actually knew something about what is happening as the oceans grow more acidic. [Thanks to the New Yorker magazine and Elizabeth Kolbert!] I told her that I am a theologian, not a scientist, and I am very concerned about the oceans.

The seas have already absorbed enormous amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, which has the positive impact of reducing the greenhouse gasses, but the carbon in the water is reacting to the calcium in  sea shells producing acid. Not only does this weaken the shellfish, the acidity of the water threatens all forms of life in the seas. It is accelerating the death of the coral reefs. The marine biologist gave me a video and more information, but what she really wanted to talk about was why I was at COP and asking about the oceans. I told her that I think climate change is a theological and ethical issue. God used the oceans to bring all things to life and the oceans continue to be the source of much of our existence. It is no wonder most of the world’s population lives by the sea. We talked about how many Christians in the US voted for Donald Trump who has vowed to end the US involvement in the struggle to protect the climate. She knew that Pope Francis has come out strongly in favor of the effort to reduce carbon emissions and was surprised that so many Catholics voted the way they did. I explained that many voters were concerned only about outlawing abortion and not about the cataclysm that will accompany the rising sea levels, the toxicity of the oceans, and the increased numbers of tropical storms.

I accompanied Diane Husic, the dean of Moravian College’s new School of Health and Natural Sciences, to a meeting at Cadi Ayyad University. It was sponsored by the RINGOs and focused on the role that universities can play in helping countries build capacity for addressing the effects of climate change. It is not enough to do research and write papers. Is there some way that universities in the industrialized nations can work with universities in those countries that are already suffering the effects of climate change in joint efforts to address current problems while working for long term solutions? It was pointed out that universities are among the oldest and most sustainable institutions on the planet, but most universities currently do not have robust research agendas that can help with climate change. A representative from Uganda proposed that a new consortium be created so that universities can play a greater role in implementing the Paris Agreement.

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I introduced myself as a theologian, which caused some heads to turn. There were a few non-scientists in the room, including an Italian professor of social work, but I was the only theologian. I spoke with a man from Uganda after who was very interested in getting the Christians of Uganda working to address climate change. He asked why this is so hard for churches. My response was that churches have tended to focus on personal salvation and personal well-being – or the wellness of the congregation. Christian theology has not paid as much attention to Creation and the ethical obligation to care for creation as it has the doctrine of redemption. I am trying to change that in my church, but it is difficult. My friend Rick Sides started an Eco-Camp for young people in North Carolina, and some of the pastors in the Moravian Church were opposed to it. They felt it was not Christian enough even though the refrain for the week is “The Earth is the Lord’s.”

This evening I walked from our house to the old city (Medina) to have a Moroccan meal. As I was walking there were motorcades, police cars, and heightened security for all of the heads of state and other dignitaries at COP22. It was rather exciting seeing the various military, security, and police uniforms. I hope their meetings went well. My dinner was lovely.

COP22

2016-11-14-12-05-25This morning my colleague Hilde Binford and I walked from our rented house to the COP22 conference. The walk was about a mile further than we expected and we got a bit sunburned on the way. And by the time we made it through security and got our badges, it was 11:30. Since we hadn’t eaten since the night before (or had coffee) we decided to head straight for the onsite food places. Before long I was sitting down to a plate of sushi, which seemed appropriate at such an international conference.

The conference is an amazing tent city, with tents the size of small warehouses. I have been to lots of conferences in my life, but nothing like this. I am simply overwhelmed by the organizational skill it takes to manage a conference on this scale. I have been to several international conferences, but never to one that is so truly international. The presidents of most of the African nations will be here this week along with high ranking officials from most of the countries that signed the Paris Agreement and Kyoto protocol. I am not accustomed to simply being an observer at a conference and watching serious people intensely engaged in their conference work while I can wander to and fro attending sessions and viewing displays.

The exhibition tents have displays from many different countries highlighting the effective ways that they are addressing the problem of carbon emissions. Solar farms in Qatar, for instance. The United States exhibit includes information from NASA. They are using satellites and the international space station to gather data and images that clearly show the increased carbon in the atmosphere and the rising temperature of the world’s oceans. They have used satellite imaging to find illegal logging camps in Latin America. One of the most beautiful displays was digitally enhanced film of all the world’s oceans where you can see the currents flowing with different water temperatures. NASA makes this information freely available online for anyone in the world.

2016-11-14-13-17-51Morocco seems to be an incredible host. At the second session I attended Princess Lalla Hasnaa of Morocco spoke. She is President of the Mohammed VI Foundation for Environmental Protection and is the sister of the current king. Apparently Morocco is one of the major drivers of the global climate initiative, and everywhere I go I see solar panels. The heads of UNESCO and UNFCCC also spoke at that session. One of the speakers talked about the importance of education in helping people recognize that the problems of the world are their problems. He was not talking simply about putting climate change information in the science curriculum, but the important role that the liberal arts play in helping people think critically and engaged other cultures and people with empathy. A presenter from MIT spoke on the need for education that changes the hearts and minds of people. He has developed workshops that are not focused on numbers and charts but which engage people in simulations so that they can participate in the process of lowering emissions. It is what he called visceral education.

Representatives of the youth delegates to COP22 presented a strong plea that climate change information be included in all school curricula in every country at every level of education and that the scientific information be readily available in every country. Most of the discussion was about making this information accessible in poor, rural countries that do not have access to advanced technologies. The youth treated climate change as a human rights issue because we are affecting the world they must live in. I think Brexit and the US elections show how little people over the age of 55 in industrialized nations really think about the world that people under the age of 30 will have to confront.

What depressed me was the fact that in my country this information is readily available, but school boards and now even the federal government try to keep it out of school curricula. The whole world is coming together to combat climate change while the United States continues to resist the overwhelming scientific evidence that the globe is warming, the climate is changing, and carbon emissions are the primary cause. One presenter researched the effect of education on people’s view of the environment and willingness to change their behaviors. He found that in almost every country the higher a person’s educational level the more aware they are of climate change and how to prevent it. The one exception is the United States where the most educated people are radically polarized in their view of the science and the need for action.

After leaving the education session I saw a man with virtual reality equipment and I talked Hilde into letting us try it. He was working with the Red Cross and Red Crescent on developing interactive computer software to teach about climate change and its impact on natural disasters. The software also shows people why it would be better to gear disaster relief funds to prevention and proactive measures rather than having to respond to disasters after they have happened. I’ve never used virtual reality and I was very impressed with the experience. I did a program on the melting of the Arctic Ice, and I am sad to say that I correctly predicted the rate of the rise in temperature in the Arctic over the next 30 years and when the ice would be all gone (2050). The guy developing the software was really nice and so glad that he had people to show off to. Hilde and I thought of several ways to use this technology in teaching at the college level, and he also told us about the many new Indie computer games that teach people the effects of their actions socially and environmentally. He was certainly the highlight of the day.

We topped off an exhausting day with an early dinner at a French restaurant, complete with wine and creme brule!

Marrakech

Sunday, Nov. 13, 2016

I arrived in Morocco about 1 p.m. this afternoon. I am here for the COP22 meetings sponsored by the UN. COP stands for Conference of the Parties, which means the countries that have agreed to address Climate Change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is the 22nd such meeting since 1994. At the Paris meeting last year most of the world’s nations agreed to the Paris Accords that set the goals for each country to reduce carbon emissions. I am here with faculty and students from Moravian College who are primarily observing and learning at the conference. We are one of the RINGOs – Research and Independent Non-governmental Organizations. It is exciting being part of such an enormous international conference, but already the American presidential election is the major topic of discussion. Donald Trump has vowed to pull the US out of the UNFCCC, especially the Paris Accords, and to cut all funding for combating climate change.

It is now 8 p.m. in Morocco, and I am worn out from traveling. Julie took me to the Philadelphia airport for my flight across the Atlantic to Madrid yesterday afternoon. It was only a six hour flight, but then there was a three hour layover before the flight to Marrakech. I slept a little on the planes. It took a while to find the house we are renting, but eventually the cab driver found it, and I was glad Hilde Binford was here to let me in. We walked about a mile to the old walled city and had a very nice Moroccan dinner and wandered in the the shops.

I am very excited and happy to be here. I have always loved Moroccan food, art, and culture, but this is my first visit. The people are so beautiful and so friendly. Many people have congratulated me on the election even though they would have rather that Hilary won. They are mainly impressed by the peaceful transfer of power America has every four years. I am trying not to worry about what the new president may or may not about the environment and focus on learning what I can at the conference while also enjoying this beautiful city.