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.

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