Copenhagen: Jesus with a bullhorn
By Michael Schut
[Episcopal News Service] Imagine you are home. Not necessarily the place where you lay your head to rest each night, but the place that feels like home in your bones, in your heart.
Remember the laughter, the tears; maybe the snap of the fall air flushing your cheeks, the hammer of heat, the dew on a soft morning; or the pigeons’ soothing call, the tapping of tree limbs in the wind; or the tide caressing, then slamming, the shore. Now imagine it’s all gone. And you can’t go back.
That’s what the people of the Pacific islands of Tuvalu and Kiribati face. I met the church leaders from those countries this past spring. As they and other ecclesiological leaders from throughout the Pacific Islands listened, Professor Patrick Nunn of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007) described the impacts of rising sea levels and increased storm severity on those countries.
Because of these climate changerelated impacts, their homelands are likely to be uninhabitable in the next 20 to 30 years. The emission of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels on the Pacific Islands is infinitesimal compared to the approximately 25 percent of the emissions emanating from the United States. (And we’ve got only 4 to 5 percent of the world’s population.)
Before that gathering of Pacific Island leaders, I met an attorney working for the Anglican Church in the Philippines. He and Prime Bishop Edward P. Malecdan wrote in a recent letter:
“A year ago, our own bishop of our Diocese of North Central Philippines, [the] Rt. Rev. Joel A. Pachao, said in a meeting with some of our foreign partners, ‘We are doing all these environmental stewardship programs so that you can continue to drive your SUVs.’ It was an expression of anger … over the fact that it is us in the socalled ‘developing … countries’ who are suffering most from the effects of climate change, which can be attributed to carbon … emissions, the bulk of which are from the Western developed countries.”
Climate change does not only affect distant countries. Here in Seattle, one of our biggest concerns is that a warming climate melts snowpack earlier in the spring, effectively melting away the water source for our dry summers. And though we cannot attribute any one event solely to a changing climate, the kinds of storms that devastated New Orleans are precisely the kinds of events scientists predict will increase in frequency and strength. Copenhagen
World leaders gather in Copenhagen in December to negotiate a successor agreement to the Kyoto climate accords. Their task is to set binding targets to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
Copenhagen matters for reasons too innumerable to list here. Fundamentally, though, if you agree that God’s creation is sacred and we are called to be servants and caretakers of this beautiful garden, then climate change becomes one of the moral concerns of our time. Many scientists concur that climate change, unchecked, will (among other things) lead to the dislocation of millions of “environmental refugees,” to increased rates of species extinctions, to shifts in rainfall patterns and thus food production and supply, and to conflicts over resource scarcity.
The vignettes from the Pacific Islands and the Philippines highlighted above are just two examples of the kinds of impacts our brothers and sisters around the world already experience.
If for no other reason, Copenhagen matters because it’s impossible to find a family anywhere that does not care for the well-being of its children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
I often think that, if Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount today, he would do so from a place where the connections between ecological degradation and economic injustice are abundantly clear: like an eroded beach on Tuvalu or the roof of the hurricane-beaten Louisiana Superdome. Or even from Copenhagen, maybe at the airport as delegates arrive, a bullhorn in hand.
As always, he’d be speaking on behalf of those so often dismissed in the halls of power. I suppose it’s even possible that Jesus would be given the dais some evening, a prime-time address. I imagine he would point out that God so loved the cosmos (not only humans) that God sent him, as John writes in his Gospel. And surely he would emphasize that his ministry is always about ushering in a more compassionate and just world, and then ask the gathered delegates how inaction would mesh with that mission. How shall we then live?
I gave a talk recently and began with the words, “Hi, my name is Mike, and I’m addicted to oil.” It’s the familiar introduction used by groups of people the world over when gathering to face their own addictions. So what can you and I do to wean ourselves from this addiction?
First, on an individual level, pay attention to your transportation choices, your food choices and your homemaintenance choices. In order, those are the things with the greatest environmental impacts that you and I do every day. And each one directly connects to fossil fuel use. (For example, the average morsel of food in America travels 1,500 miles.)
Second, advocate for energy and economic policies that help create a green economy based on renewable energy, that establish binding caps on greenhouse-gas emissions and that create funding sources to protect domestic, low-income communities from rising energy costs and support climate change-adaptation efforts internationally. The Episcopal Church has passed strong resolutions to support such policies.
As I write, and as you read, some of the most historically significant climate change and energy legislation ever written is being amended and debated. Call and write your political representatives. Add your voice to the tens of thousands of other Episcopalians engaged in the Episcopal Public Policy Network. Sign up at www. episcopalchurch.org/eppn.htm.
Finally, commit your congregation to the Genesis Covenant: to reduce your facilities’ energy use by 50 percent over 10 years. See http://www.genesiscovenant and Interfaith Power and Light for more information.
And if you need a shot in the arm, remember Oct. 24 – International Day of Climate Action – when people in 181 countries came together for the most widespread day of environmental action in the planet’s history. At more than 5,200 events around the world, people gathered to call for strong action and bold leadership on the climate crisis. Join us!
However, statements and opinions expressed in the articles and
communications herein, are those of the author(s) and not necessarily
those of Episcopal Life or the Episcopal Church.