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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Peace on Earth
distributed 12/21/07 - ©2007

In countless carols and hymns this Christmas weekend, we'll sing about peace on Earth.

Peace is inseparable from the hope and joy of Christmas. It is a central theme in the proclamation of the incarnation. The birth of God among us affirms that this earthly community has value. Because of God's love, we are called toward God's shalom, God's peace, with all of creation.

In today's world, to have peace on Earth we must also have peace with Earth. If peace is to be possible within the human realm, then we must also come to peace with the rest of creation. There can be no peace among nations or within communities when the very basis of life is collapsing. There can be no genuine peace when one part of the community thrives by exploiting and destroying other parts of the whole.

It has always been true that God's peace encompasses all of creation. Today, though, that reality extends beyond a theological affirmation. It has become a matter of survival. We will either find a way to live in just and sustainable relationships, or we will perish.

"Peace on Earth." It is an affirmation of hope and an invitation toward what will be. We also can read the angelic proclamation of peace as an instruction for what must be.

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There is good news in the past week. In the middle of this year's Advent season, real progress has been made in working toward both forms of peace -- on Earth and with Earth.

Less than a week ago, the UN climate conference in Bali went into a day of "overtime" to salvage an agreement. It had been a contentious gathering, with lots of conflict and lots of compromise. The agreements finally reached are imperfect, and they are only a starting point for more difficult negotiations yet to come. The remarkable and hopeful news, though, is that there was an agreement. Representatives of 190 diverse nations found consensus about the urgency and shape of future action on climate change.

That difficult agreement almost collapsed. In the final days of the meeting, the United States refused to accept language calling on industrialized nations to provide "measurable, reportable and verifiable" assistance to other countries. In that polite and well-ordered setting of international diplomacy, the announcement from the US brought (as the Washington Post put it) "a stunning round of boos and hisses from the audience and sharp rebukes from representatives of developing countries."

Perhaps the most memorable statement to emerge from the gathering came from the delegate from Papua New Guinea, who told the United States, "If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way." And, to the astonishment of many, the US did get out of the way.

The United States was shamed into agreeing to principles that their ambassador had just rejected. When heckled and reviled by virtually all of the gathered delegates, the US finally removed its barriers to the historic agreement.

Environmental author Tom Athanasiou -- who for several decades has emphasized the need to connect environmental issues with matters of justice and equity -- provided an insightful and hopeful commentary on the outcome of the conference. He wrote,

Bali has taken us -- barely and painfully -- over a line and into a new and even more difficult level in the climate game we'll be playing for the rest of our lives. In fact, it's not too much to say that, with the realizations of the last year and their culmination at the [UN Conference], the game has, finally, belatedly, begun in earnest.

Finally, belatedly, we are moving toward a global commitment that encompasses peace with the life-giving systems of Earth and peace among the nations of Earth. That beginning is, in itself, a sign of hope, and an expression of peace.

Mr. Athanasiou is not one to proclaim a cheerful "good news" spin at the end of an unproductive meeting. He is a harsh realist who named several ways in which the just-ended conference revealed new realities:

  • In Bali, the G77 -- the global South's negotiating bloc of 77 nations -- did not put its unity above all else. These countries saw the need for broad international agreement as more important than a narrow notion of their own self-interest.

  • The need for rapid global emissions cuts of at least 50 percent has become the consensus position. Everybody now agrees that at least this much is needed.

  • Even mainline climate folks now talk often about equity -- even though they fear its implications. It has become clear that global poverty and equitable development must be part of any climate action plans.

The new situation described by Tom Athanasiou is only a starting point. Last week's meeting only lays the foundation for the extremely difficult negotiations that will come in 2009. But making that start is profoundly good news.

From Bali, we see evidence that the nations of the world know that we must work together for the common good of all. It is no longer possible to deny the need for action. It is no longer acceptable for any nation to stand in the way of global cooperation. It is no longer possible for the rich nations to claim that they have no responsibility for the poor of the world.

The fact of rapidly accelerating climate change has forced us to seek peace with Earth. To find that peace with our planet's natural systems, the nations and the people of Earth must also find new forms of interdependence and cooperation.

This Christmas weekend, we will sing about peace on Earth. May our hearts and our prayers be inspired by the new signs of God's peace entering into our troubled world. This Christmas, as an act of faith and joy, may we pledge ourselves to work diligently in the urgent task of addressing climate change, for in doing so, we act to express God's shalom in the world.

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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