The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries
For over a year, I've been evoking that historic city of romance, food and art as an icon of hope, and a touchstone for action. Paris -- in a dozen of these Notes, and in countless conversations -- has been the shorthand word pointing toward the "COP21" United Nations climate negotiations that begin there on November 30.
But a week ago, our emotions about Paris were transformed. Carefully orchestrated acts of terror now come to mind when we hear that name. Paris suddenly stirs up fear and anger. It is now the shorthand for overwhelming interventions by the police and military.
We are ten days from the start of the climate talks -- which will go on as scheduled, but the massive public rallies in Paris have been cancelled. Ten days out, what is there to say? What is there to do?
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We must, of course, speak of grief and anger in the face of massive violence against innocents. 130 killed, many hundreds injured, and thousands traumatized. Such atrocities violate all civilized morality. We must never come to see these acts as normal or acceptable.
And, as conscientious people have reminded us this week, violence and terror are all too common in places other than Paris. Bombings with heavy casualties have occurred in Lebanon, Iraq and Syria within the last few weeks. The mainstream media has been largely silent about those tragedies, or has presented them in logistical terms rather than humanitarian.
The deaths and bloodshed in France are horrible. But are they more horrible than the 43 killed by a pair of terrorist bombings in Beirut the day before? Do we -- as individuals, and as a society -- feel that people in Europe are more "neighbor" to us than folk in the Middle East? Do all lives really matter to us?
May we confess our own parochial view of the world, and our own ignorance about the pervasive fear and danger faced by our global neighbors. (I had not heard anything about the Beirut bombing until it was named in relation to Paris.) May we work hard at looking at the world in the context of Earth community.
For if we do not respect the lives of those in the world's most threatened and threatening places, we will never be moved to action in addressing those threats, whether they be threats of terrorism, poverty, or climate chaos.
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Two days ago, the New Yorker published an excellent article by Jason Box and Naomi Klein, Why a Climate Deal Is the Best Hope for Peace. I encourage you to read it, because it provides the sort of broader perspective that we need to bear in mind in the coming weeks and years. They connect the dots between climate chaos and political chaos. They also acknowledge that when terrorism breaks into the news, "climate reliably falls off the political map."
Box and Klein write, "A climate summit taking place against the backdrop of climate-fuelled violence and migration can only be relevant if its central goal is the creation of conditions for lasting peace." They quote energy expert Michael T. Klare (from before the violence in Paris), that the UN negotiations "should be considered not just a climate summit but a peace conference -- perhaps the most significant peace convocation in history."
As I wrote last April -- with a seasonally odd title of "Trick-or-Treat Energy Policies" -- for two decades the UN negotiations have been concerned primarily with reducing carbon emissions, a fairly technical consideration. The discussions have never dealt with leaving fossil fuels in the ground. The questions of economic justice and global adaptation in the face of climate disruption have been sticking points for many years. (The Green Climate Fund is one important approach for global justice, but it is inadequately funded.)
Climate activists, UN negotiators, heads of state and politicians, business leaders -- all of us must remember that we're not dealing with an abstraction about CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Those numbers are important because parts per million of carbon dioxide translate into very real, very dangerous effects on communities. (On Wednesday of this week, by the way, the official reading of global CO2 levels was 400.61 ppm.)
We are not trying simply to solve a big engineering problem. We are trying to sustain a viable planet. We are trying to stave off a near-term future where the Middle East can expect "temperature levels that are intolerable to humans." We are trying to prevent devastation and disruption that will lead to hundreds of millions of climate refugees.
Box and Klein make a persuasive case for re-framing the upcoming UN negotiations as peace talks. If we do not reduce emissions, if we do not mitigate damage, if we do not bring justice to climate victims, then our future will hold ever more violence and conflict, more famine and trauma, more suffering and pain.
In the ten days before the negotiators and heads of state gather in Paris, and in the two weeks scheduled for those negotiations, may we be persistent and vocal peace advocates. May we be sure that our passionate calls for climate action include calls for global peace and justice.
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The New Yorker article includes a phrasing that I found startling at first: "the police have just barred the huge planned marches and protests, effectively silencing the voices of people who are directly affected by these high-level talks." Silencing those who are most likely to speak of global peace and justice. Silencing those who bring personal stories from the communities already impacted by climate change.
Much of the planning for the mass rallies in Paris was being done by the international advocacy group, Avaaz. With other organizations like 350.org, Avaaz has been working to tie the big protests in Paris to thousands of related events around the world organized as a Global Climate March.
This week, Avaaz wrote to local activists about the cancellation of the Paris events. "Now, it's up to us to march for all those in Paris who have been silenced, and make our local events big enough to together carry our urgent climate call to the conference!"
I strongly encourage you to participate in one of the 2,000 events scheduled for November 28-29 as part of the Global Climate March. Find an event near you at www.GlobalClimateMarch.org. When those in Paris have been silenced, we must speak even more loudly and clearly.
In Colorado, Eco-Justice Ministries is taking the lead in organizing an event in Denver. At 1:00 PM, Sunday, November 29, we will gather at the lakeside pavilion in City Park. We will call for action at the UN conference -- and at national, state and local levels -- to bring peace and justice through bold and urgent climate action.
Attend a Global Climate March event if you can. And speak loudly and clearly in other ways -- in your congregation, in letters to the editor, in emails to the President and congress -- lifting up the hope for global peace, and demanding dramatic action to address the causes and effects of climate change.
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Next Friday is part of the US Thanksgiving weekend. Normally, the entire Eco-Justice Ministries staff takes that extended holiday off. Next week, though, we'll be hard at work preparing for Denver's Global Climate March rally. As a result, there will be no Eco-Justice Notes sent out next Friday, unless there is an urgent word in the days before the UN climate conference. Expect the next Notes on December 4.
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