Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Transforming Our Appetites: Day Three at UN Climate Change Forum

Maybe it is the humid heat of the approaching South African summer, but I don’t seem to have much of an appetite through the first couple days of the UN Climate Change Forum. I try to stay hydrated and make sure that I grab something for lunch.

The debates between the global delegations have been polite and courteous.  But the friendly atmosphere cannot mask the urgency felt by many countries – especially those who suffer daily because of climate change, as the delegation leader from Philippines lamented.

In fact as the debate centred on the proposal for a Green Climate Fund, many voices became increasingly insistent. When it became evident that reaching an agreement was not yet possible – some delegation leaders stressed the vital importance of reaching a consensus. “We must not leave Durban without some form of agreement. We cannot wait another year for action,” reminded the Belize delegate.

It is clear that there are competing values in the negotiating meetings. Governments have mandates to protect their national economies while also being committed to the reduction of negative climate influences. Wealthy nations want to be assured that they will not be expected to contribute more than their fair share, and developing nations want to make sure that wealthy nations provide their fair share. It is a delicate dance. But if the music of a healthy environment stops there will be no need to continue the dance. Maybe that’s why I have lost my appetite.

Or maybe appetite has felt unwelcomed in the debate. Indeed it is global appetite that has been the main contributor to a level of consumption that is unsustainable.  We cannot trust appetite to guide us towards a solution. When an appetite is under active it can lead to illness, preventing the body from securing necessary nutrients. When an appetite is over active it causes the body to consume more than is needed. God has created an earth able to provide all that is necessary to sustain us but not necessarily what our appetites crave.

As the People of God, it is with joy that we submit our appetites to God. In God’s justice, the hungry are fed, the thirsty are quenched – the earth has all that is needed to achieve this. In God’s justice, appetites are evaluated so that equity is fed – the image of God in us is all that is needed to achieve this.  May the appetite of God’s image consume us, until we all hunger for a display of God’s justice.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Voices Needing to be Heard: Day Two at UN Climate Change Forum

“We the youth will be affected by climate change more than the negotiators in this room,” stated the representative of the youth delegation at the UN Forum on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.  The youth challenged the government negotiators to stop talking and start implementing past promises.  Our youth do not take lightly gambling with their future.

Prior to that the Fiji government delegation, also representing the smaller island states, implored the UN Forum for quicker action. “We are already experiencing the impact of climate change in rising sea levels,” the Fiji representative explained.

These reports were echoed by others. Somalia reported that 20,000 children have died and 730,000 children are malnourished. Thailand reported that they have lost 2/3 of their rice crop this year. Then with a steady resolve stated; “These talks are about drought today not just the warming of the earth in the future.”

These are sobering and disturbing reports. They make you want to retreat. But ignorance is no longer possible and apathy is no longer permissible. Islanders watching their homes disappear and youth seeing their leaders vanish are pleading for help. Like the traveller beaten and left at the side of the road, they are looking for their Good Samaritan.

I do not believe that the Church wants to pass them by. I do not think that the Church wants to wish them well while allowing their plight to remain unaltered.  We are the Church. Responding comes naturally, extending compassion is characteristic.

In these discussions the voices most affected are those necessitating the most solidarity. This is our forte as the Church. The God who notices every fallen sparrow compels us to notice every dying plead for action.

"We extend our sympathies," responded the Chair of the UN Forum as the reports were presented. But sympathies unless accompained by actions of solidarity are insufficient for the Church. Ours is the call to impact the environment of danger, bathe the wounds, and assure the return to good health.

As the Church, our calling is simple. We hear, because we have been heard.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Getting Started in Durban, South Africa

I’m in Durban, South Africa because the UN Forum on Climate Change got started today. The city is expecting 20,000 people for this important global conversation. I came in response to a request to strengthen the presence of the Canadian Church leaders. Because I think climate and environment concerns are an important topic for Canadian Church leaders – I responded positively to the invitation.

I’m in Durban, South Africa to be a witness to the global political leaders as they determine what they consider to be appropriate measures in maintaining a healthy earth. I want to stand in solidarity with the Church across Africa as the governments of the world deliberate. For many these talks are not hypothetical –for them climate disasters are being experienced.

 I’m in Durban, South Africa because I want to worship God. The earth and all its fullness is a result of God’s love. Like a loving parent gleefully preparing a special gift for a child, like a mother busily fashioning the perfect environment for a child’s wedding – God’s passionate love poured through the creative act. And then with satisfied joy, God paused and said; “It is good.”  Such a gift must not be disregarded. Such a loving God must not be disrespected. As an act of worship, we honour God by cherishing and protecting the passionate gift of creation.

I’m in Durban, South Africa because I want to uphold the greatest commandment given by Jesus: love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind - and love your neighbour as yourself. To uphold this commandment is to take seriously the impact, real and potential, of our consumption patterns. Excusing, supporting, or ignoring inequity does not express love to our neighbours. If the earth cannot sustain my neighbour consuming what I consume – then obedience to Christ must compel me to strive for a consumption practice that can also be shared with my neighbour.

I’m not sure what to expect these next two weeks. But I am praying that my worship to God – through obedience and confession – will be strengthened.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Climate Justice: Recognizing our responsibility as global neighbours

Foreword: On October 25, 2011, Willard was invited to address a breakfast meeting of Members of Parliament and Senators in Ottawa, Canada, on the topic of climate justice. Many responded positively to Willard's address, including Senator Grant Mitchell, who wrote, "Thanks for this. It is exceptionally good. And thanks for your leadership and inspiration on this important issue." Many others have asked for Willard's address to be made available. Here it is.  It has also been translated into French and circulated to all Members of Parliament and all Senators. - posted by Dan Dyck, on behalf of Willard Metzger.

Climate change debates are quickly becoming unnecessary and aristocratic exercises. As debates continue, International aid organizations are necessarily busy responding to increasing climate disasters. Simply put, whether individuals believe that climate change is human induced or not, the facts remain that sea levels are rising, deserts are expanding, violent storms are becoming stronger and more frequent, and that the poor, especially children, are paying the highest price. Faith based relief organizations like World Vision and Mennonite Central Committee see the devastating reality of climate change every day.

A report by World Vision Australia in May 2009 concluded, reluctantly, that in its own right and in its capacity to exacerbate all other challenges, climate change constitutes one of the greatest threats ever faced by the poor. Climate change is occurring at a speed and on a scale that will affect not tens of millions of people, but billions, many of them the poorest people in the world.

Developing nations are at greatest risk from climate change. Climate change and global poverty reinforce each other: climate change makes it harder for poor communities to grow crops, access water, food and shelter, and avoid conflict.

According to Sir John Holmes, UN’s emergency relief chief, the number of disasters has doubled from around 200 to over 400 per year over the past two decades, with nine out of every ten being climate related. Such events are no longer considered abnormal but reflect “the new normal”. In 1950 there were 50 natural disasters in South East Asia alone. In 2006 there were 250. By 2009, hydro-meteorological events represented 46% of all operations supported by the Red Cross Disaster Relief and Emergency Fund. In 2010 that has risen to 57%.

These statistics are pointing to a grim reality. World Vision has concluded that climate change has the potential to undo the last 50 years of work that international humanitarian organisations have helped to achieve.

Forests are disappearing at unprecedented rates globally, displacing indigenous peoples from their native homes and uprooting their livelihoods. The collapse of fisheries around the world threatens to exacerbate hunger and poverty among poor coastal communities throughout the developing world. Currently, more than 1 billion people lack access to safe water and 2.6 billion people lack access to proper sanitation. Lack of safe water, sanitation, and adequate hygiene contribute to the leading killers of children under 5, including diarrhoea, pneumonia, neonatal disorders, and under nutrition (see here).

According to a report by Mennonite Central Committee, about 50 years ago a farmer in Kenya could expect to produce 25 bags of maize from one hectare—each bag weighing 90 kilograms. With the current climate change effects of rising temperatures, unreliable rainfall, soil erosion and droughts, today a farmer is lucky to get even five bags per hectare.

It is those who are already experiencing poverty, live in vulnerable settings and have limited access to resources to help them cope with increased disasters, that are most at risk of increased drought and other extreme events such as floods, hurricanes and cyclones.

Bruce Guenther, who works with Mennonite Central Committee’s food and disaster program concluded by identifying these dynamics as an equity issue, "Those who are the least responsible for the [climate] crisis are most affected."

Although climate change will disproportionately impact the poor, the impact will affect us all. Just as we are becoming aware of the interconnectedness of our global economies, so too are we realizing the “globalized” nature of our environment. Therefore any nation’s failure to significantly reduce greenhouse gases will have severe implications for us all.

This is especially evident as we look at Asia with its massive coastal capitals, including Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Dhaka in Bangladesh. A one-metre rise in sea level would inundate 800,000 sq km of land in Asia displacing more than 100 million people. In Vietnam alone 11% of the population would be displaced.

If climate change is not taken seriously enough the world will be forced to cope with mass migrations of millions and most likely the political and social upheaval associated with poverty and displacement.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, the Creator has arranged the world in such a way that we must recognize our responsibility as global neighbours. The call of living out love through action is central to the identities of faith based organizations. They have helped remind us that as privileged people who witness the great suffering that our lifestyles of consumption have caused we have a particular responsibility to express God’s love to those impacted by climate change. Faith based organizations have recognized that serving God by caring for creation and each other is a moral obligation.

Whether the developed world takes responsibility for the effect of climate change or not, we have no other option but to take responsibility for our consumption patterns. With the increasing strain on natural resources, everyone must accept responsibility for individual and corporate consumption practices. The globe is able to provide enough food, water and clean air for all its’ inhabitants. For any people group, faith community, religious structure, political power, or geographical entity to sanction the use of more than its fair share becomes a moral and ethical failure. To ignore such a reality of disparity is a moral and ethical violation. In an interconnected global community, injustice for one becomes injustice for all. It is the health of the globe itself that will assess our compliance to this shared moral obligation.

It is easy to fall into despondency, despair and cynicism when responding to climate change. This is understandable, but it is also, in a sense, the easy option. Many people go straight from denial to despair, and interestingly, both positions lead to apathy, where little is demanded of us. Denial says nothing needs to be done. Despair says nothing can be done. But between denial and despair there is hope.

As people of faith, and faith based organizations, we must choose to hope. Denial is no longer intellectually defensible, and things are too dire for despair. We must choose to hope, because when we hope we look for solutions. When we hope, we don’t give up. When we hope, we choose to believe that a different path is possible and we start to explore that path.

Cooperation between religious and political entities can contribute to the some necessary correction. Together we can help develop an environment of hope by fostering a posture of gratitude. As global inhabitants we have taken the earth for granted. We have assumed that it will always be there and that it will always be able to produce that which is needed to sustain us. However, reckless abandonment of our responsibility to care for the earth has put the health of the earth in great risk. A renewed posture of gratitude for the earth will generate a sense of responsibility for its health. If it is true that “we exploit what we value but we defend what we love," then what better way to generate a renewed love for the earth than by strengthening a sense of gratitude for the earth.

Governments and faith organizations can cooperate in increasing public awareness. We can cooperate in educating the public to our global responsibilities. We can celebrate and reward the many greening and environmental sustainable initiatives of groups and individuals. Together, as a moral imperative to care for the poor and disadvantaged, we can work to mainstream concern for our environment and responsibility for individual consumption practices.

Can we increase the marketing and encouragement of green solutions? Can we remove economic barriers from the development of sustainable options for transportation and agricultural practices and foster commitment to their success?

People are quicker to turn away from negative messaging. So can we better fast track an embrace of responsibility by making environmental concern a positive and celebrative response? This is not to deny the dire need we are in. Rather it is to consider the need for response so great, that we must make it as palatable as possible.

We know we can solve this problem. Our pollution, excessive consumerism and lethargy all play a role in this crisis and we will have to take courageous looks at our behaviour if we are to seriously change anything. But through concerted effort, we can provide an active role in making this earth a more hospitable place where current and coming generations of children can thrive and experience life in all its fullness. I pray we will all embrace the will to make it so.


The opportunity to address Canadian government leaders was enabled by the Interfaith Council on Climate Change and the Canadian Council of Churches. You can view documents related to the interfaith climate justice event here.