Wednesday, December 21, 2011

MCC Dialogue - Part Two

Darren Kropf, from Kitchener, Ontario, wrote me with his burning questions on my experience in Durban, through the MCC Ontario blog Creation Care Crossroads. This is my response

Hi Darren;

Thanks for this dialogue. I appreciate your concern and commitment to this important cause.

It is true that Canada’s role in the negotiations in Durban was not very encouraging. The final analysis of Canada’s commitment will need to be assessed when they hold true to their promise of increasing the target for their emission reduction levels, following the development of a new legally binding agreement. Our task now is to encourage Canada to fulfill this promise and to continue to encourage an even stronger leadership role in emission reductions.

I think it is imperative for the church community to position this concern from a moral and ethical perspective. We must resist the temptation to give our appetites free reign. Our love for God and our global neighbours must determine consumption levels. Even a risk that our behaviour could negatively impact our global neighbours is reason enough to challenge our corporate appetites.

What have we got to lose? The impact of curbing consumption and reducing our pollution is always a positive thing. Even those who do not believe that climate change is real or that it is human induced, must agree that as the People of God we ought to work towards an equitable use of the earth’s resources. We cannot blindly consume more than our fair share. Whenever we allow greed and selfish consumption to go unchallenged we will find ourselves drifting away from the original intent of God.

We have all been created in the image of God – a God who is passionate to restore. The God whose sacrifice gave us life longs for us to be aligned with this restorative activity. It is contrary to God’s image in us to live in ways that harm others.

Our conversations in our congregations and with our political leaders must always appeal to the image of God within us. Our hearts and the hearts of our political leaders yearn for the original shalom of God’s creation: whether it is recognised or not. The yearning of God’s image is within everyone. Appeal to it and allow the Spirit of God to awaken the latent lament and rekindle the longing for just living.

The situation is too despairing to give up hope.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Response to MCC Ontario

Darren Kropf, from Kitchener, Ontario, wrote me with his burning questions on my experience in Durban, through the MCC Ontario blog Creation Care Crossroads. This is my response.

Dear Darren;

Thanks for your letter of encouragement and challenge. You have asked some very good questions and have expressed sentiments that I think are shared by many others.

As you have indicated the Church has the mandate to speak truth to power and to lead the change that is desired for the world.

I have been wrestling in my heart and mind how to respond to Minister Kent following the announcement that Canada will pull out of the Kyoto Protocol. It weighs heavy on me and I want to make sure that my response will be thoughtful rather than simply reactionary.

Some will call me naive, but I found it difficult to dismiss Minister Kent in our meeting in Durban. He clearly seemed to recognise the serious responsibility of needing to cut global emission levels. Because of this Minister Kent was calling for a more robust legally binding agreement that would include all countries of the globe. Something that would reflect all major emitters rather than the less than 30% currently contained in the Kyoto Protocol.

Both Ambassador St. Jacques, Canada's Climate Change Ambassador and Lead Negotiator, and Minister Kent stated that "with a new legally binding agreement it would be implicit that Canada would need to revisit our current target levels. They would most likely need to increase [from the Copenhagen agreement of 17%]."

I have chosen to believe Minister Kent and Ambassador St. Jacques and will want to hold them accountable to this statement. As all negotiators, Canada has been attempting to find a balance between wanting to protect our economy and providing real reduction impact in our emission levels. This has been the crux of the negotiations. It was displayed particularly by the US, China, Japan, India, and Canada in Durban.

I can understand their rationale even if I do not fully agree with it. I think it would be very appropriate for us as the People of God to express our deep disappointment with Canada's withdrawal from the Kyoto Protocol. I think it is our responsibility to stand in solidarity with the Least Developed Countries and call for our government to push for a quicker creation of a new legally binding agreement. I think it is imperative that we ask our government to be willing to risk our economic growth so that we do not place our global neighbours at more risk. I think it is crucial that we increase awareness among our network of family and friends asking everyone to re-evaluate consumption behaviours. Finally it is essential that all individuals express themselves to their Member of Parliament, the Minister of Environment, and the Prime Minister. As politicians they need a platform of unmistakable public opinion in order to provide the leadership we are requesting.

Thanks for your letter Darren and for the partnership of MCC Ontario Creation Care Crossroads.  I look forward to more dialogue.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Let's not wait

It seemed like everyone was holding their breath waiting to see what Canada would do. While at the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa, word circulated quickly that Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister had indicated that Canada would withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. This prompted sharp reaction. Protests developed. Attempts were made to dissuade the Canadian negotiators.

But now with the Durban talks finished the waiting is over. Canada has withdrawn from the Kyoto Protocol. The disappointment is exhausting. I can only imagine the emotional fatigue experienced by the negotiators who worked late into the early mornings to reach an agreement. But we didn’t have to wait long, Minister Kent made the announcement hours after his return from Durban.

So now we must take matters into our own hands. Let’s not wait any longer. I received an email quoting Ghandi as saying; “When the people lead, governments will follow.” It is time for us to lead.

A statement made by Minister Kent in our meeting together in Durban has been lingering in my mind. “The media is covering the things that the Canadian public is interested in. And Canadians are more interested in the trial of Michael Jackson’s doctor then they are about climate change,” he said.

Regrettably, I think Minister Kent is correct. Through the cold winters, rising temperatures are welcomed by many. For most Canadians severe drought and flooding are distant threats. Rich with natural resources Canadians are shaded from the extreme impacts of climate change. The suffering of others is not top of mind.

But as followers of Christ, we are not like most Canadians. We have been saved from the control of selfishness that lurks within. We are no longer ruled by the sin of greed and untamed appetite. The image of God in us has been given new birth. The Spirit of Christ in us hears the suffering of others and compels us to respond. Our yearning to worship God more fully prevents us from ignoring the decimation of God’s creation. Because we long to love God with all our hearts, soul, mind and strength and to love our neighbours as ourselves, we do not wait for others to lead. We are already led by the Spirit of God within us.

So as the People of God, let’s lead on. Let’s create the atmosphere for our government to follow. Let’s begin the movement of climate justice and hearts that are hungry for something more meaningful than greed.

Let me issue an appeal for help. Climate Change seems daunting for most people. I am asking for examples of concrete, attainable steps ordinary Canadians can take in reducing their carbon footprints. I want something that can be easily embraced so that lifestyles will begin to be influenced. Do not give me that which will be viewed as eccentric or impossible. Let’s create a list of responses that are easy to embrace. This is not to downplay the seriousness of the situation we are in. It is instead to view the situation so seriously that we must make the response as applicable as possible so that as many as possible will embrace the changes required.

Who will begin? Send me suggestions and let’s pull together a compelling list that will propel Canadians into action. Let’s not wait for public opinion to change. Let’s change public opinion and experience so that governments will have the unavoidable platform to lead.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Words with Minister Kent

The temptation for cynicism is lurking everywhere. I feel its desire to embrace me. I hear its sneer. It taunts my faith. It seems particularly attracted to politics.

But as the People of God, we are aligned to a different force. We are empowered by faith in the Spirit of God able to speak into the deep recesses of the human heart. This faith is able to hold back cynicism.

I claimed its power as Mardi Tindal, Moderator of the United Church of Canada and I met with Hon Peter Kent, Canada’s Environment Minister. I was glad for its resource. It provides a framework to view conversations differently.

The Minister continued to articulate Canada’s view that the Kyoto Protocol needed to be replaced by a new legally binding agreement for all major emitters. He explained Canada’s commitment to regulating the oil sand industry and the shared prosperity the industry provides: funding international aid, clean energy projects, social safety networks and advancing health care.

We asked if he were to speak to our youth and young adults how he might explain Canada’s position from a moral, biblical or social justice point of view. We asserted that if Canada were to pull out of the Kyoto Protocol our integrity would be jeopardized.

It was clear in our discussion that Minister Kent is trying to balance the two values of guarding Canada’s economy and the undeniable necessity to provide real impact in reducing Canada’s emission levels. This is not an easy task. I felt sorry for him. It was clear that the Minister understood the seriousness of climate change.

I kept hearing the pleading voices of the small island states. Their sense of doom has been impossible to ignore.

But it is in these pleas that I found myself understanding Minister Kent’s dilemma. I recognised how important tourism has been for these small islands. Part of their development has been the result of our affluent consumption. Our flights and cruises have directly contributed to their economy and their ruin. Kent’s dilemma is our dilemma too.

I am grateful that Minister Kent welcomed more dialogue. Maybe the call for dialogue is a cry of a heart wanting to find a stronger way forward. Perhaps it is a profound recognition that as we face this common dilemma together we will both find deliverance.

Cynicism promises relief for those fatigued by apparently unproductive dialogue. But it is a false relief. It leaves the yearning for change unfulfilled. Faith pulls us out from despair and offers a hope that is based on the activity of God – an action not limited by the dialogue. Faith invites us to pray for the deliverance of both the powerful and the powerless. This is our calling. This is our mandate. May we be faithful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Nobody is listening to you

One of the most difficult responsibilities as an official observer is to quietly listen. I am to be a silent witness to the pain and frustration being expressed.

Two voices have been the most painful to witness.

The voices of the small island states have been gripping. Island after island has expressed the grim reality of rising sea levels. Their slow demise has become the empirical proof of the theory of climate change. Communities have been moved and coast lines have been lost.

As the days of negotiations progressed their plea to be heard has intensified. They are appealing for their lives. From the delegates of the Pacific and Caribbean we are hearing the plea of people drowning and have simply continued the dialogue. It is almost unbearable to hear.

The voice of the youth delegation has also been getting louder. They arrived with voices of energy and commitment. But a slow change is being witnessed.

It started with a letter of apology on behalf of Canada. They determined to say for Canada what they thought our country should have said. Their apology was printed in the Durban daily newspaper.

Their frustration seemed to increase. During the address of the Hon. Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment, a group of youth stood in protest and turned their back on Canada. It was mildly disruptive to the Ministers statement but the peaceful protest was clear. The following morning a trio of youth walked out on Canada’s Climate Change Ambassador’s morning briefing clearly making a statement of dissatisfaction.

And now today, before Todd Stern, US Department of State could begin his address a lonely youth stood and began to loudly proclaim her outcry against the perceived ineffectiveness of her country in these negotiations. Her voice prevented Mr Stern from speaking.

The chair of the proceedings tried to quiet the voice of protest but was unsuccessful. The plea for justice and compassion continued.

“Please, please, sit down,” begged the chair, as media ran to pick up her voice.

“Please sit down,” the chair repeated, “no one is listening to you.”

The irony of the statement felt hung like a weight on my heart.

As the young woman was escorted from the room the frustrated chair could not quiet the sustained applause. It was as if the growing frustration of many was saying back to the negotiators, “please sit down, no one is listening to you.”  

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Unsupported leadership: Day Ten at UN Climate Change Forum

As a child I was taught to respect and honour leaders. I think most children are taught to respect authority. But as a faith leader in an increasingly secularizing context, I am well aware that institutions no longer illicit respect.

Hon. Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of Environment, made his statement at the high level segment of the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa. As Mr. Kent began his address attention was drawn to the front row of the observer’s gallery. A row of youth stood and removed their garments uncovering white t-shirts that portrayed their disgust at Canada’s hesitancy to support the Kyoto Protocol. Media scuffled to get the image as the youth stood unmoving in silent protest.

Eventually security ushered the peaceful protest out of the building. Kent continued his statement but his words were unheard through the loud supportive applause by the crowd. With the clap of their hands the crowd stood in solidarity with the disillusioned youth.

I was drawn by the expression of one of the young men standing in protest: a look of determined defiance. It wasn’t a glare of angry rebellion. It was the face of one driven by regret: opposition propped by sadness.

What would cause these youth to express such displeasure? Some would dismiss them as misinformed idealistic youth. But having witnessed the articulate and researched presentations that have consistently characterised their statements, such a dismissal is indefensible.

For some reason the youth have lost faith in their leaders. So they are taking back their future. There is a feeling that such an irreplaceable commodity as the future cannot be entrusted to those willing to gamble with it.

And so they did what they thought they needed to do. They disrespected their leaders in order to preserve their integrity. It was a sullen display of disenchantment.

“Kyoto is in the past,” stated Kent. But the delegation of the future clearly seemed to disagree.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Activating all the gifts: Day Nine UN Climate Change Forum

As a Church Leader I have been excited to see the expertise and gifts of business leaders being used for the work of the Church. The wisdom and insights gained by business experience is a valuable contribution to the overall health of the church.

At the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa, multinational business corporations are often vilified by those calling for rapid global emission reduction. Politicians are portrayed as puppets of business interests.

But according to negotiators from Canada, US, EU, and Australia, initiatives like the Green Climate Fund require the input of both public (government) and private (business) funding. They feel that in order for a robust fund to remain viable private funding will be essential.

Business entrepreneurs are also taking the lead in the development of green alternatives. From the creation of electric vehicles to new construction materials and new recycling technology, business ventures are providing new approaches. “We are about 25 years from battery operated airplanes,” reported one business leader.

As in the life of the church, I applaud the gift of business entrepreneurs. Like the church, the global family is incomplete without their gift set. In order to have the impact we need in creation care, we need all gifts employed.

As a faith leader however, I still have a persistent discomfort. My guess is that if we could, the world would unquestionably rush towards solutions of new technology: refining transportation needs with new fuel options and finding new energy sources for production needs. In other words, rather than reducing consumption levels, we could make our consumption levels cleaner. While this would make it possible to continue to feed our global appetites, it would leave our souls hungry.

Appetites are misleading. They grow when they are fed. Soon it takes more to satisfy, so consumption increases.

Sacrifice is a spiritual discipline designed to manage the urges of consumption. Left unmanaged appetites become greedy leaving us full but unfulfilled. The yearnings of the soul – right relationship with God and our neighbours – are drowned out by our hunger for more.

It is to our benefit to strengthen the capacity for sacrifice. Sustainability in God’s economy includes the function of sacrifice. It provides a vehicle to nurture collective care, so important for a healthy global community.

Creation care requires all the gifts and strategies we possess as a global family. We need new technologies. We need gifted entrepreneurs. We need committed governments. We need active sacrifice. With this portfolio of gifts, we have all we need to maintain a healthy global community.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Waiting Begins: Day Seven & Eight at UN Climate Change Forum

The waiting times have increased. The arrival of new delegates is seen in the crowed shuttles and the longer lines through security. Waiting will become a new norm.

As we wait, feelings of cynicism, hope, and frustration churn around us. Like dust devils the swirl of emotion can appear out of nowhere. They can be spawned by a single statement made by a negotiator. Some from developed countries express hope in finding a way forward. Others, already impacted by climate change express deep frustration.

Formal meetings rested on Sunday and the International Conference Centre was quiet. In this pause, Faith leaders from around the globe representing seven world religions gathered for an interfaith prayer service. While the participants held different beliefs they were drawn together by a shared knowledge: there is only one earth. And so, we all prayed that the negotiations of humanity would be led to find a common way forward.

Negotiations continued on Monday. The arrival of Ministers and Heads of States through the weekend heightened the push for progress. It’s hard to read the posturing. Positions are taken to establish a bargaining chip, not necessarily to secure agreement. However others, who do not have the luxury of leveraging power, are simply raw statements of pleading.

There seems to be a common willingness to agree to some form of legally binding agreement that has common responsibilities for all countries. But what such an agreement would include is not clear. There is also a growing sense that the time required for such an agreement to be developed is already determining defeat.

“We have no more time,” expressed a delegate from Nigeria. “If we cannot agree on a second commitment of the Kyoto Protocol, let us lay it aside and prepare ourselves to die.”

Many of the meetings are now closed to observers. And so we wait. We wait to hear that our prayers are being answered and countries reflect commitments that move beyond national interests. We wait for dust devils of emotion to be replaced by gentle breezes of compassionate solidarities. Humanity can cause dramatic and damaging change to the environment. But God can dramatically change the atmosphere of self interest and political posturing.

For this we pray. For this we wait.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Forgetting who we are: Day Six at UN Climate Change Forum

It is difficult to forget who you are at the UN Climate Change Forum in South Africa. I know I am white. I know I am rich. I know I am from a developed country. And, even if I try to forget, I know I am Canadian.

Canada has been taking a lot of heat at the Climate Change Forum. The threat of abandoning the Kyoto Protocol has made Canada very unpopular. This is unfamiliar territory for us. It is disconcerting.

So at the briefing this morning with Canada’s Ambassador to Climate Change, I resolved to forget my “quiet in the land” trait and secured some private moments with the Ambassador before he rushed out of the room.

“Mr Ambassador,” I said as I quickly rushed to his side. “As Canadians we have always felt proud of our peace keeping role and our place of favour in international dialogue. I think many people are afraid that we are losing that attribute. I know we are concerned as a Mennonite community. How would you like me to explain our apparent change of character to my constituency?”

 “My mandate is clear – to develop a new agreement,” explained the Ambassador. “A new agreement implies that we will need to revise our commitments and increase them. But it will be from a level playing field. We are still committed to reducing our impact on climate change.”

I have admired and appreciated Ambassador Guy St. Jacque’s willingness to meet with us every morning. I respect him for participating in this daily context of difficult questions.  I want to be a supportive presence as a Canadian faith leader encouraging our government to be the best we can.

At times I forget who I am and feel tempted to join in critical dialogue. Sometimes the outside critic is the easiest position to adopt. But I see a leader who is trying to do his best balancing competing values and concerns. I think he knows who he is – a Canadian Ambassador and Lead Negotiator.... concerned about finding a sustainable corrective to climate change.

 I want to remain clear on who I am too – a faith leader who possesses a hope in the power of God to transform ..... living in a country whose claim to affluence needs to be transformed. The earth belongs to none, but is given to all. Every person, family, tribe, community and nation is responsible for the health of such a lavish treasure. None are excluded for the care and all must be included in its gifts.

I finished the day with the routine shuttle to my bed and breakfast. “Where are you from,” my seatmate asked as we started moving?

I smiled and took a deep breath.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Overlooking the Obvious: Day Five at the UN Climate Change Forum

Sometimes it is the most obvious that is the easiest to overlook; maybe because the obvious is uncomfortable, inconvenient or ill-informed. My time at the UN Climate Change Forum in Durban, South Africa has helped me recognise this in a fresh way. The obvious doesn’t realize that it is supposed to wait until after the negotiations to make itself known.

Each morning I start my day at a briefing with our Canadian Ambassador for Climate Change and Lead Negotiator, Guy St-Jacques. He informs us of the latest developments and offers his assessment of the negotiations. After his assessment there is time for questions.

This morning he informed us that the negotiators had been working hard. They continued in dialogue until 10:30 p.m. last night trying to move the debate forward. I felt grateful for their commitment and prayed for their strength. Then he said; “There is a growing sense of urgency.”

I experienced that urgency today. While the daily programme indicated a number of meetings, most of them were closed to observers. “The conversations are getting tougher,” I reasoned.

This gave me time to reflect. I recalled the conversations I had with the guest house owners upon my arrival on Monday. “The rains have been terrible,” they informed me. “Stone walls have collapsed and fallen on vehicles. Last spring it was so dry, now this spring we have had more rain than usual.”  This assessment was confirmed by the shuttle driver that evening.

I anticipated some reference to this obvious irony – unusual rains falling in Durban on the eve of the UN Climate Change Forum – where the talks have been identified for over a year as urgent. But the irony was never recognised, or at least never mentioned.

I was reminded of my friend who had reflected on the story of Noah and suggested that it was an indication that God would protect the earth from the unbridled evil of humanity. He further concluded that if we failed to properly care for the earth - God would. I had never thought of this biblical account that way.

After a fruitless day of trying to gain access to closed meetings I surrendered and took the shuttle to the guest house. As I climbed the hill to my lodging I remembered the morning briefing with Ambassador St-Jacques.  Following his summary, one of the Canadian observers asked a critical question: “With Minister Kent’s statement earlier this week, can you help us understand Canada’s commitment to the Kyoto Protocol?”

The kind Ambassador responded. “My mandate is to seek a suitable agreement,” he explained.  “Obviously final decisions are made at a higher level. Will Canada withdraw [from the Kyoto Protocol]?  .... We’ll have to wait and see.”

As the Ambassadors words echoed in my ears a blast of cold wind swirled around me. I looked up and saw the dark clouds filling the sky. “It looks like it is going to rain again,” I said to myself.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Official Observer: Day Four at the UN Climate Change Forum

Being an official observer at something like the UN Climate Change Forum is not an easy task. I was invited into this capacity by the World Council of Churches as one of their credentialed delegates. Even though Mennonite Church Canada is not an official member of WCC, given Canada’s apparent weakening commitment to addressing climate change, they were eager to have another Canadian Church leader present.

As an official observer I have been attempting to witness as many proceedings as possible. Sometimes I pray for the negotiators. Sometimes I stifle a gasp. Sometimes I breathe deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes.

Today seemed tougher than others. The negotiations are feeling fragile. Commitments are replaced with debate. Yet country after country pleads for concrete and immediate action. The big economies hesitate. The suffering countries are growing impatient. “We need something that will guarantee our future,” pleaded Bahamas, “with the rising sea levels we have already needed to remove a community.”

Being an observer eats away at hope. Your role is to watch; to be a witness. To report what you are seeing and hearing.  But silently carrying the weight of apparent apathy in the context of imminent disaster is exhausting. “God have mercy,” I say and take a deep breath.

But as people of God, we see things that others may not notice. We know that the Spirit of God is active even in what may appear as hopeless situations. I needed to be reminded of that today. So as a gift from God, I noticed an event at the end of the day hosted by the global youth delegation. I decided to go, and I saw the Spirit of God at work.

I observed a young teen South African girl stand before negotiators from Brazil and Norway and the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  She chastised them for risking her future and her dream of raising a family in a healthy environment. “We must focus on the future,” she said, “because that is where we will spend the rest of our lives.”

She acknowledged the economic dynamics influencing the debates. She recognised financial costs needed to address the situation. Then she paused and with the resolve of a seasoned negotiator said; “We need you to make the biggest decision of our lives. Forget about the money you have to save, you are in a big debt already .... You owe this to us!!”

The room erupted in a standing ovation.  I breathed deeply in an attempt to clear misty eyes. This time I was overcome with worship. I had observed the Spirit of God at work – and my hope was revived.

“Thank-you Lord,” I prayed. Being an official observer can be such a gift. I can hardly wait to see what I will observe tomorrow!