This morning as I finish packing for Durban, South Africa, where the United Nations climate talks will take place over the next two weeks, I’m cherishing the encouraging words in a message from one of our United Church ministers:
“I’m afraid this will be another tough session for you as a Canadian who cares about the planet,” he wrote. “I am sending you love, strength, and courage every day in Durban so you can stay focused and angry and hopeful enough in the midst of all that happens (and doesn’t happen) at the official sessions. Remember: you represent the majority of Canadians.”
That last sentence is provocative, but on reflection I believe it’s accurate. Canadians are a compassionate people. We care about the suffering of the world, and we want to respond. It’s important that these Canadian values be represented in Durban.
It’s not easy to be a Canadian in the international arena these days. During the climate change talks in Copenhagen two years ago, Canadian young adults sewed U.S. flags on their backpacks so they wouldn’t be recognized as citizens of the country with the worst record on carbon emissions. Durban will be no less embarrassing. As one recent Globe and Mail headline put it: “Amid dire warming warnings, Canada is MIA.”
“Canada’s delegates will try to keep the lowest possible profile in Durban,” wrote columnist Jeffrey Simpson, “while the government’s spin machine will be in high gear talking up a target no one believes will be achieved, and fighting off complaints about this country’s poor record by pointing fingers at others.”
And yet, as Simpson also notes, there is every reason to believe that Durban represents the world’s last, best hope to avoid what the respected International Energy Agency describes as “irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.”
This is why so many Canadian faith leaders have joined in our Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change.
Fair enough. But why spend the time, the dollars—and the carbon—to go to South Africa? Will my presence there matter? Might my efforts be better invested taking action here in Canada during the talks?
I’ve been wrestling with these questions since early last year, when the World Council of Churches began encouraging me to join its delegation.
This encouragement is about more than making up numbers. As I know from my experience in Copenhagen, there will be strong faith leaders from all other parts of the world. African church leaders, for example, who are already experiencing the devastating effects of climate change (as in the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa), demand to know that North American faith leaders stand with them. They demand to know they are not alone.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu reminds us that our response matters: “Apartheid seemed an overwhelming challenge that could not be defeated but we mobilised and defeated it. We need the same passion and determination to defeat climate change.” Tutu and other African church leaders have organized a campaign called We Have Faith—Act Now for Climate Justice. Check it out.
Ultimately, the call to keep faith with our partners around the world had the greatest influence in my decision, but there are also other reasons to be present in Durban. There will be many opportunities to connect with like-minded Canadians. In Copenhagen I spoke with provincial premiers and mayors who committed to action. All of them spoke about the importance of having the church present and engaged. In turn, I was able to encourage them in their efforts.
It’s also likely that youth—including Canadian youth—will again bring a strong voice. I want them to know that our church supports them and they are not alone.
Whenever I face difficult decisions I consult with many advisors and I ask myself and pray with a number of probing questions. One of the best is the deceptively simple question, “What does Love require?”
In reference to the road to Durban, I believe Love requires standing in solidarity with those who suffer.
Love requires the courage to be honest when we feel like we’re losing ground.
Love requires that we act to preserve a healthy future for our children and theirs.
The way of Love heals our souls, our communities, and creation. May we travel the way of Love with words of our faith: We are not alone… We are called…to live with respect in Creation.
My bag is packed. Your prayers are welcome.