Tag Archives: climate change

Inter-faith Courage on Martin Luther King Jr’s 84th Birthday

In Washington D.C. today, some will observe Martin Luther King’s Birthday by holding a “Pray-in for the Climate.”

It’s a fitting commemoration, because climate change is our most pressing moral challenge, just as racial inequality was for Dr. King.

And, like him, we are called to choose hope over despair and action over paralysis. Our children’s future depends on our courage today. Courage to demand principled leadership from our politicians. And courage to change our own lives.

Nearly 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, King was jailed for taking part in a non-violent protest against segregation. White church leaders were harshly and openly critical.

Dr. King responded with clarity and courage. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

King’s appeal to a common humanity and his compelling image of a “single garment of destiny” apply with equal urgency to the challenge of climate change, and inequality — of wealth, of power, and still, very often, of race — remains at the heart of this challenge.

Our reckless use of fossil fuels overloads the atmosphere with carbon dioxide, disrupting the climate. It’s already causing catastrophic storms and droughts that kill tens of millions a year.

The devastation of Hurricane Sandy is still being felt in one of the richest, most powerful cities on Earth, just as last summer’s Midwest drought is driving up food prices this winter. Imagine how much more devastating such severe weather events are in Haiti or in sub-Saharan Africa.

Those suffering the most are the poor. They didn’t create the problem. They don’t take part in the profit.

In effect, they are giving up their security, their lands, in many cases their lives, so that others can become even richer.

To me, this sounds like slavery by another name.

Slavery represents an immoral economic system that harms many and profits few. Despoiling our common atmosphere with carbon dioxide is equally an immoral economic system that harms many and profits few.

Dr. King referred to the “manacles” of racial segregation and the “chains” of discrimination.  I make bold to suggest that he might respond in similar fashion today to the unequal burden of climate change borne by the poor.

This is a moment of choice. We must choose between a more just economic system, or carry on with morally bankrupt and unsustainable economies that enslave the poor and ultimately threaten human life everywhere.

Those whose wealth is tied to the current unjust system will resist fiercely and predict ruin — just as they did when confronted by challenges to slavery and discrimination. But the reality is that abolishing slavery and ending segregation led to periods of economic resurgence.

The matter is urgent. Justice could not come soon enough for slaves and their descendants, and the Earth’s life support system has a fast-approaching limit.

Those who gather in Washington today invite us to find the courage necessary for the urgency of this moment. A motley crew of young people, survivors of Hurricane Sandy, religious leaders and others will make a choice to take part. Let’s accept the invitation to be with them in spirit and in action, in our inescapable network of mutuality. How deep is our courage?

In the Communion of Struggle

This morning the wonderful poet Judy Brown sent me an amazing Denise Levertov poem entitled Beginners.

These words could not have arrived on a more poignant day.

As Hurricane Sandy furiously raps and rustles at my windows, I consider the poet’s words: “We have only begun to love the earth…”

Perhaps Sandy is trying to wake us up to a deeper love. Maybe today we will begin to find “the power that is in us if we would join our solitudes in the communion of struggle…”

David Roithkopf who blogs for Foreign Policy magazine writes of his hope that Sandy will end “the sad virtual silence” about climate change in the U.S. Presidential election, and refers to climate change as that “which amounts to nothing less than a planet-wide risk of the first order.”

Our neighbours of the Global South have lost loved ones to unprecedented weather events for some time. They recognize this as the consequence of global warming, caused largely by our northern greed, and they too have been waiting for us to awaken – to awaken to their pain and the need for us to make dramatic reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions.

Bill McKibben suggests that we start naming these unprecedented hurricanes and storms after oil companies. Not a bad idea, in my opinion – not to demonize the oil companies which are, after all, only meeting our demands; but rather to help us all name the truth of how we together must turn away from our high consumption of fossil fuels which is jeopardizing planetary life, including our own.

So I’m provoked by two questions which Levertov’s poem asks of me today, and maybe of you:
What power is in me which I can bring to the communion of struggle?
What is unfolding here that must complete its gesture?

May our responses, in prayer and action awaken us to what is in the bud.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Epiphany: Witness, Leadership, and a New Path

Hope was born in a stable, and those the world had judged wise came to see. After witnessing this fragile new hope, the Magi “went home by a different way.” They were not the same.

My thoughts this Epiphany are filled with both the fragile new hope that I saw born at the UN climate change talks in Durban, and the bitter disappointment that calls us to go home by a new and different way.

On the one hand, according to the best science available, the Durban talks failed to produce large enough emission reduction targets to avert destructive climate change, of which last year’s extreme weather is the merest foretaste.

And yet, for the first time ever, all nations have said that they will commit to enforceable climate action by 2015.

And even though Canada bitterly disappointed the world, many nations still hold the fragile hope that Canada will commit itself to a generous way of compassion and justice.

If we are to return home by a different way, we are called to nourish this fragile hope.

Witness

I speak often about the interrelationship of soul, community, and creation. In my view, everything good begins in the soul, that inner place where we listen deeply to the “still, small voice” that speaks to us of truth.

When we hear that still, small voice, our soul longs to fulfill its call in community. Our souls need community to help us align our inner knowing with our outer work. This is what allows us to act with integrity in the world. Caring for God’s creation arises from souls and community in harmony with each other.

Christians and other people of faith have a particular responsibility as people who listen to that still, small voice and create community where it can be heard more clearly. In our United Church Song of Faith, we sing of participating in God’s healing of creation. Shared worship and work, prayer, scripture, and other language of the heart help us find our way home to God, one another, and creation.

In Durban, I met with Peter Kent, Canada’s Minister of the Environment. To my surprise, Mr. Kent was forthright in calling climate change a “disaster in the making.” I became convinced that he understands the causes and consequences of climate change. He spoke of a climate change presentation in Durban that he said made the hair on the back of his neck stand on end.

I take Mr. Kent’s words to mean that he knows in his soul that Canada must choose between contributing to global disaster or to global healing—so I wonder all the more about his resistance to actions that would prevent further climate change. I therefore feel compassion for him, as he must have a terrible inner struggle, knowing we could be doing so much more to prevent massive suffering and death. If he finds the courage to embrace the fragile hope born in Durban, he will need our support.

Leadership

As Moderator I have learned something about the ambiguities of leadership and the complex interrelationship between the one who is designated “leader” and the people of his or her community.

It matters whom we include in our community. We need others with whom our understanding and compassion will be stretched. I believe this is a fundamental requirement of leadership. I hope Mr. Kent is able to claim all Canadians and, indeed, all global citizens as his community. If the relatively small community of climate skeptics in Canada is the community he chooses to identify with, it will become harder for him to remember the cries he heard in Africa from people begging for climate justice, and for their lives.

For myself, I choose to claim Peter Kent as part of my community. I will not exclude him from those I am prepared to talk and work with to prevent the disaster in the making. In Durban, Mr. Kent told the General Secretary of the Mennonite Church Canada and me that he is prepared to keep meeting with us. This holds the possibility that a difficult and necessary conversation about the choices facing Canada will continue.

As Canadians, we need to convince our leaders that we will support morally responsible choices for the sake of life for all. Morally responsible choices embrace the needs and the wisdom of others in our global community. Morally responsible choices stir us to march alongside youth, to the beat of impatient hope.

A new path

Hope was born in a stable, a hope for all humanity, a hope for the whole world. It came as a helpless infant, so all of us should understand the need to nourish and care for it. God entrusted us to care for God’s Son the same way God entrusted us to care for God’s creation. We cannot care for one without caring for the other.

As humanity, we have only one home. Science tells us we must limit climate change in order to survive as a species. Faith tells us we must limit climate change because God calls us to love one another as God loves us. To return home means to embrace Earth as the place that sustains us and as the gift God gives us.

I pray that you will find opportunities this year to listen carefully to that still, small voice and discover what it means for you to go home by a different way. I pray that you will feel part of a community that helps you celebrate your right place and relationships in God’s good creation. I pray that together we will protect and nourish the fragile hope born in Durban. We are people of soul, community, and creation.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Christmas Miracles

I have seen miracles. I have seen God act powerfully, mysteriously and miraculously. I pay special attention to miracles at Christmas.

In our United Church Song of Faith we sing of how “God tends the universe, mending the broken and reconciling the estranged.” We go on to sing of the initiative that God took in the birth of Jesus, to make this mending and reconciling visible in a new way.

“We sing of Jesus, a Jew, born to a woman in poverty in a time of social upheaval and political oppression…. Jesus announced the coming of God’s reign – a commonwealth not of domination but of peace, justice, and reconciliation.” And because “his witness to love was threatening, those exercising power sought to silence Jesus.”

The COP17 talks have concluded, thirty-six hours after their scheduled adjournment. As I think of the nations who gave leadership in the closing hours, I think about Jesus’ mother, Mary. This young, powerless poor woman opened herself to be a vehicle of transformation, and carried hope into a tragic time of social upheaval and political oppression.

Scripture tells us that Mary understood the enormity of the hope she was carrying and she rejoiced in the radical change that this child would make possible. She sang with confidence that her son would turn the world’s powers upside down.

Here in Durban we prayed for a miracle and many will argue that we didn’t get one. The deal is described as insufficient and vague, its meaning still not fully understood. But I think there are hints of a miracle-in-the-making. For one thing poor, vulnerable nations led with their tenacious hold on hope, with the result that some nations are still in the Kyoto Protocol. The fear that Kyoto would die on African soil has not been realized.

Leadership was given by the smallest and most vulnerable island states, with Africans and Asians close behind. The EU came along as well, and some Africans are crediting the Non-governmental organizations and faith groups’ pressure for aiding this. As Dr. Jesse Mungambi said to me this morning, “At least in the North there was one group of nations that supported us.”

Indeed, there were a lot of Marys here: NGOs, governments and faith communities who have accepted the transformative burden of carrying hope. Our Canadian faith communities’ witness was vocal. We are among those expressing a willingness to sacrifice at least a few of our own comforts for the sake of carrying a much more important hope for life on this planet.

Our own Canadian government found it impossible to carry hope to the global community here in Durban. Perhaps, however, we saw a miracle in some of what Minister Peter Kent said. It was here in Durban when I first heard a minister of the crown of our current federal government acknowledge that climate change is our doing and represents “a disaster in the making.”

To quote Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” Perhaps our government has at least listened to enough angels in Durban to get this far.

The crack in our conscience and integrity is now exposed. You and I must make sure that light pours into every dark corner of our self interests and corporate interests in order that we choose to carry the burden of hope for to all of today’s children and their children. Jesus was born so that the miracle would continue in our choices for life over death.

We had better be humble enough to learn from smaller voices and less powerful governments who exhibit the strength and wisdom of Mary. These appear to be the ones prepared to risk a truth aligned more with God’s interests. These are the ones who have said yes to carrying hope into a broken world.

Canada may yet choose to participate in a miracle. But clearly it will not do so on the schedule for which we have prayed, and certainly not in time for December 25th 2011. We will continue to act and pray with both the longing and hope of Mary.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Longing for Leadership

Leadership is what the 15,000 of us here in Durban are waiting for.

As Dr. Jesse Mugambi said yesterday, “We’re not seeing statesmanship here in Durban. We’re seeing politics and that’s not the same thing. Statesmanship means you’re prepared to give leadership even when there’s a political cost.”

Wikipedia describes Professor Jesse Mugambi as one of the most challenging and prolific African scholars in the disciplines of Christian Theology, Philosophy of Religion and Applied Ethics. Jesse has also had a long and distinguished career of giving leadership to the ecumenical movement. He has become a good friend.

The longing to see more leadership than politics runs deep here and no one expresses this longing more eloquently than the young adults and scientists. Canada’s negotiators must have found yesterday morning’s briefing tough. For example, a young adult asked Ambassador Guy Saint-Jacques:

“Can you look me in the eye and tell me you’re negotiating in good faith on behalf of my generation – and not on behalf of oil companies?”

Then, on the heels of that question, a researcher added:

“Part of the scepticism you’re seeing here comes from numerous studies to which the minister hasn’t even responded. We’re seeing changes on our own coastal areas and the minister doesn’t say anything about the climate impacts in Canada or about two degrees. When I look at leadership I see people who are willing to go above and beyond the call of duty.

“People who are really committed to this don’t just re-state positions time and time again. They go beyond, they take that extra mile. I’d rather not hear [in Canadian government briefings] what the Indians and Chinese are doing, but rather how as Canada we can come up with a new proposal and break the log jam. Because frankly, what we’re hearing from you is that Canada is looking backward. A failure in Durban locks us into a 3-4 degree rise… So what is it that we’ve brought to the table to come to a successful end?”

The many capable and dedicated civil servants from Canada have good political answers to these questions. But we can’t expect them to bring the answers of statesmanship. Leadership comes from government.

Willard Metzger and I brought higher expectations to our late afternoon meeting with Minister Peter Kent.

I happen to admire Peter Kent’s fine reputation as a principled journalist. He was one of the first to report about climate change in 1984, and I have expected good things of him in this position.

There was some reassurance in yesterday’s meeting:

The minister understands and accepts the science of climate change and the magnitude of the problem. He spoke of “real urgency” and “a disaster in the making.” He mentioned a presentation about climate change impacts that had the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end.

I left our meeting no more assured, however, about Canada’s willingness to give leadership. When asked about the moral and social justice frame within which Canada’s position can be understood, the minister’s answers were political: “We’re proud of our resources, our regulations and our shared prosperity.” He spoke of how Canada is “fulfilling our obligations.” There are many who have good reason to take issue with him on this point.

Minister Kent laments that the Canadian media aren’t interested in climate change – apart from a few – and how this creates a communication challenge. And he made it clear that he would like to see our conversation continue. Indeed, he was generous with his time yesterday, extending our meeting beyond the scheduled end point at the understandable agitation of his staff.

So our challenge is clear. The minister has read our Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action and has indicated that our recommendations are reasonable. Now is the time to take him up on his openness to more conversation.

Minister Kent has demonstrated that he understands the seriousness of the scientific evidence of human-made climate change. I imagine that he must be engaged in an inner struggle to reconcile what he knows to be true with the economic path that Canada is following. Such cognitive dissonance is, quite frankly, a step forward, and we must support him in finding ways to reconcile what so many of us see as contradictions within Canada’s position.

At a religious leaders’ press conference this morning a journalist asked me about what is standing in the way of moral leadership from Canada. I said that we as Canadians must convince our Minister and our other political leaders that we will follow them when they do the right things; that the political cost of giving climate change leadership is not as great as they might fear. Indeed there could very well be a political gain for our government if it is prepared to lead. Nations who are stepping up to give leadership in Durban have already begun to ensure that their children and grandchildren will have jobs. They are ahead of us in the green jobs race, investing in renewable industries more than unsustainable ones. Canada still has time to avoid being left behind if it acts soon to invest in lower-carbon emission economic directions.

Within the moral framework in which people of faith function ‘our resources’ are not ours and ‘shared prosperity’ requires a just distribution of the conditions of life for all, in this generation and for generations to come.

The President of the COP17 has just told a press conference that efforts continue “to save tomorrow today.” Leadership is required over these next few hours and in the days and months to come. There is still reason for hope and need for prayer.

After all, this is the land of miracles where leaders have risen in the confidence that when they do the right things the people will follow. South Africa did not achieve what it has with leaders who fearfully calculated political costs. It is up to us as citizens to make it clear that we will support the moral leadership for which we long.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Amazing Grace

My heart pounded when we sang Amazing Grace in our service on Sunday here in Durban.

“… I once was lost, but now am found; was blind but now I see.”

Soul-naked words that stir hearts everywhere. Words that transcend all boundaries because they speak to the universal human experience of being confronted with a choice between good and evil.

John Newton wrote this hymn when he needed to make a choice. He was a slave trader – wealthy, no doubt. His heart was changed when he realized that he had to choose between moral and immoral commerce.

With his choice made and his heart changed, Newton crafted a song that expressed his deep sense of relief and salvation, putting it to a West African tune that he had heard slaves singing from the depths of his ship. He was no longer prepared to sell people – or his soul.

Every broadly based social change throughout history has begun when individuals like Newton decided to no longer sell their souls, when they realized that they were participating in a system they couldn’t live with and made a choice to change.

John Woolman is another example. Woolman was a Quaker living in colonial New Jersey in the 1700s. He was a tailor by trade who received a ‘leading from God’ that slavery was a moral abomination and that Quakers should free their slaves. He took his concern to his Quaker meeting, asking Friends to ‘test his leading’. Two things became clear to Woolman’s community: 1) his personal integrity was beyond doubt and 2) many Friends remained unwilling to free their slaves.

Freeing slaves would mean considerable financial stress for the well-heeled Quaker gentry. But Woolman carried on, believing deeply that God is in every person. He continued acting in a way that was true to his own beliefs while also respecting those whose views differed from his own. And the community kept talking.

At the end of the day, Quakers were the first religious community in the U.S. to free their slaves, some 80 years before the Civil War. And in 1783, a decade after Woolman’s death, Quakers petitioned the U.S. Congress to correct “the complicated evils and unrighteous commerce created by the enslavement of human beings.”

Here in Durban we are witnessing the effects of another set of complicated evils and unrighteous commerce.

Modern civilization’s economic wealth relies on the burning of fossil fuels that puts high levels of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That carbon is disturbing the climate, depriving some nations of the world of the ability to grow food to feed their people. It’s causing catastrophic storms and droughts that are killing tens of millions a year right now. It’s even threatening some nations with disappearance, including the low-lying islands of the Pacific Ocean.

These are the countries that are already poor, that have not built wealth so far from the burning of fossil fuels. Yet they are the first to feel the harm from the changing climate. They did not create the problem. They don’t take part in the profit. Yet they are suffering, even dying, under a system they can’t change on their own.

In effect, they are giving up their security, their lands, their lives in some cases, so that others can get rich. And who can change the system? The very ones who are getting rich. The countries that are using fossil fuels to grow their wealth.

To me, it sounds like slavery by the name of economic development.

Just as slavery was an immoral economic system that harmed many and profited few, burning fossil fuels and emitting carbon dioxide into our common atmosphere is an immoral economic system that harms many and profits few.

The solution in Woolman’s day was to abolish slavery. It took a civil war. And then the U.S. grew to become the strongest economy in the world.

The solution today is to phase out fossil fuels and develop clean green fuels. The countries in the position to pay for that and press it forward are the rich ones. And among them all, the Europeans are the only ones who are taking significant action. They were also the ones, by the way, who questioned slavery early on.

This is a moment of choice. We must choose between either committing ourselves to agreements that will allow a fairer economic system or carry on with morally bankrupt and unsustainable economies that enslave the poor now and will eventually threaten life on the whole planet, even those living in the rich nations.

The poignancy that this moment is taking place on the continent of Africa, source of the world’s slaves in eras gone by, and that Africa will be the first hit as climate disturbances increase, is not lost on me.

And today I witnessed six members of the Canadian Youth Delegation as they stood in silent protest when Canada’s Minister of the Environment, Peter Kent, addressed the plenary. Their T-shirts read: ‘People over Profits; Turn Your Back on Canada.’

While I personally remain committed to talking and praying until unity is achieved, I understand these young adults’ sense of urgency. Justice could not have come soon enough for slaves, and yet that dreadful economic system wasn’t facing a natural limit. The Earth’s life support system, on the other hand, does have a natural limit. Hard choices need to be made today.

As they were ushered out of the meeting hall, I saw peace in the young protestors’ faces. Remaining disengaged or passive in the face of Canada’s resistance to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol is not a defendable choice. These Canadian youth know that their survival – and their souls – are at stake if they don’t speak up. They are prepared to risk whatever consequences their peaceful protest will bring.

They left the hall with more friends than when they arrived. The applause that enveloped them arose from a very polite, normally restrained international crowd.

I think of the action of the Canadian Youth Delegation as an invitation to amazing grace.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Epicentre of an Earthquake

Before leaving home for the COP17 climate talks, my climate advisor, environmental journalist Alanna Mitchell declared, “It will be like going into the epicentre of an earthquake before it happens, knowing that you might be able to do something to prevent it.”

These words haunt me. Every day there is growing evidence – in science and story – that Alanna is right about the looming ‘earthquake’ known as the inevitable effects of global warming. Climate change has already taken countless lives and is now threatening millions more in Africa and Asia, not to mention those of sinking island states and others.

Thousands of Africans with whom I marched on Saturday have already seen lives lost. It seems that the world, including Christians, can be as generous as possible when we give aid in response to the devastation from an earthquake, but unless we help prevent the catastrophe that’s brewing on this continent, there is no way we’ll be able to meet the needs or prevent unimaginable suffering and death. Even our own capacity will increasingly be affected by the impact of climate change on our own economy.

As African countries said in a news conference in Durban today, “Africa will be hit first and hardest by global climate change according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The continent has contributed the least to climate change, and is among the least equipped to adapt to its adverse effects. More than one billion people in Africa and millions of others living on small islands, least developed and other vulnerable countries will bear the potentially catastrophic effects of land loss, food and water shortage, crop reduction and flooding.”

Shawn McCarthy offers a related analysis in the Globe and Mail of the reasons why Africa is angry at Canada.: www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/african-countries-press-developed-world-to-come-to-climate-deal/article2259029/

Africans have always known Canadians to be compassionate, well educated, globally minded planetary citizens and friends, but they have begun to wonder about us. Bewilderment – and growing despair – over Canada’s seeming lack of commitment to the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol are particularly upsetting to them. They understand Canada’s position that other developing nations also need to reduce emissions. But their worst fear is that Canada will ultimately betray them and contribute to a result that is weaker rather than stronger.

Before I was born Canada turned away boat loads of war refugees whose lives were clearly at risk, something that Canadians are still deeply ashamed of. During my life time I have not seen my nation undertake such a betrayal of humanity – and I pray that it won’t happen this week. Most observers say that these talks are our last hope to avoid disaster, our last chance to help prevent an off-the-scales climate change earthquake that will affect billions.

The President of COP17, Her Excellency Ms Maite Nkoana-Mashabane asked the South African Council of Churches to arrange a special prayer service for the talks yesterday. She asked for prayers to help her get all governments to prevent a 2C degree rise in temperatures, building on the Kyoto Protocol. She also said that clear progress is being made in creating institutions that will help nations adapt to the worst of climate change. In other words, she asked us to pray for both the prevention of the earthquake and for help for those who are already suffering as a result of early tremors.

I don’t recall Jesus turning anyone away. May we turn no one away.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Impossible Until It’s Done

In her opening words to the COP17 this morning Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) quoted Nelson Mandela, “It always seems impossible until it is done.”

Based on news reports from Canada today Figueres may have been speaking directly to us when she went on to say: “This Conference needs to assure the vulnerable that action is being taken for the future, for both climate change mitigation and adaptation. You need to assure the world.”

The news from home was discouraging, and so it was very good to sit with Dr. Jesse Mugambi during the Official Opening this morning.

Jesse is a university professor in Kenya and a former visiting professor at Emmanuel College in Toronto. He knows The United Church of Canada well. He has also been very involved with climate mitigation efforts through the World Council of Churches and has been coming to these UN meetings for many years.

I asked him “Why do you keep coming to these meetings?” and Jesse answered, “Because the Gospel is about hope. It is not about despair.”

Christiana Figueres ended her opening comments with a Zulu phrase that sounded to me like: Sukuma Zakhe. The African woman sitting on the other side of me leaned over to translate, “Get up and develop yourself!” I couldn’t help but wonder if she knew I was Canadian.

More Canadian blogs and a photo quiz

I’ve been joined here by some fine Canadian bloggers:

Kaitlin Bardswich of the United Church of Canada who is here for the Youth for Eco-Justice Program, a transformational training program for young Christians aged 18-30 years. This program addresses the links between environmental and socio-economic justice, and is jointly organized by the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation in the context of UN climate negotiations. Kaitlin was with other young adults at yesterday’s interfaith rally and accompanied me as I spoke with other faith leaders and political leaders including Ireland’s Mary Robinson.

Her blog, Exploring Eco-Justice [http://kaitlinindurban.wordpress.com/] has an entry called Interfaith Rally in Durban with photos from yesterday: http://kaitlinindurban.wordpress.com/2011/11/28/interfaith-rally-in-durban/.  See if you can spot me in the photo called “Faith leaders enter the stadium.”

Willard Metzger, General Secretary of the Mennonite Church Canada also began blogging here today: http://willardmetzger.blogspot.com/

And check out blogs by Jim Davis, KAIROS Africa partnerships coordinator, and Caroline Foster, KAIROS Young Adult and Networks Coordinator, both blogging from Durban and John Dillon, also of KAIROS Canada, blogging from Toronto: http://kairoscanada.org/blogs/

Alanna Mitchell, the author of “Sea Sick: The Hidden Crisis in the Global Ocean” and a member of Eastminster United Church, will arrive here in a couple of days. She has already begun blogging for the Observer. Read her at: http://www.ucobserver.org/durban_2011/2011/11/durban/

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: We Have Faith

‘We have faith’ is displayed boldly in every corner where the Faith Secretariat has a considerable presence here at the COP17.

The first and only other time I’ve visited Africa was in 2000, in Ghana representing The United Church of Canada at a gathering of African lay centres. And as soon as I stepped onto the continent again yesterday, memories of witnessing the deep faith of Africans were rekindled.

During my earlier visit, I learned how Africans pray at the start and end of each journey, beginning with a prayer for safe travel to the next destination and ending with prayers of gratitude for arrival.

There is no greater reason to hope for success at these climate talks than that found in the faith of Africans themselves.

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu will, no doubt, inspire what is expected to be a huge interfaith rally here tomorrow. It is so right that prayer be our first act.

At a public event on climate change held in an Ottawa church on October 23rd, Elizabeth May said of the COP17, “It’s going to take a miracle to get the agreement the world needs.” Then, after a momentary pause, she added “But I’m a Christian. I believe in miracles! Let’s all pray for a miracle in Durban.”

Praying for a miracle seems to come easily here. South Africans have seen their prayers for a miracle answered within their lifetime, in the dismantling of apartheid. Africans are leading us in prayer for a miracle in Durban. We join them in prayer for a miracle that is achievable.

We begin the journey praying in the hope that we will have reason to pray with gratitude on December 10th, arriving safely at our destination.

Moderator Mardi’s Blog: The road to Durban—what Love requires

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.