Even as the clock ticks down to COP 21 in Paris this coming December, agreement has yet to be reached about exactly what the conference could or should accomplish. There is little consensus concerning outcomes that might actually bring about change. Not unlike other issues where binary thinking has predominated, we are presented with an either/or scenario: economic collapse and damaging human impact, or economic prosperity and destructive impact on climate.
What is different now, however, is that the economic axis has shifted. Crucial to the Paris discussions is the fact that Western-driven economic theory and practice, rooted in the competitive polarities of prosperity versus paucity, now dominate the globe, while Western economies themselves do not. And it is this largely binary economic way of framing the issues of the environment that militates against significant accomplishment in Paris. Not unlike Copenhagen in 2009, or Kyoto in 1997, governments are posturing so as not to give away economic advantage. National prosperity continues to trump the environment.
Binary thinking tends to assume linear relationships and trajectories. As with any case of either/or thinking, we become oblivious to influences that are non-linear in nature. For most peoples of the earth, the universe is centered on a spiritual reality that enfolds and shapes it — something that is multi-dimensional, not linear. Our Creator, after all, works with and engages all of creation. Vectors — whether they are economic projections or co-relational productivity graphs — do not capture this reality. Yet, our orientation toward policy and practice with respect to the environment functions very much with a linear economic view. Our Creator’s place and expectations are absent.
Furthermore, our fixation on an as-yet-unknown future — where the issues that we wrestle with today will be addressed by some as-yet-undiscovered technology or method — dooms us to repeat increasingly damaging incursions into the environmental balance. This orientation towards deferred consequence is precisely what ensured Copenhagen and Kyoto, and now the upcoming Paris conversations, would take place in a climate of anticipated failure. No one appears willing to look at our collective human past as the most significant determinant of our present so as to understand the potential of our demands for the future. We may pay lip service to learning from past mistakes, but it is just that: lip service.
If there were a third concern about Paris, it would be that human beings have yet to discover fully and finally that we are but one part of an interconnected, interdependent, interrelated whole. In the 1950s as one third or more of the globe’s species became forever lost, human beings were still functioning as if they, and they alone, mattered on the face of this earth. In a 2010 study Cornell marine ecologists noted:
The species most likely to disappear are those that buffer against infectious disease transmission, while surviving species tend to be the ones that increase disease transmission, such as that of West Nile Virus, Lyme disease and Hantavirus.
Our inability to acknowledge we are interdependent is killing us — and them. Until such time as we acknowledge that we are dependent upon all that exists on our mother the earth, this will not change; Paris and other consultations on climate change will not be successful.
What does this say? It says that without a clear change in our philosophy of life, including our view of economics and prosperity, we will not succeed in Paris. What’s more, initiatives like the Campaign Against Climate Change effort to have the citizens of Paris engage in a bandh — a form of widespread boycott — will ultimately fail because the following day, the sun will rise and we will have forgotten — that was, after all, yesterday. The future waits!
What can we do? First, we can review our own theology of creation so that we more fully understand the groaning in travail of which the Apostle Paul speaks in Romans 8, so as to live into a more balanced view of the redemption of all things in Jesus. Second, we can believe, as with the writer of Job, that the rest of creation informs us more accurately about our Creators activities and intentions within creation than our human counsellors. Creation’s economics are more balanced and less partisan. Third, we can call on our policy makers to place a moratorium on development, economic or otherwise, that does not balance the requirements of all of creation equally — human and non-human alike. Sustainability is not yet enough. Fourth, we can ensure that our own economic attitudes and investments do the same! We cannot ask others to go where we are unprepared. Finally, we can act as if our lives depend on it — because they do!
Terry LeBlanc is Mi’kmaq/Acadian, a founder and chair of the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies (naiits.com), and adjunct faculty in Indigenous and intercultural studies for Tyndale Seminary in Toronto and Asbury Seminary in Kentucky.
Image: COP21 in Paris is set for December. Suz7 / Shutterstock.com