Churches in eastern and southern Africa are appealing for humanitarian aid in the region, as 36 million people grapple with the worst drought in decades. Linked to extreme El Nino weather conditions, the drought has hit countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, South Sudan, Malawi, and Zimbabwe, among others. The conditions have reversed normal weather patterns, upsetting people’s livelihoods.
The deadly environment for activists is closely tied to recent Honduran history. Following the 2009 coup, in which democratically-elected Honduran president Manuel Zelaya was deposed, the new government declared Honduras “open for business” and granted profitable contracts to transnational companies looking to capitalize on Honduran natural resources — including resources on indigenous land. When leaders like Cáceres demanded the rights guaranteed to indigenous people by the U.N and the International Labor Convention — including the right to determine how indigenous land is used — it wasn’t great for business. The death threats followed.
The March 1 release of a cache of documents obtained during the raid that ended with Osama Bin Laden’s death reveals some of the Al-Qaeda leader’s strange concerns.
In one letter, Bin Laden writes to his wife, warning her that the dental filling she received in Iran may have contained a computer chip used to track her movements.
WE SPEND, in the Christian tradition, a fair amount of time meditating on Mary as she waited to give birth.
But maybe this month it would be a good idea to meditate on the millions of women around Latin America and the Caribbean who are waiting to give birth—and doing so in a state of quiet panic.
Health ministers in countries such as Jamaica, Colombia, and Brazil were telling their (enormous) populations to avoid becoming pregnant. To avoid reproduction. To avoid the most basic task of any species. In El Salvador, the health minister said it would be at least 2018 before it would be safe to get pregnant. Think about that.
The culprit is a new disease, the Zika virus, which is mainly spread by mosquitos.
Not quite new, actually—it was found in Africa decades ago. But it’s migrated to South America, perhaps during soccer’s 2014 World Cup. And it appears to be having an entirely new effect. Though innocuous enough to those who catch it (flu-like symptoms so mild that most people don’t even know they have it), it appears linked to a truly horrendous set of birth defects. In a normal year, Brazil has a couple of hundred cases of microcephaly, an incurable birth defect that may result in intellectual disabilities, seizures, and reduced life expectancy. In 2015, that number suddenly jumped to 4,000, and the best guess is that the Zika virus is the culprit.
Now that Ted Cruz has won Iowa’s Republican presidential caucus, he may want to listen more closely to those evangelicals who supported him on the subject of climate change. Just last month, the Texas senator, who chairs the Senate’s Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness, proudly claimed, “According to the satellite data, there has been no significant global warming for the past 18 years.”
I LANDED IN Paris on Dec. 3, barely three weeks after the mass murder there of 128 people by armed extremists. On these same streets now gathered thousands from around the world—including from across the faith world—to hammer out an international agreement on climate change.
After checking in to my hotel, I made my way to the grand Notre Dame Cathedral for the ecumenical worship service organized by the Council of Christian Churches in France. While still blocks from the church, I began to hear the boisterous ringing of bells. Such joyous clanging from Notre Dame reminded the whole world that peace and hope were still possible, both on the earth and with the earth.
And the Climate Change Conference in Paris—COP 21, as it’s known—offered a needed opportunity to take a key step toward peace with the earth. The window to avoid total climate disruption is closing faster than many of us imagined possible.
I stepped into Notre Dame with awe—and an awareness that this kind of work requires prayer and miracles. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would worship in such a magnificent and historic place. The church was nearly full. I sat near the back. Voices from the choirs rang through the massive stone sanctuary. On such a cold evening, their beauty touched and warmed us with poetry and power. The worldwide church was in attendance, dramatically offering its gifts back to the Creator.
‘Leaders can’t afford to come home empty-handed’
Before COP 21, Bill McKibben—an environmental activist, author, and Methodist (and Sojourners columnist)—observed, “Paris isn’t the game, it’s the scoreboard. It shows us how much we’ve done—and haven’t done—over the years since Copenhagen (COP 15 in 2009), when we suffered a huge defeat. There is a big enough movement now—in no small part thanks to faith communities, patriarchs, popes, and the like—that we’ll see some progress in Paris. World leaders can’t afford to come home empty-handed.”
He was right. People of faith came to Paris from every corner of the earth. Some came as negotiators and political delegates, some as observers, and others as prophetic voices to hold political leaders accountable to the science and the moral imperative of safeguarding a living planet.
As a consequence of the November terrorist attacks, public marches for climate justice—which had been expected to draw more than 200,000 people—were cancelled by French authorities. In lieu of the marches, French activists called for a “global march” in solidarity with them. At the end of November, hundreds of thousands around the world took to the streets to make clear to the leaders headed to Paris that the whole world was watching. More than 570,000 people marched in 2,300 events in 175 countries, according to organizers, making it the biggest set of global climate change marches in history. “The charge from the streets for leaders to act on climate has been deafening, with record numbers turning out across the world,” said Emma Ruby-Sachs, campaign director for Avaaz, a global civic movement.
Possibly hoping for divine intervention ahead of next month’s Academy Awards, Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio met with fellow environmentalist Pope Francis. Speaking Italian, DiCaprio kissed the pontiff’s hand on Jan. 28 and offered a “grazie” [thank you] “for granting me this private audience with you.” Then, switching to English, he gave the pontiff a book of paintings by Early Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch, whose works meld fantastic imagery with reality.
TWO RECENT news items: 1) A new U.N. report finds that over the last 20 years, 4.1 billion people have been injured in extreme weather events—the floods and forest fires that are proliferating as the climate warms. The report adds that the total will keep steeply climbing in the years ahead.
2) Two teams of investigative journalists, following separate document trails, proved in the course of the fall that Exxon—now ExxonMobil, the world’s most profitable company—had known everything there was to know about climate change 25 years ago. And then lied about it, helping to set up the elaborate infrastructure of climate denial that has prevented serious international action on global warming.
I don’t know how to keep these two things in my head at the same time without giving myself over to hatred. I know I’m not supposed to hate, and much of the time I’m able to work on climate change without losing my cool. I can meet oil industry executives, understand the problems that make it hard for them to move quickly; I can and do sympathize deeply with coal miners and tar sands miners whose lives will be disrupted as we take necessary action.
But for Exxon? There have been hours, reading these reports in the Los Angeles Times and the Pulitzer-winning InsideClimate News, when I’ve just found myself in a blind rage, unable to comprehend how people—professed Christians, most of them, in that Texas hotbed of Christianity—could act this way. Their scientists told them quite straightforwardly that burning coal and oil was heating the planet and that it was going to be disastrous. By the mid-1980s, before any politician was talking about climate change, they had good computer models indicating (correctly as it turned out) how much the earth would warm. And they believed those predictions—they helped guide their actions in places like the Arctic, where they were bidding for leases in waters they knew would soon be free of ice.
But they also knew that serious action on climate change would cost them money—would force them to start switching their business from fossil fuel to renewable energy. And so they went to work, helping to set up front groups that hired veterans of the tobacco wars to open a new front of obfuscation. Their CEO, Lee Raymond, gave a speech in Beijing in 1997 insisting that the climate models were hokum, and that the earth was cooling.
Before the announcements of the new agreement at COP 21, when the thousands of people who were not closely engaging with official delegates of the 190 countries gathered in Paris, I was sitting at a small white table with my new found friend Kenneth.
We spoke for nearly an hour before I asked him the question.
We had been talking about the work of the Ghanian Religious Bodies Network On Climate Change, which brings together Muslims, Christians, and Indigenous peoples across Ghana to work on climate change because, after all, “climate change impacts all of us.” We touched upon capacity building, workshops, seminary education, practicalities, and visions. It was the kind of conversation that most people who were not directly involved in the negotiations were in Paris to have: networking, information sharing, and building cross-cultural relationships around common endeavors.
Finally, I asked him, “Are you religious?”
Pope Francis hailed the “historic” climate change agreement signed in Paris, urging the international community to swiftly implement the deal.
Speaking to the faithful in St. Peter’s Square on Dec. 13, Francis called on world leaders to act on the unprecedented environmental agreement signed on Dec. 12 by nearly 200 countries.
“The conference on climate has just finished in Paris with the adoption of an agreement, defined by many as historic. Carrying it out will require a unanimous commitment and generous dedication on everyone’s part,” he said.
An extraordinary illuminated projection of images of the natural world onto St. Peter’s Basilica on the evening of Dec. 8 drew thousands of awed spectators to the Vatican and delighted untold numbers more watching online and via widespread media coverage of the three-hour show.
But not everyone was happy with the spectacle, not by a long shot, as social media and conservative Catholic sites erupted with indignation.
“This has gone beyond ridiculous,” fumed a conservative blogger, the Rev. John Zuhlsdorf, who called it “irreverent” to use a sacred space for a secular purpose.
“Why not rent out the Sistine chapel too, while they’re at it?”
At COP21 last week, religious leaders participated in a “Fast for Climate” and delivered petitions with more than 1.7 million signatures to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, demanding immediate climate action.
These leaders, from different faith traditions, also held a press conference at COP21 with the message that they are united in the fight against climate change.
COP21 is not only a gathering of world leaders to achieve an agreement on climate change — it is a gathering for all concerned with the issue. This has included religious leaders from many of the world’s faiths and denominations, who realize a responsibility to speak out on grave societal illnesses and care for the world.
One of the most intriguing and lifegiving events at COP21 was an ecumenical worship service held at the Notre Dame Cathedral on Dec. 3, organized by the Council of Christian Churches in France.
WHEN WE CONSIDER the crisis of climate change, many of us swing back and forth between a narrative of despair in which “there is nothing we can do” and a narrative of hope that affirms that good futures are available when we act responsibly. Surely Laudato Si’, the encyclical released by Pope Francis last spring, has given enormous impetus to the narrative of possibility, summoning us to act intentionally and systemically about climate change.
The issue of climate change is a recent one, but the matter of revivifying the creation is a very old one in faith. In ancient Israel, as now, care for creation required a vision of an alternative economy grounded in fidelity.
The economy of ancient Israel, a small economy, was controlled and administered by the socio-political elites in the capital cities of Samaria in the north and Jerusalem in the south. Those elites clustered around the king and included the priests, the scribes, the tax collectors, and no doubt other powerful people. Those urban elites extracted wealth from the small, at-risk peasant-farmers who at best lived a precarious subsistence life. The process of extraction included taxation and high interest rates on loans. These were financial arrangements that drove many of the peasants into hopeless debt so that they were rendered helpless in the economy.
While that arrangement was exploitative, it no doubt appeared, at least from an urban perspective, to be normal, because the surplus wealth and the high standard of living it made possible seemed natural and guaranteed. The power people who operated the economy could assume surplus wealth, and the exploited peasants were impotent in the face of that power. The arrangement appeared to be safe to perpetuity.
Speeches of judgment
Except that a strange thing happened in ancient Israel in the eighth century B.C.E. (750-700 B.C.E.). There appeared in Israel, inexplicably, a series of unconnected, uncredentialed poets who by their imaginative utterance disrupted that seemingly secure economic arrangement. We characteristically list in that period of Israelite history four prophets—Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah. They came from various backgrounds, but they shared a common passion and a stylized mode of evocative speech.
The “normative” economy of the period had assumed that the economy consisted of only two participants: 1) the productive peasants, and 2) the urban elites, who did not work or produce anything but who lived well off of peasant produce. Those uncredentialed poets, however, dared to imagine and to utter that there was, inescapably, a third participant in the political economy: namely, the emancipatory God of the Exodus.
“We can’t just blame it on the brokenness of the world, pray for peace, and move on, worried that anything more will be seen as politicizing tragedy. What is tragic is that those who have the ability to DO something about this crisis refuse to offer more than simplistic sentiments on Twitter before getting caught in a circular argument about our rights as Americans. It’s time for people of faith to respond.”
Because: NRA. “Researchers from federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) have largely been mum on the public health issue of gun violence — not by choice, but because of a 20-year-old congressional ban on federally funded gun violence research.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Thursday that the city would release dashcam footage of a Chicago police officer shooting 25-year-old Ronald Johnson III in the back. The shooting happened eight days before officer Jason Van Dyke shot and killed 17-year-old Laquan McDonald.
Actual tweet: "I just learned there is a Black version of 'The Wizard of Oz' called 'The Wiz.' How is this not racist?" Oy.
The French government has banned mass gatherings during COP21 in Paris. So protesters have gotten creative.
The organization Brandalism has posted 600 pieces of artwork and fake advertisements all over the city that mimic real advertisements but actually denounce politicians and corporations for their apathy toward climate change.
I was part of the United Methodist delegation to Rio de Janeiro in 1992 during the world’s first major gathering of world leaders, nongovernmental organizations, and corporate heads to focus on climate change and related environmental and development issues. It was clear even then that environmental concerns could not be effectively addressed without simultaneously addressing poverty and inequity.
As of Nov. 30, government officials, corporate leaders, and nongovernmental organizations are meeting for the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) for climate negotiations, this time in Paris. World leaders and other official summit attendees will be protected by greatly enhanced security because of recent terrorist attacks. Civil society won’t enjoy such protections, as indicated by the prohibition of planned demonstrations in Paris.
Some are still demonstrating in Paris, including people committed to nonviolence who formed a 10,000 person human chain and left 20,000 empty shoes — including a pair of the Pope’s shoes — to represent the protestors who are not allowed to demonstrate. Still, around the world, people are gathering to pray for the success of the climate talks and for peace.
"The biggest open question in Paris may be how much aid goes to poor countries trying to leapfrog fossil fuels,” Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College and founder of 350.org, said.
“For reasons both moral and practical the number should be large — larger than it likely will be."
As we think about the future of our children and our grandchildren, we need to rethink our use of water: how we store it, how we carry it and how we drink it. Water is a human necessity. Our ignorance can lead to the irony of spoiling watersheds — by robbing them of potable water while introducing mountains of plastic waste, impervious to decays which produce useful soils, and diverting water from useful work.
They said it was a fool’s errand.
They said there was too much money on the other side.
They said the politics were too difficult.
And yet here we are.
As my friend Bill McKibben wrote in 2011, our indigenous brothers and sisters in Canada had been fighting the Keystone XL pipeline for years. But before August 2011, virtually no one in the U.S. had even heard of it.
Then I read the pastoral letter from Alberta’s Bishop Luc Bouchard, The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands, and I felt the Spirit calling me to action.
We put out a call to religious leaders to join the Tar Sands Blockade in Washington, D.C., in the summer of 2011. It was hot. It was humid. It was summer in D.C. But hundreds and hundreds of Protestant pastors, rabbis, Buddhist priests, Franciscans, Unitarians, and Christians of all stripes said they would come.
THOSE OF US who work on global warming are well-defended against even moderate optimism. Every day brings another study showing how far we’ve pushed the planet’s physical systems. For instance, new research has emerged showing that even as the planet is setting remarkable temperature records, the meltwater pouring off Greenland has cooled a patch of the North Atlantic and perhaps begun to play havoc with the Gulf Stream. Simultaneously, new research showed that the soupy hot ocean everywhere else was triggering the third planet-wide bleaching of coral in the last 15 years. It is entirely possible we’ve set in motion forces that can’t be controlled.
That said, for the first time in the quarter-century history of global warming there’s room for at least some hope in the arena we can control: the desperate political and economic fight to slow the release of yet more carbon into the atmosphere. It’s not like we’re winning—but we’re not losing the way we used to. Something new is happening.
Consider where we were six years ago, as the Copenhagen conference, much ballyhooed and long anticipated, ground to its dreary conclusion: The world had decisively decided not to decide a thing. There was no treaty, no agreement, no targets, no timetables. In fact, the only real achievement of the whole debacle was to drive home to those who cared about the climate that a new approach was needed. Twenty years of expert panels and scientific reports and top-level negotiations had reached a consensus that the planet was dangerously overheating. And it had also reached a dead end.
There was a reason for that, or so some of us decided: The fossil fuel industry simply had too much power. The fact that they were the richest industry in the planet’s history was giving them total power. They’d lost the argument but won the fight.
And because the rest of us were still arguing, not fighting, there was no real pressure. World leaders could go home from Copenhagen without fearing any fallout from their failure. Barack Obama came back to D.C. where he watched mutely as the Senate punted on climate legislation, and then mostly ignored the issue for three years, not even bothering to talk about it during his re-election campaign.
Catholic leaders made a rare appeal to the world’s politicians on Oct. 26, urging them to take strong action at the highly-anticipated U.N. climate change summit later this year.
Nine cardinals, patriarchs, and bishops representing the Catholic Church across five continents signed a document, presented at the Vatican on Oct. 26 by clergy from Belgium, Colombia, India, and Papua New Guinea.
The document presents a 10-point policy proposal calling for “a fair, legally binding, and truly transformational climate agreement.”