Faithful must lead the break from fossil fuels


Column: Faithful must lead the break from fossil fuels


By Rev. Richard Cizik, President, New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good

This past week I joined a group of 17 interfaith leaders and more than 30,000 delegates and media at COP 21 (Conference of Parties) in Bourget outside of Paris, to witness whether 195 countries could find consensus on a plan to reduce their planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions. The answer is now clear – an historic agreement was reached.

According to the Woods Hole Research Center, “The good news is that nothing like this has happened before (have 196 countries ever agreed to anything?). The bad news: the Paris commitments are largely non-binding, but they are a good start.”

The agreement will push countries to pursue efforts to: Limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change;

Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience;

Allow finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate resistant development. This was a big win for climate change activists; President Obama, who pushed hard for an agreement; and religious leaders such as Pope Francis and millions of citizens who have worked hard for so long to get us to this point. It’s a big win for Planet Earth and all future generations.

Let’s face it–we as a nation are addicts to fossil fuels like oil and gas. Breaking this addiction and moving to renewables such as wind and solar is happening, but way too slowly. We should see the Paris agreement as an opportunity to envision a new way of seeing the world. “Without a vision the people perish,” say the Scriptures. As our case is new, so we must see the country anew,” Abraham Lincoln declared in 1962. “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

Ask the residents of the West and Southwest whether the drought doesn’t require a new mind-set. The Colorado River already drying up will be down 10 percent flow by mid-century. Ask the victims of more intense and powerful hurricanes, such as Katrina and Sandy, whether we can ignore the science of climate change. Our illusion of human supremacy over climate change will not make it go away. As said before, you can’t bribe or bully Mother Nature. But we can mitigate and adapt to that which we are producing by our use and abuse of fossil fuels–climate chaos.

Accepting a new vision–seriously shifting to renewables and getting off fossil fuels–will help us disenthrall from old illusions.

Nevertheless, a vision for change without a workable strategy is an hallucination. The Paris agreement is the best strategy yet for solving a planetary emergency. And the best advocates for endorsing and implementing the agreement lies with the world’s faith communities–the four largest religions being Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist with more than 76 percent of the people on the planet–all acting in ways that reflect their deepest values of stewardship, concern for the poor and protection of natural resources.

Cop 21 meetings, housed in a refurbished airport hanger outside Paris, included exhibits for “green” advocacy organizations to help move 7 billion people and counting toward environmental sustainability. All well and good. But incentives, or other rewards and punishments, are easily forgotten when the pressure of living the status quo with existing consumption patterns, reasserts itself.

Midweek at COP 21, our group of religious leaders from every continent held a “Faith and Climate Change” session on how to move fellow believers to this vision. Adam Bucko, a Gen-X Christian born in Poland and now an American citizen, sporting knee-length dreadlocks and a commitment to a “new monasticism,” called getting off our carbon addiction “impossible except through a spiritual revolution.”

He’s right, but we’re not yet there as a society. Now too many of us are like the elderly man driving down the highway who turns to his wife and says, “Honey, my hand-to-eye coordination is not good and my eyesight is even worse, but thank God I can drive!” Some of our leaders who oppose the Paris agreement are like the couple blindly driving the country and planet into great peril.

Bold leadership is needed in this new era. Someone who has watched these COP events for many years is Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters. I ran into him in the Green Zone and asked for a prediction.  He prophetically said that “the one community with the clout to make COP21 pronouncements a reality are the world’s faith communities.”

They can’t be silent, however. One image that stands out to me from COP 21 was a group of young people all standing in a row, mouths taped shut, with a sign declaring: “Don’t Bracket our [Future].” In other words, don’t silence us or others from speaking the truth.

The same goes for confronting politicians. Conservative columnist David Brooks has written that “on this [climate ] issue the GOP resembles a Soviet dictatorship–a vast majority of Republican politicians can’t publicly say what they know about the truth of climate change because they’re afraid the thought police will knock on their door and drag them off to an AM radio interrogation. “We need to make it possible for these GOP officials to come out of the closet.

Voters, particularly in conservative religious communities, can do this by no longer giving them political cover. We see changes already. Conservatives who support clean energy initiatives are freer to accept climate change because they’re already contributing to the solution. It’s framed as an issue of liberty to choose a cleaner source of energy rather than a belief in rising temperatures.

With Christmas and the New Year nearly here, we should chart a new course and define a new era. Just remember, if you’ve never changed your mind about something, pinch yourself, you may be dead. Not literally, just intellectually or spiritually. Let’s be the leaders we were meant to be.

We pride ourselves as Americans in being the leaders for the rest of the world. May it be so on climate change.

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