World leaders, environmentalists, faith leaders and activists will soon gather in Paris, a city so recently plagued with violence and terrorism, to create a framework to reduce the grave dangers of escalating climate change.
I served as a Jewish faith leader at the UN Climate (COP 3) talks in 1997, in Kyoto, Japan and again at COP 15 in 2009, in Copenhagen, Denmark. Faith leaders from every world religious tradition gathered together with scientists, diplomats and environmentalists in support of a strong world standard to reduce the dangers of climate change. In Copenhagen we organized a march through the center of the city supported by thousands. Sadly, the world community failed to act. We can wait no longer. Once more the world’s attention will focus on Paris.
Diplomats and leaders knew then the grave dangers of unabated climate change and struggled to come up with a world strategy. We worked with faith leaders both within the conferences and outside, creating demonstrations to get the message out through the media. I sounded the Shofar the symbol of awakening at both of these UN COP events, calling upon people of faith and world citizens to act boldly while we had time to act.
We all know how painfully slow progress has been. Climate researchers around the world have been writing articles for decades about mitigating the rise in CO2 emissions. Now, the majority of articles are not about mitigation but rather about adapting to and documenting the pervasive climate change already occurring. These articles talk about growing rice in rising waters, saving coffee and grapes from destruction, and managing the growing shortage of fresh water the world will face.
Each year, we are breaking records in rising temperatures. I recently went to a conference at the White House and a meeting at the Department of State where Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz announced that because of the rapid change in climate, the world may need to shift from the goal of keeping the ocean temperature from rising no more than two degrees to a previously unthinkable three degrees if we fail to act now. He said this poses a deeply grave scenario which statistically presents a potential for dire climate consequences which would be unavoidable. Secretary Moniz, one of the world’s leading mathematicians and statisticians, made clear that the impact would be profound. We are entering unknown territory. We must not play dice with the world and the future of humanity.
COP 21 in Paris, where the nations of the world are gathering to create world standards and activate a New Climate Fund for developing nations serving as a key step for the world. As people of faith, we know how critical it is to protect life and to lift up life. The most vulnerable and some of the poorest of the world will be on the front lines of devastating climate change. We have already witnessed the world’s first refugees from climate in Micronesia. The heartbreaking Syrian East refugee situation is a result of war, but also of lack of water, food and resources for millions of people. Bangladesh, with its 100 million people, is also on the front lines of climate change as an island nation. Where would they go as refugees and how would our world cope with a refugee crisis that far exceeds anything humanity has ever known?
Climate change will impact human health and human security. Food sources, the management of water for humanity and dealing with climate refugees will take human ingenuity and political commitment. These challenges are not beyond us. In the last year, renewable sources of energy of all kinds have become more available and affordable. We must harness the power of our individual and communal voices, our capable and inventive minds, and our full devotion to the tasks ahead.
As a world faith community, let us support the work of the UN Paris Climate talks. Let us be bold and demand action and commit to doing our own part. It is incumbent upon us as individuals and as members of our religious community to learn to walk lightly on this Earth, to use up less, to seek alternative energy and to understand the deep spiritual dimensions of caring for the human family and all creation.