The Paris Agreement hammered out in December between 196 nations at the UN Climate Change Conference is anything but an abstract, distant formulation for me. In fact, the process, the agreement, its signing and implementation could not be more personal.
I was privileged to be an official “observer” at the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21). My participation was enabled by the PC(USA) and Action by Churches Together (ACT) Alliance. I traveled to Paris to be a witness to the historic gathering and share its progress and outcomes before, during, and after the gathering.
But while in Paris, the ongoing climate negotiations became very personal.
The abstract became personal in my conversation with Maryknoll Sister Marvie Misolas from the Philippines. Her ministry today eases the suffering of the thousands still affected by Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013.
The abstract became personal standing with Michael Haduyu, a young adult who took part in the Pan African Cycling Caravan. He was one of dozens of riders who biked 4,500 miles through 9 countries in 71 days to bring demands for climate justice from farms and villages ravaged by drought.
The abstract became personal in the voice of Anote Tong from the low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati as he described the immediate threat of sea level rise, powerful storm surges, and imperiled future.
In Paris, the Spirit moved my passion for climate justice from my head to my heart.
On Earth Day 2016, that same sense of personal, human connection to climate change and its impacts came to me in the voice of Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim addressing world leaders at the Paris Agreement signing ceremony at the UN Headquarters. Ms. Ibrahim from the Mbororo community of Chad shared a story of vanishing food, livestock, and pastures among her people. She spoke of climate refugees displaced today by the advance of climate change.
You can imagine, then, the emotions – even the anger – which wells up inside me when I read yet another report of a major fossil fuel company funding climate change deception and denial or bankrolling political campaigns aimed at blocking meaningful environmental or energy legislation.
I believe the negotiators from the world’s nations felt the Spirit move within them when they crafted the Paris Agreement last December. I believe the negotiators heeded the words of Pope Francis who has called us “…to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” It is my prayer, therefore, that the commissioners to the 222nd General Assembly of the PC(USA) feel the Spirit move within them and vote to divest fossil fuel holdings from the portfolios of the Board of Pension and the Presbyterian Foundation. If it is wrong to wreck the planet, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage.
Supported by Action by Churches Together (ACT),
Gary rallies at COP21 with members of the Pan African Cycling Caravan.