Thursday, December 08, 2011


Climate Negotiations Sorely Test Advent

Advent has become the season of UN Climate Framework talks. Always my favorite season, these annual negotiations now both deepen and heavily freight the season, a real test for the depth of my belief. Two years ago, I wrote here of a “Tiny Advent Star,” a fragile little symbol of hope in the snow pattern on my deck. This year, that star is gone. No Obama coming to “save” the talks, not one single person from the US Congress at the proceedings. In the middle of the current talks, a binding international climate treaty seems further away than ever.

I wrote then of the hope in the international community; that even if our politics were dominated by climate change denialists, other countries, including Russia and Japan (and of course Europe), were solidly convinced by the science. This year, Russia and Japan have joined the US and Canada in an attempt to block renewal of the Kyoto Protocol. Obama claims to be hamstrung by the domestic politics that George Bush and colleagues from his party engineered. There are powerful leaders, eloquent voices at Durban, but they come from civil society and First Nations, not the UN's constituent states. Bolivia's Evo Morales was impressive at Copenhagen, but only a massive peasant uprising prevented him (for now) from building a highway right through the heart of the forested Motherland he spoke so eloquently about preserving. Our leaders have feet of clay, and politics at all levels have increasingly ruled the proceedings. The hosts at Durban were embarrassed by an ugly outpouring of secular politics as the ANC youth brigade disrupted the massive protest parade on Saturday.

Last week I was in despair over the state of things in Durban. Unable to use coginitve tools or meditation techniques to stop the worsening spiral, I went deeply inside, and found the image of a very young child with purple eyes, looking straight at me, the very picture of Advent. This image stayed with me the rest of the morning, and has buoyed me since, even as the news from Durban has worsened. Jesus Christ is not my personal master, but while singing in the chorus for “Amahl and the Night Visitors” the next evening, I heard Balthazar sing of a child he had never seen, but “with eyes of a king.” If ever we needed a Second Coming, it is now.

Speaking at Durban Saturday, Desmond Tutu reminded us that few imagined South Africa would emerge from apartheid without major bloodshed, yet we all witnessed a political “miracle.” He asked us to believe in one more, a climate treaty breakthrough in that same country fifteen years later. Many have prayed deeply for such a miracle over these last few days. Today, it has been pronounced dead by a key tireless champion, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon.

A tough, binding inernational treaty with all major polluters signing on, including the US, China, and India, has been at the core of my commitment to mitigating massive climate change. Now, without such an agreement, the landscape looks bleak. We now must have the courage to keep the movement outside the convention center alive and growing. George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement to which I belong, said in the mid-seventeenth century that “Jesus Christ has come to teach his people himself.” What he meant was that Christ never left this world, but awaits our awakening to Him within our hearts as the Inner Light.

So the miracle Tutu speaks of is now in our hands, if we submit to the governance of that Light. It is abundantly clear that elected officials and international bodies are not capable of achieving what we must do ourselves. We need to establish a people's agreement akin to the Occupy movement outside the halls of formal treaties that will require the politicians to join us if they want to be part of the New Order. Advent is an eternal moment where we reawaken to a spiritual reality that already exists. If this earth is to remain the occasion for such a reality, then we need to make the streets, the squares, and the sanctuaries ours in the same spirit of non-violent resistance that lead Christ and Gandhi. If we do, the halls of Congress will resonate with a new sound, or else become irrelevant to history's tide. Now is the time to become those we have been waiting for, re-empowering the dispossessed and healing the suffering earth. May we be blessed with courage for the immense struggle ahead.

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