The Quaker renewal I prayed for in
the last entry may feel far away in some of it previous centers of
In the first generation, as
many as 20% of the English and Welsh were Quaker; it was a contagion sweeping
Now there are barely 20,000
left in Britain.
On the East coast of
the US, especially Pennsylvania, New York, and North Carolina, where Friends
once flourished, meetings are languishing.
The older generation is dying off, and they are not being replaced.
Quaker organizations, especially the American
Friends Service Committee, which was a vital force for peace and postwar
recovery in the mid twentieth century, are suffering because these generous
donors are passing from the stage. Friends United Meeting, a mainstream,
pastored style of Quakerism with planned sabbath services, is undergoing a
serious split over a staunch anti-gay stand by its ruling oligarchy.
But here in Southern Appalachian
Yearly Meeting, we continue to experience growth (which is true of New England
Yearly Meeting as well). And my home
meeting in Celo is particularly blessed with an influx of young people in their
20's and 30's, mostly woofers attracted to organic farming, communitarian
living, and the Celo Community land trust.
It had long seemed to me that liberal Quakerism was a natural place for
the spiritual but not religious to explore.
For these young people, jaded by disappointment with organized religion
and politics, a creedless, non-hierarchical faith community has indeed proved
attractive. And we have good potlucks
every First Day after worship.
At Meeting yesterday, a longtime
attender spoke about the changes he sensed, both in the Meeting and the
world. For almost our entire history of
over 60 years, we have opened our meeting for worship to campers from Camp
Celo, a Quaker-based camp just down the road.
They file in quietly, sit mostly on the floor, and request hymns as long
as the clerk allows. Then they share silent worship with us for 5 or 10 minutes
before quietly filing out and returning to camp. Yesterday, my friend observed
that the children were unusually quiet, almost somber this year, an observation
that strikes true for me. They know something big and very scary is up. It was Nagasaki Day, and a Japanese woman had
just tearfully prayed for the abolition of nuclear weapons. In response to this gathering awareness, he
saw signs of an awakening, both to the cause of world peace, but even more
critically, to the imminent danger of climate catastrophe.
There are indeed signs of a
shift. In the fall, the US and China
made serious pledges to reduce greenhouse emissions as a first step towards a
Paris accord this December. Other nations followed with their own
commitments. At the G7 conference in
June, the assembled industrial powers pledged to phase out carbon emissions
this century, with an initial commitment to the “upper end” of 40-70% below
2010 levels by 2050 (climate scientists are calling for 80-90% by
mid-century). Shortly thereafter, Pope
Francis issued his eloquent environmental encyclical, setting off a reaction
among conservative politicians in the US jockeying for the nomination of the
Party of Denial. But it is having its
effect among the “independents” who have yet to be convinced of the present
dangers of climate change, though most of them accept it at some level.
Shifting the message from scientific fact
to one of morality is producing ripple effects far beyond the world's
billion-plus Catholics. Lastly,
President Obama has completed his Clean Power Plan for US power generation, and
it is more ambitious than promised in its earlier stages. Freed of the need for re-election, he is
proving to be a much stronger environmental president than during his first
term, despite the fact that he has approved drilling in the Arctic and has
continued to postpone a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. At the joint
announcement with Premier Xi of the US-China emissions reduction pledge last
fall, he echoed Washington Governor Jay Inslee: "We are the first
generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that
can do something about it." Thusfar, his rhetoric has exceeded his
actions. But the two are getting
Of course the President can't do
Blocked by Congress, he is
exploiting the powers of the executive. But when it comes to an international
climate treaty to be signed, the senate must agree by a 2/3 majority, which seems
an impossible political mountain to climb.
Yet I find Paul Gilding's positive spin on this impasse plausible in his
provocative and optimistic book, The Great Disruption
prefers not to worry about it, since the time is nigh when there will be
sufficient disruption to the lives of rich country denizens that an intelligent
response to the obvious will be ripe and natural. When the time comes, the wall
of denial may fall as fast as the Berlin Wall.
May it be soon.
So does the shift in awareness mean
there is a place for a climate treaty at the UN COP 21 in Paris?
I have previously posted about the current
path towards a Paris Accord, calling it a patchwork quilt approach
Yes, I think there will be a treaty, but its chief importance is to
establish a hopeful tone, a sense of progress that will encourage more
significant measures. The joint communique by the US and China last fall has
helped create that tone. Other countries have followed their lead, some with
promising commitments (Mexico, Brazil, European Union), others with weak,
disappointing ones (Russia, Canada, and most recently, Australia).
As I have argued here before, the
key is for the US and China, the two largest emitters, to forge a joint treaty
that is tough enough to be meaningful.
And China has ramped up its pledge by promising a further reduction in
involved in their pushing for a bilateral agreement that is far more effective
than the likely range of outcomes in Paris is much more straightforward than
the delicate dance required of the global community in Paris, one that is still
split into the haves and have-nots, with the two sides continuing to trade
recriminations. Thoroughly woven into this diplomatic task is the issue of historical
responsibility for the CO2 plaguing the Earth, which pits the US against
Though China is now the biggest
emitter, it is the US that carries the brunt of historic emissions.
This will remain, Paris treaty or not, the
key knot to cut for the US and China to jointly solve the impasse. But the
payoff could be huge if they succeed. In a recent interview with Grist,
James Hansen says that a strong, bilateral carbon tax
between these two powers would change
So let's keep the political
pressure up, and the prayers going, for a Paris Accord in December.
But don't be too disappointed with the
toughness of the results, for it will be a gesture of solidarity for the fight,
another powerful symbol of a process that continues to knit beneath the surface
Labels: Cleqan Power Plan, COP 21, James Hansen, Jay Inslee, Paris climate accord, Party of Denial, Paul Gilding, Pope Francis, Quaker renewal, The Great Disruption