Sunday, December 27, 2009
I was a skeptic of the 'blame China' narrative offered by the likes of Gordon Brown. Though I like to think of myself as someone who avoids the 'blame game,' I am more certainly more comfortable with blaming Western oil companies than a complex country which I do not pretend to understand.
I was not in the room that Lynas was in. But I believe him. And I believe that China is a very smart super power. Lynas details how China first did not do the rest of the world the courtesy of sending their top people to the discussion with the other global powers and then continually blocked any resolution that the West (ie, Obama) put forward - including the Western powers stating their own emission targets. Why? To make Obama and the Western super powers look bad - and to stop the COP process from getting so powerful that China's own economic growth would be curtailed by their policies.
International negotiations are complicated, to say the least. I do not agree with the fundamental processes the COP has in place. I support a more regional-based system, such as proposed by Larry Susskind (his blog is quite interesting: www.theconsensusbuildingapproach.blogspot.com). But let's say, just for the moment, that Lynas' analysis is accurate. China played a significant role in blocking the negotiations, and used certain developing nations (such as Sudan)to serve their own interests for the purpose of strengthening their own political-economic position and weakening the COP process (again to protect their own interests.) This is the same country which America is deeply indebted to, which continues to have economic growth (and with it increasing global political power, especially as other countries struggle to recover from the Financial crisis), which has increasing interest in natural resources of other countries, especially in Africa, and which many claim is becoming The Global Superpower. While I'm (again) skeptical of that, there is no doubt of the global power shift we have been witnessing in the past year. And this is a complex, quickly changing, immensely diverse and in many ways beautiful culture, one which, for many Westerners, is utterly foreign. It is also one of the leaders in wind and has a significant market share in solar - I wish the US and the UK were making the kind of investments in renewable energy and in R& D that China is.
But what do these shifts in power mean for Quakers and Fellow travelers? What does this mean for those who seek to build a strong global civil society to hold its leaders accountable, and to ensure a sustainable (survivable) future? China isn't known for its transparency. It's not known for a thriving democracy. Or a respect of human rights. Or a thriving civil society (though that is also changing, and Chinese environmental organizations are increasing). If global civil society can bring all their heads of state to the negotiation table (a significant accomplishment) and then China doesn't show up - what then? Do those immense civil society efforts count for nothing because the tiger in the room didn't feel like playing our game?
Lynas is afraid that is exactly what it means. One thing I know for sure is that we can't ignore China. Our analysis and our actions must include not only what to do to ensure shifts in Western socio-political-economy, but what can be done to shift China to be as concerned with global survival as they are with their own economic success. Which is not easy. In fact, the thought of it makes my head spin.
But I've a rather unpleasant knack for a good imagination. I can imagine technical and trade partnerships between China and the West (both the US and Europe) which could lead to unprecedented creativity, innovation, and the potential for survival. And I can imagine warfare of one kind or another between the 'West' and China (and its allies). Perhaps not immediately. But climate change invites us to tie bonds - either with or against one another.
Even as I talk about the importance of thinking East-West, I don't want to paint the world in clear binary oppositions - I don't think that's accurate, nor does it sit well with my faith. India, South Africa, Brazil, and even little states like the Maldives are shifting their roles as well. I do not think that civil society is worthless just because big superpowers such as China who care little for NGOs are beginning to flex their new-found strength.
And all of this doesn't let any of us off the hook. We need to do the right thing regardless of what others are - or are not - doing. I'd like to see the US leading by example - even if it seems like economic suicide - if the US stops buying products made by fossil fuels (a big 'if') China won't make them (or at least not as many of them). My intention here is to highlight the need to shift some of our thinking about power (and thus where and how to witness) in the global system. And part of shifting our imagination must include looking at the mirror, as well as out the window.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
And neither are those of us who are working to create a new normal.
The 'Tck Tck Tck' campaign, designed to draw the world's attention to the need for urgent and sustained action to climate change organized by a wide coalition of major NGOs from Oxfam to Amnesty International to Religions for Peace and Christian Aid, has, at the time of this writing, 15,243,644 signatures on their petition. Their current message: 'We're not done yet'.
My message: 'we are just getting started'.
And I say this as someone who has been learning about and working around climate change issues for a number of years (and I take my hat of to the many who have been working on this concern for decades).
We are just getting started to learn what climate change really means. We might want to invite people who have already been effected by Climate disasters and already become climate refugees - from Katrina to Somalia - to our meeting houses and our communities to hear their stories. We might want to hold working groups within our local meetings to understand the science - the largely non-negotiable science, so that we know our actions are grounded in reality. We need to consider how the organizations we are a part of - regardless of what they are - are going to need to adapt to climate change. For example, how are human rights programs, health programs, psychotherapy practices, architecture, politics, local governments, immigration policies, prisons, etc. going to be effected by climate change - both adapting to climate change and working to mitigate it.
We are just getting started to learn how to effect the United States and the oil lobby that it so often bows to. That could include QEW and QIF working closer with FCNL in the States, and enabling Quakers and other fellow travelers to lobby the US government to change its position. This includes being part of the growing US and global movement for a green economy and for climate justice in order to ensure peace and the realization of economic and human rights.
We are just getting started to learn how to build trust at the international level. Here is a place where Quakers have much experience. There has been growing support amongst those of us here at COP of the clear need for something that resembles a Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) but located at Bonn, where the UNFCCC has its headquarters. We had a beautiful worship over this idea last week, and there was strong resonance for its potential benefit. Such an office could help build the long term trust between parties. This would be both to support the creation of an international agreement, perhaps even more important, to help support the subsequent process of realizing the ramifications of such a deal.
Climate change isn't just about conferences in Copenhagen - or, next year, in Mexico. The work that happens in between conferences is perhaps the most important work. For that, we need to form a committee to consider what is the best type of QUNO-type office to create (I do not presume it will look exactly the way QUNO currently does) to support the ongoing international process - as well as all the other ways in which we, including those of us who have been working on this for years, are just getting started.
Saturday, December 19, 2009
The morning after COP 15 dawned a brilliant blue sky. Leonard and I have enjoyed a lazy morning talking with our hosts about their perceptions of Denmark and COP and China and globalization. These 'regular' danes (if our hosts, all of whom are young and well educated and compassionate and curious are 'regular') love to sit and talk over tea, glogg (mulled wine), beer, or whatever other beverage is appropriate, and that has been a real delight amidst what has, in many ways, been a confusing, frustrating, disappointing, but not-as-bad-as-it-could have been week with some extraordinary highlights.
A few notes for this morning: I will write more later.
Yesterday, the last day, when all the NGOs were locked out of the Bella Center, we spent the entire day in an extended meeting/worship/conversation with our fellow Quakers with QEW (with the exception of Rachel who was dealing with medical emergencies, negotiations, and other challenges that can come at the end of an event.) It was the first time we have gathered together as such a large group (an entire 6 people!) representing US, UK, and Asia Pacific/FWCC. We would frequently pause in our extended conversation about ourselves, quakerism, COP, our experiences here and what we hoped for the future with worship and prayers for the 'leaders' of the world, gathering and working and talking even as we were.
From that gathering, several things emerged.
1) We agreed it was important to have a stronger Quaker presence in the overall climate change process. We also agreed that one's first COP was very much a learning experience - trial by fire. Much needs to be done to make this better/more effective for future Quakers at COPs. We were in many ways the guinea pigs (though individual Quakers have been involved in COP since its inception, as a body we have no real knowledge). Much time was 'wasted' in getting lost. I take responsibility for much of that - I had contacts I did not use effectively.
2) I would like to see more young quakers involved - mostly because the youth activism here has been INSPIRING and AMAZING, and I feel is one of the best places I have seen for young people to learn and make a difference at an international level. Not to mention the networking opportunities.
3) It would be possible to set up an ongoing space for worship/prayer/mutual care at the COP, which didn't really happen this time around. Several church organizations I've met are willing to work with us on this. The next COP is in Mexico, and it would be good to start thinking about it now.
4) There was strong resonance at the importance/value of having a QUNO-type body at Bonn, the headquarters of UNFCCC. More on this later.
5) We Quakers are in many ways behind the curve on this climate change and the COP process (with the exception of many individual Quakers). Other faith groups are much more organized. That said, FWCC is about to launch a major international consultation looking at Climate Change. This is an excellent initiative. Julian reminded us that it took Quakers 80 years to abolish slavery - movements rarely happen quickly.
I went home relatively early, opting out of the Christmas carols sing along at one of the local churches, in favor of a quiet night in to nurse the cold I have managed to develop in recent days. There, I watched some Danish television, which is disturbingly similar to British and American television. (ie, we watched 'the Gladiator', which was somehow not as far-away as I had thought it would be). In between scenes of gladiators killing one another, we switched to Danish news - which focused on Obama's Air Force One taking off (at least an hour of prime time given to this clearly momentous event - I was shocked, and our host was disgusted and slightly embarassed). But we did get to listen to Obama's press statement.
My initial reaction: a mixture of hope and disappointment. Disappointment in that a legally binding treaty that forced the US to reduce emissions was not signed. However during my time here I never saw that as a real possibility. What I am grateful for is that they did not sign a bad deal. No deal is better than a bad deal. And while Obama side stepped many important factors (not least, US responsibility), he did emphasize that we can not negotiate with science, and that we need to pay careful attention to the 2 degrees of global warming. It was satisfying to know that so many global leaders spent what is for them a great deal of time discussing this issue - it is now clearly on the global agenda in a way it had not been before.
But the work has just begun, and none of us can escape the momentous tasks before us. For the first time in my lifetime, I feel some kind of global movement around climate is possible - and necessary. Civil society must work together very closely in the next few years - and that includes working with business. And while Climate Change is a relatively new force on the global agenda, what it requires is not new - peace, cooperation, building capacity for planning, good governance, greater democracy, human rights, public engagement with science and finance, education, enhancing economic well being and human dignity - all of these 'old' fights remain necessary and imperative. And that old commandment to love one another remains as prevalent and imperative as ever. Indeed, the question, what is it that love can do, rises to the fore again and again in these climate conversations.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Not far from me, under the same roof, the ‘leaders of the world’ are gathered and gathering. Right now, Wangari Matthai is addressing them. They just heard from Prince Charles. I am watching on television, along with all the other NGOs and people who did not get tickets to get into the auditorium (I never did figure out how those tickets were distributed). Almost everyone is watching the speeches, at least with half an ear (poor Prince Charles didn’t get much sympathy from the folks around me.)
But you can’t deny that the organizers and the Queen of Denmark are doing their best to put pressure on the delegates to get a deal. It is, they assure us, still possible. Matthai reminded us of the impossibility of perfect documents and the importance of ethical and religious words such as compassion to guide us in these uncertain times. And while all of the speakers speak of the fierce urgency of now, I can’t say their speeches are fiery, or compel me with conviction. Though I am grateful to hear such consensus. And at this point, the political shame of not having a deal is going to be quite bad, but it might not be bad enough.
And at the moment, I’m feeling a bit, well, suspicious. All this talk of ‘this is our only chance’, well, it’s beginning to wear on me. Is it, really? While there is no doubt of the fierce urgency of now, I’m wondering if a global negotiated deal is the way it can/should happen. Nature doesn’t negotiate. Is there another way than this one?
Well, there are some other ways. Warfare, for one. It’s remarkable that a situation of this gravity is being discussed in negotiations and not over the battlefield – the futures of many countries have been decided that way in the past. Perhaps there has been some development. Though if negotiations fail, a battlefield may well erupt.
China talked about beyond ‘negotiations’ and into true co-operation. And at the sub-national level, cities and states are taking progress faster and with greater creativity than is possible at the national or global level.
Today, I’m not sure what, if any, real progress has been made. In the meantime, the access has gotten worse – only 20% of each organization has been let in, and even then there are lines outside for hours in the freezing cold. People have flown here, booked expensive flights and expensive hotels, and will never see the inside of the building. By Thursday, only 1000 people from Civil Society will be let in. No one speaks of Friday. I take that to be a bad sign for NGO representation. And while there are debates about how much good civil society actually does for the documents, there is no doubt that it is important.
Today, I’ve had some amazing workshops and conversations. It strated with the best workshop – so far – and the only one that wasn’t just a panel discussion. Human Rights, Climate change, and business: discuss. Out of htat came several valuable connections for both Leonard and myself, and the insight that climate change policy, not just climate change, needs to be thought of in how it is effecting human rights. And then, a chance to hear Desmund Tutu, Mary Robinson (ex president of Ireland and former HR commissioner at the UN) and the head of Oxfam during a powerful and tear-jurking ‘Climate Change Tribunal’. That was followed by missing a meeting with someone and then, almost by chance, getting into a talk by the Governor from San Paulo Brazil and Schwarznegger from California. I’ve never heard Arnold speak before, and I must say, his message of ‘individuals and organizations and sub-national groups can make a difference’ was powerful, desperately needed, and much appreciated. He might be the best speaker I heard here, which is saying a lot. After a terrible dinner, I heard the televised speech above, had a lovely chance to talk to the head of Bermuda’s Environmental Agency in Bermuda (and learned about Bermuda politics – complicated!), send an email to Hilary Clinton and to Obama to encourage a strong deal that supported Tuvalu’s proposal, and am now listening to the UN discus becoming climate neutral. They’ve started measuring everything they have emitted and looking at offsetting their flights – 2009 is the 2nd year they are doing it. That is being followed by the ‘vikings go green’ talk. As I write, heads of state are landing left and right. The Danish government is, to say the least, stressed. On top of all the other challenges here, multiple heads of state requires immense coordination. It’s not easy – and we’ll see how useful it will be.
I’ve heard more famous people today than I have in the past few years. It’s great to hear everyone talk about ‘my’ issue. But I’m still looking for way to open – and wondering what would happen if there was some real Silence amidst all this noise.
My name is Sunniva. I used to work for Quaker Peace and Social Witness in London. I travelled to Copenhagen with the Christian Aid campaign team, to take part in the 'street' action and to prepare to write an article for the Friend.
Yesterday I arrived back from Copenhagen, where I was participating in the mass of civil society actions taking place in the city, as the negotiations for the next climate change deal continue. On Saturday I was one of 100,000 people from around the world, including the global south, marching on the Bella Centre - where the economists, scientists and politicians are gathered. We were calling on them to deliver climate justice, and asking them to ACT NOW to make a Fair, Ambitious and (legally) Binding (FAB) agreement. On Sunday, I attended an uplifting eccumenical service during which Archbishop Rowan Williams reiterated, again and again, that 'perfect love casts out fear'. He called on leaders not to be so paralysed by fear and selfishness that they cannot save the planet, and asked us to ask ourselves and one another how the commandment to love and to live in joy and respect for the earth is reflected in our lifestyles and policies.
The papers and many NGOs are talking about how Copenhagen is 'our last chance to save the world', and 'our only hope'. But I think that this is dangerous. What happens if they don't reach agreement (and it's unlikely that they will agree to a legally binding one, or one that gives enough money to developing countries, or that actually commits to great enough emissions cuts)? Then, are we all doomed? And if global leaders do reach an agreement, are we off the hook?
No! Because as contributors to this blog know 'saving the world' is about much more than agreeing carbon emissions reductions. They will only be achieved if we reassess and re-gig our whole way of being in the world - our economies, structures, and attitudes. And, at the end of the day, I think that whilst an agreement in Copenhagen is incredibly important, the agreement itself will not lead to these changes. They have to follow. And it will be global citizens - that's, me and you - not only economists, scientists and politicians, that will make these changes.
Being in Copenhagen was an extraordinary experience not because of what was happening in the negotiations - in actual fact we knew very little about that because we had no access to English language papers! But, because of what was happening outside of the centre. People had gone to incredible lengths to be there to add their voices to the protests and the atmosphere and feeling of unity and hope was fantastic.Whilst it may not seem like it sometimes there are a lot of people out there prepared to stand up for climate justice.'
I can not emphasize how infuriating it is to be at COP 15. I am surrounded by brilliant people all calling for change and strong leadership, but I do not see the results that we need to ensure that the people in small island states, and, eventually, in New York and San Francisco.
PLEASE CALL YOUR SENATOR/CONGRESS PERSON/ MP/ ELECTED REP and tell them that you will not vote for them again if they do not ensure that Obama/etc. give business, ngos, and people around the world the chance to survive. Then ensure that everyone you know and everyone you meet before Friday does the same. The importance of putting pressure on Obama can not be overemphasized - especially around making financial commitments (which I hear there is greater likelihood than other issues).
And - if COP 15 'fails'(very likely), please do not despair. You will know you have done something. This is only the beginning.
And - consider doing a fast: www.climatefast.com
If you really want to understand what is going on here you need to be fluent in acronymics. I offer a sample. If you don’t want to read all these, do scroll down. I hope to give you a sense of the challenge since all converse is peppered with these and it is hard to keep up if you do not have them clear. Here is a critical sample:
AAU: Assigned Amounts Units.
AOSIS: Association of Small Island States.
AWG-KP: Ad hoc Working Group on Further Commitments from Annex 1 Parties under the Kyoto Protocol. (Annex 1 Parties = “developed countries”)
CDM: Clean Development Mechanism.
GHG: Green House Gasses. (You knew that didn’t you?)
KP: Kyoto Protocol.
LULUCF: Land Use, Land Use Change, and Forestry.
QELROS: Quantified Emissions Limitations and Reduction Objectives.
UNFCCC: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
So what is going on?
There are different streams of discourse: Discussions on implications and requirements under UNFCCC; securing Kyoto 2 commitments (and the form that KP2 takes). In this latter discussion, two Annex 1 countries (Japan, Russia) have made it emphatically clear that they are willing to talk about their pledges to target reductions in a UNFCCC context but not in the context of KP2 commitments. Annex 2 countries (China, Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia) speak up strongly seeing this as backsliding—as unwillingness to make binding commitments under a new KP2 binding treaty.
You need to know that the US is not party to KP and contributes with reference only to UNFCCC. Parties not in KP carry white flags in the negotiation plenaries. Parties committed to both UNFCCC and KP carry black flags. China caries a black flag and is advocating strongly for non-conditional (i.e. not dependent on what others are doing), mutually supportive, efforts. China argues that many non-Annex 1 parties offer more ambitious reductions than Annex 1 parties, and that Annex 1 parties have no excuse for requiring conditionality. China’s plea not to put COP at risk by requiring conditionalities evoked applause from observers. China is advocating strongly for proposals adequate for meeting required total emission reductions, pointing out how far short we are of these.
There is discussion of the choice between a new KP treaty (based on Bali and UNFCCC) and an extension with modified targets. The issue here is how KP1 performance should be taken account of in determining target requirements for KP2. It seems that some parties are suspected of aiming to claim, say, a 30% emissions reduction when their emissions are actually rising (i.e. by using a different base). There is also discussion of the year chosen for the base line (from which all reduction should be calculated). Several such years are proposed, each giving an “advantage” to its proposer.
So, while we are quibbling about how to get away with minimum effort, we are not addressing the issue of need and how each might contribute so that the whole need is met. We are still negotiating, not collaborating.
COP has been seen as the beginning of a process. This it clearly is—that is, if the process to continue can be agreed. It is easy to become despondent about the quibbling. But there is clearly a tide running and there is hope that sanity will prevail. We can certainly expect major demonstrations as the COP comes to its end and these might well signify as the process moves forward. We need to become prepared for our role.
Monday, December 14, 2009
After a deadlock that looked insurmantable, Africa just walked out of the negotiations. This leads to 'chaos' - and not much else. Inside the Bella Center, I can't tell that the current chaos is more serious than the previous chaos, but others with greater knowledge than I am say its serious.
While much of the mainstream media suggests that this is 'unfortunate', I am glad to see something like this happening, at least for the moment.
This comes out of what is being called the 'Tuvalu movement', where Tuvalu (small island country about to disappear) put forward a proposal a few days ago that effectively split the G77 - leaving LDCs and small island states on one side and China/India on the other. This is the first time that's happened for a long time.
Historically, Africa has rarely if ever formed their own bloc - and never walked out. I see this as a sign of strength, and it forces the developed world to pay significantly more attention to their demands. Many LDCs have been pretty unhappy for the past week or so.
Outside, the lines to enter the Bella Center are wrapping around the building. It is cold, windy, and may well start snowing. Not everyone out there is dressed warmly enough. They have accredited 40,000 people, but are only letting in about 15,000. Result: NGOs are getting cut off from coming in (trying to cap at 20% for each organization, but I'm not sure if this is going to happen).
Surrounding us, there are more than 20,000 NGOs and social movements. If this power was heralded and gathered together, I'm sure that something could happen. Even if it isn't, something can happen - if nothing else, that's a lot of people rubbing shoulders who might not have otherwise met.
Right now, I'm sitting in between two 'random' people of faith - a young woman from the National Council of Churches and the President from World Vision Australia, writing a blog for Sojourners about the importance of using Copenhagen to 'repent' from our carbon-sins and walking as a global community in a new way. He reminds me of the power of those bells ringing 350 times around the world, prayers singing throughout the country side, lifting the energy up and around the world. Together, we shared our mutual joy at yesterday's Ecumenical service, and their frustration of the platitudes offered up at the Ecumenical workshop this morning.
Around me, young people who don't yet know enough to wear suits (or are choosing not to) mingle with African delegates dressed to the teeth. Everyone drinks coffee and tea, and many haven't slept for days. There is a sense of movement and excitement - and that even as the negotiations are struggling, the plans and networks for renewable energy (among other 'actionable' plans) are mounting. I don't doubt that much shall come out of this conference- but it might not be a satisfactory agreement - or any agreement at all.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
The past two days have delivered both good news and bad news. Sara has told you of yesterday’s impressive 100,000 turnout for a demonstration in front of the Danish parliament and a 6km march (i.e. shuffle) to the conference center. The bad, but entirely expected, news is that the impact on negotiations of this massive rally seems to be nil. That, at least, was the observation of the Nepalese negotiator we spoke to.
I carried a QUAKER banner for part of the march and the personal impact on me is that I am feeling the effects of this unusual exercise. Happily, we were in the middle of the procession. The police apparently arrested nearly 1,000 tailenders and charged 3 of them. (It seems that recent legislation allows the police to arrest without cause and find cause later.)
Today, I was heartened by one of the side events that I went to. But I was frankly bored by others where I learned little new (and had difficulty in fighting jetlag). But there was a splendid paper detailing standards and monitoring procedures for accountability and management of emissions. It essentially proposed what I was advocating way back in the early days of the Global Environmental Facility—i.e. the fund for supporting poor countries to do what they should do environmentally. That was the good news. But I asked how they were going to support countries to set up effective processes that met the political and administrative challenges that this would present. The response was that there would be training programs on the ISO standards and measurement protocols. When I argued that the matter was rather more complex and that this simple technical training was not going to cut it, and that there was need to build support competence that was broader than this, the response was sober agreement but essentially "that's not our business".
This is a rather critical piece of the global accountability system that seems not yet to have been understood It seems that the best we might do to defaulters is to verify the default and shame them. It is also clear that the one thing that there is consensus on is that there should be no penalty for non-compliance. Compliance with self-set targets is to be on the honors system--or breach thereof. We might be shamed but we wont otherwise be accountable.
Today, we learned that the overall NGO assessment of progress on negotiations is that there is deadlock (no targets and no accountability) and no progress, and that the prospect of progress is slight.
Back to the apartment around 10p.m. I watched a TV panel with 2 scientists, two politicians, and 2 professed scientist skeptics. It is quite infuriating that it is still possible to have nutcases given equal airtime in the name of objectivity. There seemed to be no way to convince the politicians that there was a massive scientific consensus without room for doubt about the broad prospect before us. There is no obligation to accept consensus data. Unbelievably mad and maddening.
It is cold, but there is a great warmth of generosity and a seeming public awareness in Copenhagen not only of the COP but of the climate change issues. Public advertisements and displays, and a massive globe in a busy square, speak of an active civic presence. Certainly, in moving around Copenhagen, we get the feeling that we have come a good way in the past five years. Ideas that were leading edge 5 years ago are now on the public agenda.
Our Quaker presence is all but unnoticeable. Almost certainly there are Quakers involved in organizations that are speaking out. We need to get ahead of ourselves and be registered and ready to make presentations if we are to have a voice. Otherwise, the voice is reactive rather than proactive.
We are hoping that tomorrow we will attend the negotiations. However, only 20% of each delegation is now to be admitted and we have no arrangement for determining who these will be. We are hoping, too, to meet up with more QEWs tomorrow.
I trust that we shall find good news as well as less good news to tell you. What is becoming clear is that the early expectation of COP, and best hope for it—that it would be simply the beginning of a process—is likely to be validated. Let us hope that we will have at least that. Certainly, as things seem now, what will matter most is that provision for that process is made. Stay tuned.
(by Sara Wolcott)
Desmund Tutu says that God is happy that we are here today. Here, in Copenhagen, where, from what Ican tell, the negotiators are not making much progress. Or so an African American woman, who works in DC with Katrina survivors, told me today, while we sat, waiting for the ecumenical ‘celebration’ attended by the Queen of Denmark and many top negotiators and, I am sure, many other ‘important’ people whom I did not recognize. God is happy, because this is a demonstration of the body of Christ coming together. God wants for His people to come together.
And today, I saw His people come together in the most beautiful church service that I have ever witnessed.
I knew it was going to be good. Knowing in that way I knew I had to come to Copenhagen, knowing in that way I knew, several years ago, I had to go to Africa, knowing, before that, that I had to worship, and pray, and praise, for a force and a God I still do not understand. These ‘knowings’ as a friend calls them, are too important to ignore.
We – three Quakers, mostly from the US – stood in a line of hundereds of others for nearly 90 minutes outside the massive classical church – classical because, one of the Danes told me, because it was bombed by the English during the War. I didn’t know if we would get in, and it was cold, and Leonard didn’t have an extra jacket to wear.
But we did get in – to the third tier balcony, near the front, where, if I leaned over the rail and the lights, I could see the front of the church, all white and stone, with small amounts of gold decorating the roses, and a massive statue of Jesus blessing the small figures of the Danish Reverends and Archbishops who spoke.
I started crying when I saw the two sets of choirs walking down the processional, one from Africa, the other from Greenland, both in their traditional clothes, walking up the aisle and then up the stairs. When would these two indigenous traditions, from the very north and the very south of the globe, have met, much less sung together, had it not been for the horrors of climate change? They would not, otherwise, have come together. And it was then that the enormity, and the terrible tragicness, of this moment in time and space crashed upon me, waves, like an ocean, and I wondered if the only witness, the only contribution I could possibly make would be my tears, in this church, at this time, when it felt the entire world was present (though of course they were not).
I cried as we sang the processional hym, All creatures of our god and king’, as hundereds (thousands?) of voices said, ‘And al ye men of tender heart, forgiving others, take your part…ye who long pain and sorrow bear, praise god and on him cast your care’ – I could not escape the images I have seen, of desertification in northern Kenya and melting iceburgs. I could not raise my voice to sing, ‘let all things their creator bless, and worship him in humbleness’, as images of negotiators and politicians huddled around texts and argued over details – and over long-standing political and economic divisions. Where was our humility, I wondered? Where was our compassion?
History is a strange thing. Those women singing Christian hymns in Zulu in ‘traditional’ costumes did so in a church that was part of the colonial heritage that destroyed much of their traditional culture while preaching of a universal god who died for their sins (including many now-lost traditions). The same religion that has heralded such destruction, and that went part and parcel with the ecological destruction that precipitated where we are today. And yet it was from this tarnished, blood-soaked tradition that could now bring them together, and give thanks and blessings and a call towards loving one another and loving creation.
I witnessed what might be the birth of a new kind of Christianity, one that integrations ecological and human social justice in the rituals, music and prayers.
After Desmund Tutu, in his slow, strong voice, gave thanks to God, the Reverend Falani from Tuvalu held a bleached coral from the Pacific Ocean, and asked that god forgive us of our sins, for the damage that we each have played a part, in causing this destruction of the oceans. His country is in imminent danger of going under water. But he did not speak of this – he held the bleached coral with great reverence, as if it was a sacred relic from a time past, and asked for forgiveness.
Rev Matale from Zambia held up dried maize from Africa, and spoke of the wonders of that abundant crop, the staple food for many Africans. Her voice was strong and deep, and she spoke of hunger, and justice, and the necessity of leaning, as always, upon God. I thought of the innumerable prayers that have been given around Africa, pleading for God’s help. I sent a prayer to join mine with them.
Bishop Peterson from the Lutheran Church in Greenland held up an uncovered glacier stone. She was a heavy set woman, with a kind voice, and spoke of the beauty of her country, covered with so much snow and ice much of the year, and then, in the summer, brief glorious green. She spoke of the sadness and the grief of the people there, whose lives and landscapes were being lost and destroyed. She prayed that we might come to love our neighbors as ourselves.
These three relics were stood in as the body of Christ. No bread was broken, no wine sipped. But spirit was there, thick as blood, coursing through our veins, reminding us of who we are to be. When the voices of the church rose to sing ‘here I am lord’, and amongst those voices were queens and bishops, citizens and negotiators, all singing ‘ I have heard my people cry…I have borne my people’s pain, I have wept for love of them, they turn away, I will break their hearts of stone, give them hearts for love alone, who shall I send? It is I lord… will hold your people in my heart….’ It felt as if that song was for me alone, and that song was for every person in that church, and the thousands outside of it.
Ron Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, spoke of turning away from fear and turning towards love. It was as much of a Quaker sermon as I could have wished for, with calling for us to listen to what we know we need to do, and having courage, and acting from love. He too spoke to the negotiators – do not let the fears of economic failure or saving face keep you from making the right decisions. The fears may be rational. The fears may be practical. The fears may be real. But they are fears, nonetheless, and take us away from loving one another.
In that church, it felt as if we really were all together, all one body in Christ. I, who do not always believe in Christ and generally avoid answering questions such as, ‘Are you a Christian.’ Later, Leonard said he thought that ecumenical was too narrow – it needed to be interfaith. But I felt such power in the Christian message of life, death and rebirth - looking at these new relics for a new age, and the very real potential of realizing the truth of the gospel in this time and this place. Sometimes, it is nice to ‘just’ be ecumenical. There will be an abundance of interfaith gatherings – because the climate does not make discrimination along religious lines.
In the end, the Danish reverend lit a candle, and passed it around, while Rev Tutu said a prayer of blessing in his native language. As so often happens, the meaning goes beyond the words I did not understand, and, faster than I thought possible, a gentle tug at my elbow signaled that the light had arrived to me. On this Lucia Day, I walked out of the church in Copenhagen to the sound of the bells ringing 350 times - a ring joined by bells around the world. I dont know what effect all of this is happening on the negotiations. But I know it made me cry, standing in the blistering wind, with the tragic beauty and the real potential for a renewed world.
Walking away, I didn’t know what to feel. I have always known that working on climate change is working for the poor and vulnerable people in this world and the planet that we all depend upon to live, and doing such work is part of God’s work. I wondered if it would become common to see relics at church services, memories of a world before the ice melted and the corals bleeched and the maize dried, before the poles and the oceans and the lands lost their abundant use to man kind – and their inherent beauty. The message of the ‘celebration’ was one of thanksgiving, hope, and love. To not despair. To turn outwards towards one neighbor and to recognize ourselves there. To not be stopped by fear. These are old messages. Warnings, perhaps – for not doing so destroys everyone.
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The man is heavy, with a dark beard and dark curly hair and glasses. Listening to his soft, gentle voice, I am struck with the unusual and precious aspect of this conference and this issue – that Climate Change can bring a waste-picker from the slums of Brazil to a global negotiation conference, where he would speak on a platform of people from India, the United States and Europe, to people like me, while outside a demonstration is vaguely audible, the beats of the drums and the march of the feet, and not that far from us sit negotiators and texts and people drinking coffee after their meal. They are strongly against the clean development mechanisms, which rarely support bottom-up solutions.
So far as I can tell, which is not very far, the COP process is not going very well. But the process has been designed so that people can meet one another, share knowledge, and learn. As one woman I met today said, its like going to a 2 week long intensive school, except you are not entirely sure what you are going to be learning before you get there!
And it is one of a million ways in which innumerable issues, many of which I don’t tend to focus on, are connected – informal work relates to gender issues relates to consumerism relates to climate change relates to values and norms in the North and the South. And it’s connected to those negotiators sitting not very far from here. Connections – but still, so much marginalization, and so much lack of connections!
Some days you know you are part of history, even if you can’t see it clearly from where you are standing. Today was one of those days.
After a lazy morning (following a late night of dancing to 70s and 80s music (very popular here), drinking (schnapps and ‘jule beer’ are both favored drinks), and generally falling in love with my 6 Danish hosts, all under 26 and living in one of the most lovely apartments I’ve ever seen), we finally realized that in this part of the world, one must seize blue-sky days as quickly as we can. And the day was gorgeous. Following the suggestions of our host, we went downtown, and before long found ourselves at parliament. In these kinds of situations of increasing uncertainty (when one has no plan and doesn’t know what is going on but wants to do something), the best plan is rational, systemic irrationality – watch the people directly around you and follow them. So when someone came up and said, are you going to the thing at parliament, I said, yes, not knowing what they were talking about. The ‘thing’ was the demonstration in front of some of Copenhagen’s beautiful buildings.
Thus we found ourselves in the midst of 10,000 people (at least!), screaming and chanting and sometimes listening to inspiring speakers. Eventually, to our great delight, we found a bright yellow sign that said ‘QUAKERS’. Delighted to find our tribe, we rushed over – and discovered only one person of the two holding the banner was a Quaker. Clearly, we were needed. Clearly, we had found our purpose for being there. And so we carried the sign made and signed with love from Quakers in England, whom we had never met, along with thousands and thousands of other people, down the high streets and the residential areas. The march was at least 6 kilometers long, and we were frozen and exhausted by the time we got to the Bella Center, the centre of the conference. But, happily, we found several other Quakers (or rather, they found us). By the time we reached the end of the march, it was pitch dark, and people lit candles, and had small fires, and chestnuts, and sparkles. A few polar bears ‘died’ (some under our ‘quaker’ sign, to our amusement). There were random bands, and musicians, puppets (a few impressive cows, symbolizing the end of grazing land in sub-saharan Africa and, I think separately, the dangers of meat consumption). I never got a sense of the whole crowd. Police were everywhere – and vacillated between being helpful and obstructive. It was, in short, beautiful.
What else can one say about a march? That after years of talking about this issue, I feel my voice is very small- it is overwhelmed by the voices of others, often younger than I am, also talking about it. That is a much better feeling than being overwhelmed by voices saying something different than I am! And taking to the streets – for better or for worse, I sense this is only the beginning of different kinds of climate marches that I and many others shall be a part of.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
I was born in
I started going to Quaker Earthcare Witness (QEW) meetings just over 10 years ago, when our name was still Friends Committee on Unity with Nature (FCUN). The first fall after I joined, Ruah Swennerfelt, our general secretary, broadcast (via email) an invitation to represent FCUN at a meeting of the Commission on Sustainable Development at the UN in
So I attended the Sustainable Development Summit in
In January of this year I had similar luck. I was already scheduled to visit Friends in western
This September I went to another DPI/NGO meeting in
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Wahoo - Copenhagen!
This is going to be THE event of the year/decade/generation (depending on your source) and the Quaker Institute of the Future, under the umbrella of Quaker Earthcare Witness, is sending several Quakers to the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Copenhagen. And this is THE BLOG to watch for our ongoing thoughts, commentaries, and updates about this exciting adventure. According to Farhana Yamin, who wrote a fabulous, very detailed book on a guide to the Climate Regime (and who was one of my professors at the Institute of Development Studies), this is the kind of event that can change individual's lives, organization's purposes, and, hopefully, the future of the planet.
And who am I, you might be wondering? I'm Sara Wolcott, proud member of Strawberry Creek Monthly Meeting in Berkeley California. I'm a liberal unprogrammed Quaker trying to build a stronger relationship with what I call 'God', whom I truly do not understand. This post, then, will include my thoughts and reflections on how I understand God, and the working of the Spirit in this most critical of circumstances, where we need to listen and respond to that of God within each of us.
I, along with Leonard Joy (pictured with me above - photo is a bit old, and those of you who know me in Britain might not recognize me without glasses) are among those who will be representing QIF. I have been to several massive conferences before (World Gathering of Young Friends, FWCC gatherings, World Social Forum, US Social Forum, Bioneers, etc.) I have almost fooled myself into thinking I know what to expect in Copenhagen which, as I now live in England, isn't really that far away. But I also know that, really, I don't know and, at the moment, I am unprepared for what it will- or won't - be.
I'll let Leonard speak for himself in later posts - suffice to say that while he's attended more-than-he-can-count international conferences and gatherings (as a former consultant for the UN system at large and, prior to that, in his role of Deputy Director of the Institute of Development Studies back in the 60s - way before my time there!), he's never been to anything like this event. So we will both be seeing it with fresh eyes.
On this blog, you can find our thoughts about the process, what it means for Quakers, what we are learning, seeing, and wondering about - probably about every other day or so. Hopefully, there will be a lot of other Quakers (there's about 20 of us with our 'group' at QEW) blogging here as well, so you can get a variety of opinions, ideas and impressions about a conference that some say will be the major determination of the future of the survival of the human race. Me, well, I'm not (quite) that dramatic. Significant? Yes, certainly. But so are the actions (and non-actions) taken before, during and most importantly after whatever the heads of state agree upon. As one local liberal group said, 'Go to Copenhagen! It's important! Don't go to Copenhagen! It's not important!'
Please comment, ask us questions, and connect. One thing I know for certain: without connections - without reaching out to one another - there is no way we will survive the calamities that are coming our way. To connect in