Why Paris? What’s happening? Why now?

By Gary Payton


More than once, I’ve been asked “why?” The question has come from loved family members, from friends, and from reporters.  At the core, the answer for me is found in Micah 6:8.  The Hebrew text tells us, “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”  “Do” is an action verb, and to be about eco justice for God’s creation requires faithful people to reflect deeply and then to act.  In my case, I can be a witness to the process, enthusiasms, and outcomes of COP21 and communicate some of this critical story to those who will read and those who will listen. 

The answer to the “what’s happening” question is complex.  The short answer is many things simultaneously.  The long answer is about negotiating, sharing, and security.  Inside the Blue Zone, national representatives are discussing key questions of financing (from the developed world to the developing world), timelines, target numbers for CO2 reduction, and more.  These are the women and men who were inspired by their heads of state on Monday and are now charged with finding a path to an agreement acceptable to their country while being mindful of the impact on all countries and peoples.  Inside the Green Zone, open to all, it is a global market place of ideas, languages, and faces – all are dedicated to addressing climate change and its impacts.  For Presbyterians who’ve attended a biennial General Assembly, think of it as the display outside of the plenary where the commissioners gather.  But in the case of COP21, those with booths or exhibits in the Green Zone represent dozens of countries, people groups, ages, and environmental organizations.  Those present come from a host of religious traditions or no tradition at all.  Today alone, I have enjoyed conversations and perspectives from a young woman from Zambia who helped organize a faith based, pre-COP21 bicycle ride through 8 East Africa countries, an official of the Port Authority in Senegal looking for solutions to rising sea levels, and a South African engaged in interfaith work opposing a secret deal between her government and Russia to build nuclear power plants.  Finally, for all with security concerns, a comment.  On the streets of Paris, life continues.  Traffic rumbles.  People bustle.  It feels “normal” by major world city standards.  In many metro and train stations, police and military presence is marked.  It is not uncommon to see dozens of armed security with eyes out scanning the passing crowds.  And, at the UN COP21 site the armed security is multi-tiered and very visable.  I feel as “safe” as French forces are able to make me.  And, I am cautious at all times maintaining my “situational awareness” as I move about the city. 

In my current phase of life, I am inspired to work as an environmental advocate because of my faith and because of the leadership of others.  Our biblical mandate is clear.  Our General Assembly positions on restoring creation are many and varied.  Leadership at the pastoral and congregational level across many Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) congregations is inspiring.  And, leadership comes as well from “the outside.”  For me, the leadership of Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and sometime Methodist Sunday School teacher has been pivotal.  As a major contributor to today’s global climate movement, Bill regularly reminds us of the currency of movements: passion, spirit, and creativity.  I see this currency in  Earth Care congregations, among those who take part in Global Climate Marchs inspired by their faith, in Presbyterians for Earth Care, and in so many other places across the denomination. 

So, as COP21 unfolds I urge you to read widely of the progress and challenges of these two weeks in Paris.  I urge you to reflect on your personal role to address the causes of climate change.  And, I ask you to act.  Micah reminds us “…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice” and “do” is an action verb.



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