Post-Paris Reflections: We May Have to Learn to Hope

Now that the goals are reached, the document signed, the minsters packed out of Paris, the real work begins. For a change, we in the global climate movement can be proud of ourselves. We have a good start. The middle will matter—and the end game can’t even begin to be seen yet.

I find myself thinking of that movie, “The Day After”—a graphic, disturbing film about the effects of a devastating nuclear war. (My first child was just one year old and the movie scared us so much we had a panic attack with him in a Chicago parking garage.) COP21 will deal a blow to climate science fiction and set the film artists to work on some more positive versions of the end game. We may even have to learn to be positive, instead of knee-jerk negative. We may even have a reason to hope.

Of course we are not done. The 55 countries now accounting for at least 55% of global emissions must now ratify the agreement. It affirms a goal of $100 billion annually by 2020 to help poorer countries develop new energy systems. By comparison, the fossil fuel industry receives $600 billion annually in subsidies worldwide. All of those checks still have to be rewritten—or unwritten or differently written.

City of Light

Paris is glittery especially in this Christmas Season. It is all dressed up. They have Christmas lights as extravagant as anything we do here in the states. Paris is still Paris, even with stuffed animals, old shoes and dirty candles still burning at the site of the terrorist attack. Paris itself was extraordinarily open to COP21—free subway rides, guides everywhere to help you find yourself. And French President Hollande gave extraordinary leadership throughout. Some even speculate that there was a sympathy vote for the French because of the attack. People from all over the world were everywhere, so that you felt you were in a special part of the globe. And you were. Kairos is the right word. And there we were, glistening, fully lit, globally and energetically discussing apocalypse.

Glittering. Global. Engaged. Discussing apocalypse. After terrorism.

You couldn’t forget the terrorism because of the extensive security. You couldn’t forget the apocalypse because that was the topic. And you couldn’t forget Paris because Paris has a way of saying “I’m here.”

Golden Rule

The best slogan I heard repeated in Paris is “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.” The other phrase that stuck has to do with some parts of the world being “sacrifice zones.” (h/t Naomi Klein for that coinage.)

Women from North Dakota joined Hawaiians who joined Filipinos in describing themselves as people who live in Sacrifice Zones.

This is the same logic that has catalyzed Black Lives Matter and Occupy: some people are more human than others, this logic goes—you can sacrifice the people who are not as human as you are. You may even have to just to stay alive.

The outcome at the COP21 shines a bright light on the Sacrifice Zones and on those willing to sacrifice others.

The people of the world have come together to say that they are each other’s neighbors. That is the good news. But the richer people of the world have also said that they can’t afford to pay for the damage they have done to their neighbors—they are willing to sacrifice them.

The words “reparation” will not appear in the document. We may have taken all the energy but we have no intention of paying for it. You will have to find your own way, says the neighbor to the North to the Neighbor to the South. 

“Never impose on others what you would not choose yourself,” said Confucius.

“Regard your neighbor’s gain as yours and your neighbor’s loss as yours” said Lao Tzu.

“Expect from others what you did to them,” says Seneca.

“What goes around comes around,” says my mother. Many other people just use the word “Karma.” What you put out is what you will get back.

So, the golden rule may still receive lip service, but it is too expensive to practice, according to the rich nations of the world. What about reparations or repentance? Karmic thinking alerts us that it is too expensive not to practice repentance and repair.

Everything is connected

COP21 is a success. It was more than we could have expected—and the Pope’s moral frame prevailed. The moral issue is the connection between environmental degradation and human degradation; eliminating poverty is environmental policy. No one is arguing any longer that there is not a moral problem at stake. But that is far as simple theology will get you. It will place love at the center—the rest is not commentary.

COP21 may also be too little too late. How can this be? How can all those people, North and South, work as hard as they can, together, and still not have it be enough? Because more has to change. Frankly, everything must change.

One thing that could derail this momentous agreement among the wise and weathered people of the world is the threat of terrorism.

The lead news stories all these last ten days have been San Bernardino or Chicago or the French election, moving to the right in Islamophobia. What if good people and decent governments worldwide commit to less than 2 degrees Celsius as a goal and find themselves spending all their money and energy on a security state, which would shut down the very movements that brought the world to a good goal?

We can’t lose our streets right now. Governments (and the corporations that all but own them) will find it much too easy to shut things down. That can’t happen, especially right now.

What will make the agreement sing is the energetic participation of the Global South. Third and Fourth World countries want help “leapfrogging” over the industrial cycle of fossil fuel oriented economies. They are talking about getting more women involved. They talk about biomimicry, permaculture. They stress “resilience,” “regenerativity.” These used to be the kind of words hippies threw around. Now you can hear whole international panels on each subject.

We heard a Zambian woman interpret Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring. She said,

“The Control Men, which is what Carson calls them, thought they could just get rid of insects and not butterflies. They didn’t realize that everything is connected and that the way they killed song birds was by killing insects. They didn’t understand that we little people are part of the world too. They still don’t understand that. But we will help them understand that with our beauty and our dignity and our sorghum. “

The Day After needs the opposite of panic. It needs our calm, and lots of it, slow and steady.