November 30, 2010
By P. Joshua 'Griff' Griffin
Episcopal News Service
When the "externalities" of fossil fuel production and consumption cause suffering for our neighbor, is it still possible to live ethically in a fossil fuel economy? What is the ecological debt owed by those affluent segments of human society to those who live in material need? These are some of the questions that will be considered at a landmark gathering this December.
Unfortunately, I'm not speaking of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) taking place in Cancún, Mexico. Rather, I'm talking about a parallel gathering of Episcopalians and Anglicans being convened by the bishops of two companion dioceses from Dec. 7-10 in San Pedro de Macorís, Dominican Republic.
In San Pedro, Bishop Marc Andrus, of California, and the Bishop Naudal Gomes, of Curitiba, Brazil, hope to raise the banner of climate justice to the church and the world. The intersections of poverty and catastrophic climate change will be the focus for the four-day theological reflection and dialogue in which participants will begin to discern how our church might model justice and global reconciliation given the harsh ecological realities facing our world.
The two companion bishops Gomes and Andrus, will also be joined by bishops from Central Ecuador, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Panama. The meeting will draw lay and ordained representatives from six additional Episcopal dioceses, as well as the Episcopal Church Center, the Anglican Province of Brasilia, the Consejo Latinamericano de Iglesias (CLAI), Yale Divinity School and the Dominican diocesan seminary, El Centro de Estudios Teologicos (CET). Proceedings from the gathering, including video, will be posted in near real time at the new blog.
As the U.N. gathers in Cancún, as in Copenhagen, NGOs and grassroots activists are also on hand calling for a just, binding, and ambitious treaty, based on scientific data. But prospects are even lower than they were a year ago. The most vulnerable nations of the world -- small island nations, most of the Global South, and indigenous groups -- will once again make impassioned pleas for their survival. And once again, overdeveloped countries, and countries with aspirations to "develop" in a particular way, will dominate the discourse.
In particular, the politicians who govern the United States, are unlikely to address climate change in any way which would challenge the exceptional global dominance they currently enjoy. In an effort to find some pragmatic traction within the limited public discourse in the United States, some make the case that addressing climate change is an issue of national security. It may be so, but the self-preserving logic of the nation state is anathema to a Christian ethic, which reminds us that the Christian life is anything but secure.
In this season of Advent, as we await the coming of an infant who would be born in a stable, to refugee parents, I am reminded of our universal human vulnerability. Likewise, I would suggest that when it comes to environmentalism, as Christians we have a moral obligation to privilege the life-experience of the most ecologically vulnerable communities.
We needn't look past our own communion for examples: amid the abundance of corporate monocultures, Anglicans in Brazil struggle for food sovereignty. We needn't look past the Episcopal Church: in arctic Alaska, in Kivalina, our sisters and brothers are in danger of losing their homes, parish, and their very lives, as the permafrost melts out from under them. No, we needn't look past our own dioceses. In California, where I live and work, those Episcopalians who live, play, and worship in Rodeo, Crockett, and Richmond suffer the "externalities" of oil production as they breathe contaminants from nearby oil refineries.
In our ministries we must seek solidarity with the ecologically marginalized. As baptized Christians, having pledged before God to "strive for justice and peace among all people," through advocacy, organizing, and service, we must further the struggle for justice --climate justice.
-- The Rev. P. Joshua Griffin is the environmental justice missioner for the Episcopal Diocese of California.