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Two Guys from New York Opine on COP21

Executive Director

We met two guys from New York in the security line to get into the Green Zone at COP21, and I thought their perspectives nicely summarized some of the challenges of addressing climate change. The first guy was really irritating, and the second guy was really engaging.

The first guy was wearing a black t-shirt and carrying nothing but a book. He was very bouncy for first thing in the morning, which was jarring for me and my jet lag, but he insisted on striking up a conversation, so I asked him what he had learned so far at COP21.

“Oh, it’s all just a bureaucratic charade,” he said. “All this is meaningless—the negotiators in there (here pointing to the Blue Zone) will go through their motions, but they won’t really do anything. The reality is, we need a complete spiritual revolution to fix climate change. I’ve written a book (here whipping out the obviously self-published book) that identifies the true source of Evil. Climate change is all about Evil. Let me just show you.”

He flipped to a particular page, but because I was so much shorter than he was, it proved trying for him to hold the book so I could see. He showed it to Yaira instead.

I asked him what exactly he was doing at COP21, to which he replied, “Just trying to meet people and sell my book. If everyone would just read my book, they would see that all this technology and international negotiation stuff is useless.”

He continued in this vein right through the security line, where we managed to shake him by moving slowly. As he walked away, another guy turned to us and exclaimed in a British accent, “If that guy hadn’t walked away, I was going to deck him.”

So I asked the second guy what he was doing at COP21. He answered that he was with a university in New York, he was leading a workshop on trade unions and climate change, and he was late, so he needed to head over to it right away. I tagged along with him, so I could ask him to respond to what the first guy had been saying. Like the first guy, he had a lot to say.

“For the average working person, that guy’s message is a disaster. Look: the working man or woman gets up in the morning and they are maybe concerned about their job, and the economy, and their family. They want to do things that will make a difference in the immediate term. You’ve got to give them concrete actions that bring them into conversation with the issue, and then right away they will make the connections. Start people off growing their own vegetables, and then they will be in a better position to understand concerns about agribusiness, for example. Talking about the need for complete spiritual revolution makes people feel hopeless. ”

Both of the guys from New York had valid points. Clearly, people want to take actions that are part of a larger picture, and that are manageable in their immediate reality. At the same time, we understand climate change and human responses to it from our spiritual and religious paradigms—and for many in the world’s faith communities, our evolving environmental concerns seem to be related to spiritual concerns.

The difference was, the first guy was willing to write off what anyone but himself might be thinking or doing, while the second guy was trying to find avenues for as many people as possible to find points of attachment and ways to engage.

There has been unprecedented participation by faith communities in COP21, and folks I talked to were convinced that the civil society component is the growing edge of the UNFCCC process. If that’s the case—and I hope it is—then it will be even more important in the future for attendees to frame their participation in terms of building bridges, creating pathways, and inclusion. 

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