Image by https://www.cop27.eg/assets/img/cop27-logo.svg, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=72213177
From John Kydd, Missioner for Climate Care and Climate Justice:
It’s about 6 am in Sharm el Sheikh, and the call to prayer (adhan meaning “to listen”) rolls gently past my patio and out toward the Red Sea. The singer (muezzin) has a wonderful voice, deep and marbled with feeling. A second, a female-sounding voice, steps in. No duet, just the adhan through a different register.
The first call is to come to prayer (Hayya alas salah). The singer lingers lovingly on the H, the al, and the lah. The second call is to come to safety/salvation (Hayya alas salah) followed by a studied silence where the phrase lingers in its absence.
Adhan occurs five times a day, beginning at the first hint of sunset (Mahgrib), then at sundown (Isha), then at the first hint of sunrise (Fajr), then just after the sun passes its zenith (Zuhr), and then halfway to the sunset (Asr). Here Mother Nature rings the bells for when to gather to pray.
Similarly at COP 27, we are first called to listen to all the registers of humanity and the rest of creation, then to seek to discover a sustainable safety (salvation) for a changing Creation. The COP endeavor, staggeringly complex and immense, is chock full of calls to listen and act.
And listen we do, searching for a way forward as time grows short. While the geoscience of what we must do is clear, the political science of how to get there is not. As Moses found while wandering not far from here, the path to the promised land is long.
The desert wind swirls with many truths. First is that the COP is far from where it needs to be. A second truth lies in the thousands of utterly devoted people who’ve been at COPS for decades, riding the late-night buses home after exhaustive negotiations. These “can do” people, like Moses, are determined to leave Fossil Fuel Pharoah in the dust. A third truth is held by the golden calf crew of 638 known fossil fuel representatives. While touting devotion to climate, they skillfully defer progress by disputing the workability of solutions, often declaring that the market will discover what we need to do. They push back, divert, and distract from what is called for. Much of the psychology behind their tactics was developed in the U.S. to delay regulation of DDT, tobacco, and other inherently harmful products.
Both determination and despair lurk in the air. A COP presentation by a director of the Club of Rome showed a UNICEF documentary on the massive loss of lives and livelihoods this year. A few minutes into the discussion, this seasoned director began to cry in the center of the stage. The audience fell silent. Then some applauded, and many joined her tears. She said:
I’ve been going to COP for ten years, and I have to say we are getting nowhere. Doing this is just enabling evasion of fundamental responsibility. If they let 1.5°C go, I am not coming back.
Many stood and applauded. The mic went to an older man who said:
We are in the middle of an ecocide where the agents of ecocide refuse to define it or outlaw it; I don’t know how to explain this to my daughter…
He choked up, covered his face, and sobbed.
The “if they let 1.5°C go” is more than a possibility. Per the UNFCC, implementing the current country pledges would put us at a 2.5°C warmer world by 2100. The updated science report found that passing 1.5°C will make changes we cannot adapt to. At the present pace, we will get to 1.5°C by 2030. Yikes.
Leaving the auditorium, I saw a flickering noticeboard far down the corridor. The lecture title was “Magical Realism and Climate.” It wasn’t on the UNFCC program. I went in. The stage was spare and dark with a spotlight framing a sturdily-carved wooden stool. There were no video techs, no mic-tests for sound. Folks filed in.
The silence was oddly refreshing as the digital clock ticked down. Then a speaker shuffled in slowly from stage right. A massive beard framed his sad face as he turned to sit on the stool. Mild curiosity turned into recognition that tore faces from cellphones: it was Santa Claus without his hat. Smoothing his hair back, he spoke:
I planned to begin with a hearty laugh and good wishes to all, but I barely made it here on time. November is peak production, and I’ve had to put in ten sump pumps this week to keep the elves’ workshop from flooding. We’ve never faced heat like this. The dampness makes the ribbons droop, and half of my elves are in therapy for adjustment disorders…
He stopped, stared at the floor, and then gazed slowly across every face in the audience. He began again with a tight smile.
I’m sorry. This shouldn’t be about me. It’s about you and us. I had the privilege of knowing each of you years ago, feeling your hopes and joys and sorrows. I can’t describe the beauty and power of what you felt and what a few of you still feel. Together you could move mountains, and this “together” thing is what I want to talk about.
Together we’ve lit the world anew every year for centuries. But there’s this other “together” that you can’t seem to stop that will soon melt me out of my home and job. You’ve been trying to undo this other “together” for 35 years now. Some of you have done fabulous work, and I’m proud of you.
I’m here because time is dear. I don’t know how to describe the feeling of millions of children losing their homes to flood or famine or drought. It’s a horrible symphony of souls shrinking and hopes collapsing. My heart shudders watching the lovely light drain from their eyes.
This is only part of it. I don’t just deliver to human kids. I deliver to all the people’s kids: all the four-legged and two-legged and finned and feathered and rooted and leaved and the waters and lands and winds because they all talk to me. Maybe they still talk to a few of you. I’m also there for your ancestors and theirs because they are sick with worry right now. Creator cries every time the last of a species dies.
Santa paused, looked down at the stage, and folded his arms. The silence sank into sadness as he gathered his thoughts. His gaze rose slowly to meet our eyes.
I’m not just about the children. I feel how badly and sadly you feel, how hard you’re trying to stop all the dying. I feel the screams in your dreams and how lonely it seems. I’m right there with all your despair and with your coping and your hoping.
But I’m here to thank your harried hearts for what you do. Though I forgot my hat, I take it off to you.
It’s time to explore what more we can do. Let’s begin with love of what we know is true, a love that lives in the me of you. This is more than reindeer and more than elves; this is finding our long-lost selves.
Climate is not a problem to solve. It is a relation to repair.
Tapping his forehead, he said:
You can’t solve it here.
Moving his hand to his heart:
Until you can hold it all here.
Your hearts can become stronger than strong, but only if you feel together, only if you belong.
Santa may be a fiction in your head, but you and I were “we” in your childhood heart. It’s there that we will start.
It’s there that everything Creator made matters. Each should be honored on your tree. Ornaments for wind and rain, for mountain, cloud, and sea; for all that swim and all that fly; for all that crawl, all that root, all that lie, and all that invisibly multiply.
For humans we need more. Ornaments celebrating every race, every sex, and every form of “them.” Ornaments to the hidden histories of hunger, fear, and horrific harm that we must face; an ornament for those silly rich men who seek refuge in space.
Your holiday tree holds your family, its privileges and its shames. Only if we heal us can we stop the rivers of blame.
Every buried trauma should be an ornament upon your tree because when you heal more of you, you heal more of we.
Then there’s the tree stump: all the roots that we cut off in order to fit in.
Root into your ancestors and branch into your kin.
Only by meeting all of you will the truth of you come in.
This will be difficult, not easy, and very far from fast,
But only if you find yourself can you find a solution that will last.
Santa stopped, opened his arms wide, gazed again from face to face and said:
I’ve said a lot here because each of your hearts met mine when you were young and left when you became smart. To fix this climate thing, please return to that believing place. It’s time for olders like you and me to become elders who retire into serving this mystery.
He then turned in a slow circle, his polished boots flashing in the spotlight, and looked back at us with a twinkle in his eye:
Thank you for the work you will do. I’m sorry I have to go. If you want to boil this down to basics—
My “HO HO HO!” has become “HO HO KNOW!”
With that, he walked away.
COP has magical moments. Not pretend magic like insisting that markets have the answers and that economies matter more than hearts. Love magic.
Love’s the axis around which our holidays spin. Can we share Santa’s big love, making acting on climate change as common and comfortable as sharing a cup of coffee? Big love is patient and kind and never quits. There’s no heart that it can’t fit.
Big Love Holidays to you.