Climate, Communities, and Resilience: A Post-Election Interfaith Press Conference @COP22

syrian-childIn the wake of U.S. election results, Americans attending COP22 started getting a lot of questions from their global colleagues: What do we think of the president-elect? What positions will he take? Who will he appoint to be in his Cabinet? But mostly—since we were at a conference focused on international cooperation on dealing with our shared planetary climate crisis—the question was: “What does the election mean for U.S. action on climate change?” 

After fielding these swirling questions for a full day, the US Climate Action Network (USCAN) decided to dedicate their daily press conference on the following day, November 10th, to the topic—and they asked the U.S. faith delegation to provide religious leaders to speak. Interfaith speakers at the press conference included: The Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California; Rev. Jenny Phillips, Minister for Environmental Stewardship and Advocacy for the Pacific Northwest Conference of The United Methodist Church; Imaad Khan, Policy Analyst, Texas Interfaith Power & Light; and me, representing COEJL, the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life.

You can watch the whole thing at this link and find the text of the speech as delivered at this link, but what I want to share with you here in this space is the longer version of my remarks—the one that includes reference to Kristallnacht, the anniversary of which fell on the date of the press conference. This version was too long for the press conference, so something needed to go. And the inclusion of the Kristallnacht reference may have been intense in that specific interfaith, international context. So for purposes of the press conference, it got cut, along with another paragraph or two.

But I am thinking a lot these days about the lessons of history and lived experience—particularly, the lessons of history and lived experience for marginalized and vulnerable communities. And it seems to me that one of the most important things people in America’s marginalized and vulnerable communities need to be doing right now, in this era not only of climate change but also of the rise to power of white nationalist elements—is knitting ourselves together in networks of mutual concern. We can do that by listening intently to the stories of others (here’s a thought-provoking one, and here’s another, and another) and by telling our own.

“Our future depends on the sanity of each of us, and we have a profound stake, beyond the personal, in the project of describing our reality as candidly and fully as we can to each other.” –Adrienne Rich

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Last night and today marks the 78th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the night when in Germany, Jewish homes, businesses, schools, and synagogues were attacked and torched. Many Jews were beaten, or killed, or imprisoned. Kristallnacht marked a turning point for Jews in Germany, signaling the public beginning of that long nightmare, the Holocaust.

One of the side effects of climate change is increasing stress on human communities—stress due to heat, drought, changing agricultural patterns, climate-related disasters, economic and workforce shifts, and encroaching seas. We know from experience that when human communities are stressed, they can break—like so much shattered glass.

Many communities are breaking right now, in places all around the world—forcing people to leave their homes in search of food, water, or basic safety. The Migration Policy Institute estimates that in 2015, more than 51 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as refugees, asylum seekers, or internally displaced persons.

Forced migration is obviously difficult for the people and families who have to leave their homes and flee—and it is also difficult for the communities who receive these migrants. In 1936, Chaim Weizmann wrote that “The world seemed to be divided into two parts—those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter.”

The Hebrew Bible tells us 36 times to welcome the stranger—that’s more than any other commandment. Why? Because welcoming the stranger is not easy—but that’s what we’re supposed to do.

Right now, Jews stand with other religious communities in advocating for a swift and just transition to clean, renewable energy—because we recognize that climate change is a threat that won’t wait. We stand with other religious communities in calling for the United States and other developed countries—who are most responsible for climate change—to help developing countries—who are least responsible for climate change, but who will feel the worst impacts—both mitigate and adapt through meaningful funding and assistance. Strong action on climate now is a religious, civic, and human imperative. We stand with other religious communities in dedicating ourselves to acting on climate, and we expect our political leaders to do the same.

It is equally important that we make our local and regional communities more resilient by strengthening our connections to one another. In this time of global warming, we must build bridges of understanding, mutual concern, and shared action. We are all in this together—and the only way to create a just and equitable future for ourselves, our children, and our grandchildren is together. We must get to know the other people in our communities; find ways to work together; share our joys, our frustrations, our sorrows. Help each other. This work, too, is climate action.

Jews have too often experienced shattered glass, broken dreams, lost lives, and fractured community. We know that climate change will cause more stress, suffering, and migration—and already today, we see too many people all around the world experiencing loss and brokenness, too many having to leave home and seek welcome in foreign lands.

Where there is brokenness, we are called to mend. This is tikkun olam: connecting, healing, mending. As Jews, we dedicate ourselves to building climate resilience in our local communities; to advocating for strong action on climate mitigation and adaptation; and to being responsible global citizens through strong support for the Paris Agreement.

Now is the time to be fully present and engage on all levels—local, national, and international. Together with other people of faith—and those of no faith—we act on behalf of those people and communities who are most vulnerable; we act on behalf of future generations; and we act on behalf of Creation itself. We hope, pray, and trust that our elected leaders will join us.

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Above photo used courtesy Trocaire via Flickr Creative Commons.

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