Saturday, December 10, 2011


Durban climate talks

This is the nativity scene my great-grandmother bought piece by piece at a dime store sometime before 1950. A couple of things have been replaced over the years; a palm tree made of some sort of mystery material totally disintegrated after a couple of years of summer storage in Nebraska.  It is obviously worn; with its yellow sheep and Mary’s numerous chips, it’s not as beautiful as the nativity sets I see in other people’s homes, but it has a lot of meaning for me. As long as I can remember, I have helped set this up sometime during Advent. We keep the baby Jesus elsewhere until Christmas Eve, when we place a small spray from the Christmas tree in the manger and lay the baby there.

Advent is a time of active waiting. We set up our nativity scene and wait for the arrival of the baby. We engage in spiritual disciplines – special readings or intentional quiet time or prayer walks – to help make our hearts ready for a true celebration of the Incarnation.

Today we hope to go out and find a Christmas tree. Today is supposed to be all about getting the room ready for the tree, bringing the tree home and setting it up, and beginning to decorate it. We will probably get this done, but the start of all of this has been delayed because of the news coming from the climate talks in Durban.

The climate talks are basically in overtime. The Green Sprouts Wednesday post, Trampling on the Needy, talked about the disconnect between the United States proposal and the extent and timing of the need to address carbon emissions and climate mitigation in a significant way.

Exactly what is being proposed as the conference has gone into extra time isn’t clear at this point. Here is what we do know: unless something of real significance comes out of this, unless the nations of the world agree to do whatever we need to do in the next five years to assure climate stability, we will have gone past the tipping point and unleashed unthinkable consequences for the living things on our planet.

It’s very odd to be carrying on traditional Christmas preparations knowing that the fate of current and future generations – and the sort of world in which I enter old age – hangs on what is happening in a roomful of people in Durban today. People are suffering right now from climate change, and inaction will make things much worse. Here is a list of the “topeight climate disasters during the Durban climate talks” from Think Progress.

Today we can actively wait on the outcome of these very important talks. Please take some time today to pray for the climate negotiators and those whose lives will be most immediately affected by what they decide, including the people of Africa and of the world’s island nations. News and links to ways to take action are available easily on the internet. One site is . On Twitter, #COP17 can keep you informed.

Our Advent waiting isn’t just waiting for our Christmas celebration. It’s waiting and actively preparing for the coming of the reign of Christ. As I go about my Advent preparations, I’m thinking of what all of this will be like for me in twenty years, what it will be like for those who will be living on this planet long after I am gone. How will their Christmas celebrations look? What will their everyday lives be like? What am I and others of my generation leaving them other than some dime store figurines and traditions that need to be enfleshed by Christian compassion now if they are to have any meaning in years to come?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trampling on the Needy

2020 Climate Treaty Proposal

Today’s Daily Office lesson from Amos (Amos 8:1-14) is an appropriate prophetic passage to respond to the news coming from the UN climate talks in Durban, South Africa. Some of us have been praying for this meeting , along with praying that our own hearts be open so that we can see the needs in the world around us and respond to them.

Much depends on the nations of the world figuring out a way for us to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the damage already done. The Jesuit magazine America has an excellent article Climate Change: A Life Issue  that looks at climate change, its very real effects on people in the world today, and its expected effects in the future:
In 2009, a study conducted by the Global Humanitarian Forum found that climate change was already responsible for 300,000 deaths a year, the suffering of 325 million people, and economic losses of over $100 billion. Over 90 percent of those persons most severely affected were from developing countries that have contributed least to global carbon emissions. In the coming decades, climate change can bring deadly famine, displacement and disease to large sectors of the human population and spawn mass extinctions of other species. In the long term, the climate could change so radically that the earth could no longer support human civilization. In this sense, caring for the climate and the biosphere is a paramount pro-life issue.
At the conference in Durban, the United States has proposed that a new climate treaty be negotiated that would take effect in 2020.  Jamie Henn of writes:
This isn’t just a delay, it’s a death sentence. Scientists have stated over and over that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, emissions must peak by 2015 or 2020 at the absolute latest. (For a closer look at the scientific reasoning, read David Roberts.)It is especially callous and cold-hearted for the U.S. to be pushing the 2020 timeline here in Durban. Africa is already seeing the devastating impacts of the climate crisis, from the deadly drought still ravaging the Horn of Africa to terrible flooding, including here in Durban where heavy rains killed at least eight people just last week.

At the beginning of the meeting in Durban, Oxfam wrote a media briefing Extreme weather endangers food security: 2010-11: A grim foretaste of future suffering and hunger?.  This briefing outlines the relationship between the extreme weather events resulting from global warming and hunger.

“Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land,” writes Amos. Continuing, he describes the consequences God will send in response to callous disregard for the needy, including consequences for the earth itself. The response to our callous disregard for the needy is unfolding according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Our planet continues to warm, and while it is affecting the poorest people in the world first and worst, we will be affected by it also.

Please pray for a better outcome from this meeting. Pray for those suffering from the callous disregard of those with money and power. Pray for us to be able to see what is happening in the world around us. If prayer leads you to a desire to act, there is a petition to President Obama and our climate negotiators to sign here . The conference ends in two days.