Reflections by Ecumenical Patriarch at the Forum in Philippines

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Reflections by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at the Forum held at the National Museum in Manila

 
 

CREATION CARE, ECOLOGICAL JUSTICE AND ETHICS

 

“Toward COP 21: Civil Society Mobilized for the Climate”

(February 26, 2015)

 

Patriarchforum

 

 

Distinguished forum participants,

Many of you may be surprised that a religious leader concerned with “spiritual” values is accompanying a political leader involved with “secular” issues. After all, what does preserving the planet have to do with saving the soul? It is widely assumed that climate change and the exploitation of natural resources are matters concerning scientists, technocrats and politicians.

Yet, the preoccupation of the highest spiritual authority in the worldwide Orthodox Church, namely the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the ecological crisis demonstrates that we cannot have two ways of looking at the world: religious on the one hand and worldly on the other. We cannot separate our concern for human dignity, human rights or social justice from concern for ecological preservation and sustainability. These concerns are forged together, an intertwining spiral that can descend or ascend. If we value each individual made in the image of God, and if we value every particle of God’s creation, then we will care for each other and our world. In religious terms, the way we relate to nature directly reflects the way we relate to God and to our fellow human beings, as well as the way we relate to the biodiversity of creation.

At stake is not just our respect for biodiversity, but our very survival. Scientists calculate that those most harmed by global warming in the future will be the most vulnerable and marginalized. It is those living in the typhoon-prone Philippines who are being forced not only to deal with the miseries of flooded homes and prolonged disruption, but to make fundamental changes in their way of life. And there is a particularly bitter injustice about the fact that those suffering its worst ravages have done least to contribute to it. The ecological crisis is directly related to the ethical challenge of eliminating poverty and advocating human rights. Food security was the foremost issue at the United Nations climate change discussions in Geneva this month.

We are convinced that Asia holds many of the answers to a more biocentric worldview; Western industrialized nations must be humble to listen and learn. Only a few days ago, in India, the world’s public health leaders concluded that fossil fuels are detrimental to human health and wellbeing. And the Philippines – already a leader in geothermal and hydropower – are committed to a path from low carbon to zero carbon in a partnership between the public and private sectors.

This means that global warming is a moral crisis and a moral challenge. The dignity and rights of human beings are intimately and integrally related to the poetry and – we would dare to say – the rights of the earth itself. Human rights in the West have long been criticized for individualism. So will we recognize the faces of the thousands – men and women, mothers and children, elderly and disabled – lost when Typhoon Yolanda hit Guiuan at 4.40am on November 8th, 2013? On that day, by providence or serendipity, our church celebrates the feast of the holy angels. Will we remember the haunting photographs of that nightmare? The number of deaths horrifies us – but what most painfully reaches our feelings is the individual faces of loss and terror.

And what about the rights of the earth – of which we are a part and apart from which we cannot exist? Who will speak for the voiceless resources of our planet? Who will protect the silent diversity of its species? Will we accept responsibility for pushing our environment over the tipping-point?

In the discussions about climate change, some take a fatalistic attitude, arguing that we should give up all efforts to prevent further changes and instead direct our efforts towards adapting to the inevitable. But the response from those experiencing the effect of climate change is clear: adaptation is not enough. Fundamental changes need to be made at the level of global policy making, and made as a matter of urgency.

Wealthy, industrialized countries have unquestionably contributed most to atmospheric pollution. In our effort, then, to contain and reverse global warming, we must honestly ask ourselves: Will we in the West, in more affluent countries, sacrifice our self-indulgence and consumerism? Will we direct our focus away from what we want to what the rest of the world needs? Among all the facts and statistics, the summits and debates, it is essential for us to remember the human faces of those who suffer because of climate instability. Will we recognize and assume our responsibility to leave a lighter footprint on this planet for them and for the sake of future generations? We must choose to care; otherwise, we do not really care at all about the creator or the creation.

The choice is ours! We stand at a critical moment in the history and future of our planet, a time when our human family must choose future of our earth community. The protection of our planet’s vitality and diversity is a sacred task and a common vocation. At a summit organized by our Church two years ago, former NASA climate scientist Professor James Hansen observed: “Our parents honestly did not know that their actions could harm future generations. But we, our current generation, can only pretend that we did not know.”

It is not too late to act, but we cannot afford to wait; we certainly cannot afford not to act at all. We all agree on the necessity to protect our planet’s natural resources, which are neither limitless nor negotiable. We are all in this together: people of faith must practice what they preach; citizens of the world must clearly voice their opinion; and political leaders must act urgently and decisively.

Dear friends, you will now appreciate why a religious leader is concerned with the ecological crisis. With the voices of those angels who died in Typhoon Yolanda echoing in our ears, we must make the strongest possible call for change and justice at the Climate Conference in Paris next December. This is our ethical and honorable obligation; this is our word of promise and hope to the entire world.