The Copenhagen Climate Conference (COP15) began December 7 and will continue through next week. World leaders are gathering to negotiate carbon emission protocols that will replace the 1997 Kyoto agreement, which expires in 2012. Robust proposals are coming from African countries, along with Tuvalu and other low-lying island nations, which have already felt the negative impact of climate change. Tuvalu is leading the charge for the Alliance of Small Island States, who want binding proposals to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C. Their argument is that, as non-industrialized countries they have not burned fossil fuels nor contributed to global climate change, yet are among the most vulnerable to the consequences of rising sea levels.
Christians are not united on the best response to climate change; neither are nations (see this BBC report on where countries stand on Copenhagen). Some are skeptical about the science (especially, perhaps, in light of British and American researchers' hacked e-mails on how to manipulate data to show human-caused climate change), as well as about the United Nations as a governing body capable of overseeing global policy on climate change.
But one organization, 350.org—founded by Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and Christian who has written for CT and Books & Culture—is standing in support of the most vulnerable countries, calling for protocols in line with current scientific consensus. They want to see a fair, ambitious, and binding deal that includes helping developing countries develop while also bringing CO2 emissions down to 350 parts per million, the level determined safe by the scientific community. 350.org has helped mobilize over 5,200 actions in 181 countries that gathered in cities, churches, schools, parks, and businesses and collectively raised support in an effort to get the world's leaders to commit to robust climate change policies.
Christians who support efforts by groups like 350.org speak of Christ's mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to protect their well-being and capacity to flourish. Such love may require that we change lifestyle habits, pay more for energy, and support efforts to assist the development of green energy both here and in industrializing nations.
Maybe we can't stop climate change. But a large number of geologists, biologists, and climatologists think we still can (see this study from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Called to be a steward of creation, I'd rather err on the side of action, and stand in support of those already feeling the effects of climate change. One thing I know for sure: God loves life, and as God's representative one of my responsibilities is to help guard the flourishing of life.
That may mean I have to give up some autonomy and submit my will and self-interest to a larger community who depends on the same atmosphere as I do. More may be asked of me than I am comfortable giving. But I want to be willing to trust democracy, and a global community looking out for the well being of this planet's inhabitants. I have a better chance of extending God's love to others if I am also vested in protecting their well-being, and the well-being of my great-grandchildren, and theirs.
Church vigils are being held this weekend as faith communities sound their support for the Copenhagen talks and pray for leaders gathered there. Regardless of our perspective, we could all pray that leaders will be wise in their deliberations, listen well, and count the cost of inaction as carefully as they count the cost of action.