Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Durban and Hope
distributed 12/9/11 - ©2011

This week's issue of Eco-Justice Notes is underwritten by the Franciscan Sisters of Little Falls, Minnesota. Their generous support helps make this publication possible.

It has become a painfully predictable pattern.

On a Friday morning in December, on the last day of the UN's annual climate conference, I wait, hoping for some good news -- or even for some action that salvages the conference from absolute failure. Year after year, it comes down to the last hours of the conference to see if any deal can be brokered against the resistance of the most polluting nations.

MSNBC (which only today bothered to put a story about Durban on their website) reported this morning: "The United States, China and India could scuttle attempts to save the Kyoto climate treaty, Europe's top negotiator said Friday." The report continues, "Both China and the U.S. have said they would be amenable to the EU proposal to negotiate a post-2020 agreement, but each attached riders that appeared to hobble prospects for unanimous acceptance."

In the face of this sort of distressing news, I am encouraged by the outcry from around the world that such delays are unacceptable. In just the last two days, over 700,000 people have signed petitions "calling on major emitters to stand with the nations of Africa and resist any attempts to delay climate action until 2020."

I am grateful to the readers of these Notes who responded enthusiastically to the call from to sign the petitions. Late on Wednesday, I forwarded their action alert to this email list. The logs from our emailing service show that an astonishing 46.6% of you "clicked through" to the petition site, and many of you passed the message on to your lists. It is good to know that our constituency across the US -- and I also see responses from our friends in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand and the UK -- are part of the global movement that will not be silent, and that will not tolerate endless delays.

Today, inside the Durban convention center, hundreds of protesters have joined with delegates from poor countries to stage a noisy protest [video from the BBC], voicing solidarity with the most impacted nations, and dramatizing the urgency of the situation. Yesterday, youth from Canada and the US disrupted speeches from their nation's diplomats, reminding the assembly that there is a passion for global action, even in the rich and powerful nations.

These protests and petitions are having an impact. As has happened in previous years, the voices from the island nations, the "less developed nations", and an engaged global movement has pressured the US and other obstructionist countries to at least moderate their positions, and to pull back from glib proposals about waiting until 2020.

You may remember four years ago, when the UN meeting was in Bali, that the delegate from Papau New Guinea told the United States, "If you cannot lead, leave it to the rest of us. Get out of the way." And, to the astonishment of many, the US did get out of the way. Every year, the voices of protest, the acts of witness and disobedience, and the flood of petitions do hold the diplomats accountable. They can be shamed by such clear expressions of truth. The voice of the people is heard, and our witness does make a difference.

On this Friday morning, I wait for news -- not expecting much, I'm sorry to say, but hopeful, always hopeful.

I hold out hope for some sort of agreement, some international pact that will make a profound difference in slowing the destructive greenhouse emissions, or in providing aid to the most severely impacted countries. I hope and pray that processes will be set in motion to negotiate effective deals -- not taking effect this week, but perhaps by 2015. I hope that this conference will make it clear that waiting to 2020 is not acceptable.

And, as I watch the news this week, I find hope right now. It is not just about the final agreements, as crucial as those outcomes are. I find hope -- I am strengthened in my commitment -- by the acts of witness in Durban and around the world. I do find hope when I see that most of the world's nations really are discussing and affirming proposals that call for rapid and binding action, even in the face of obstruction from the US, China and India.

(Spiritually and strategically, I have found that that the distinction between "hope for" and "hope in" is very important. That theme was developed in more detail in a 2006 Eco-Justice Notes, "A Matter of Hope".)

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The waiting for news from the annual climate conference has become a painfully predictable pattern. It is appropriate that this waiting, this living in hope, happens during the Christian season of Advent.

Perhaps you, as part of our far-flung eco-justice network, can bring this theme of hope and waiting into your own congregation and community. In addition to signing petitions and standing in political protests (and thank you again for those powerful actions), the news from Durban provides an opportunity to teach our churches that the spiritual practices of Advent are intimately tied to the very real hurts of the world.

In the prayers of your congregation, in sermons and classes, in newsletters and bulletins, can Durban and the climate crisis be named as examples of why Advent is so relevant? Can you find an occasion to speak that message in your own setting? Please let me know if you do, because word of that shared witness strengthens our hope.

I wait for news from Durban. I know that what happens there will not be enough, and I also know that the deliberations and actions that have happened there are important.

I wait for news from Durban -- and whatever the news might be, I know that we will continue to struggle for the healing of Earth.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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