1988 was an important year. My son was born, and the U.S. Senate was first alerted to the threat of climate change. Three years later, I personally learned about climate change as a graduate student. I learned from my instructors who monitored global temperatures, rainfall patterns and sea level rise. Ice core analysis for climate markers was relatively new then and predictive models were being developed to understand and inform decision makers and the public about anticipated climate impacts.
I felt reassured that with so much attention on climate change it would be addressed by global leadership. The oceans were still buffering the carbon and heat building in our atmosphere. The U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change was taking shape. The effects of climate change were thought to be several generations away. We had the time and the developing technology to prevent serious harm. Surely we would be wise enough not to burden my son’s generation with a crisis they had no responsibility for.
I was wrong. As my son grew, so did the climate threat.
The mind-blowing changes my parents witnessed in their lifetimes, from the Great Depression to the internet, are dwarfed by the geologic-scale changes that have already taken place during my son’s short life.
Heat records are broken year after year. Storms intensify beyond record levels. The continued buffering capacity of the oceans is in question. The ocean’s thermohaline circulation, critical for the food chain, is showing signs of slowing. Glacial melting, believed to be irreversible, is underway in Antarctica, with signs of the same emerging in Greenland. The only location on planet where the oceans are cooling is a “blob” in the north Atlantic, presumed to be from glacial melt. Permafrost is releasing frightful amounts of methane, a far worse heat-trapping gas than CO2. All of these and more are tipping point inputs that threaten the life support systems of food, water, air and temperature on which we and all the living species depend.
Inaction is immoral. Worldwide human suffering related to climate change is already happening. The climate crisis is upon us and unfolding more rapidly than anticipated. In the words of President Obama, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”
The responsibility to act is well understood by the faith communities who bring a moral voice to the Paris COP 21 negotiations. The voice reminding the world that the most vulnerable who have contributed the least to climate change will be harmed first and most powerfully unless climate justice is at the forefront of the Paris negotiations. That is why the means to financial and technical support from the developed nations needs to be clear and in the agreement. It’s needed for adaption, for mitigation and to leap past the most harmful burning of fossil fuels.
As the planet life support system weakens, we will all be affected. The faith voice is present to remind us of our humanity. We are already forgetting our humanity as we watch migrants flee from deforestation and desertification of their homelands.
I join in Paris as a faith member of civil society and an observer, credentialed by the Unitarian Universalist Association. As Unitarians we act on our convictions, with social justice at the heart of our rich tradition. Unitarians were early advocates for the abolition of slavery, for civil rights, marriage equality, immigrant rights and now for climate justice. “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part” is foundational in our principles. Our UUA delegation attends COP 21 with the backing of nation-wide Unitarian congregations calling for a strong and compassionate climate agreement. We stand in interfaith alliance with like-minded justice seekers, with first nations and front line communities. Pope Francis captured so well the importance of urgent action on climate in the encyclical Ladauto Si and galvanized the faith voice around the care for our common home.
I join the COP 21 in Paris because I’m driven to be present. I must link with, listen to, observe, share and collect into my heart everyone’s stories and bring them home. I’m humbled to be part of this collective force aspiring to turn climate change around. I join for the grandchildren of my family, and for everyone’s families. I must be a participant, witnessing together this day in human history, as essentially the future of the life we know will be deliberated and decided.
As Secretary of State John Kerry commented in Lima, “A global agreement won’t solve the climate crisis, but the climate crisis will not be solved without it.”
We know the cause, we know the solutions. We cannot betray our children. Failing this test on humanity is not an option.
Doris Marlin is a member of All Souls Church Unitarian in Washington D.C. and the Co-Lead of the Green Souls Social Justice Committee. She holds an M.A. in Water Resources Management and is a Risk Management Professional.