Why battling climate change requires a spiritual rebirth (COMMENTARY)

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World leaders attend a meeting to launch the "Mission Innovation: Accelerating the Clean Energy Revolution" at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) near Paris, November 30, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Ian Langsdon/Pool

World leaders attend a meeting to launch the "Mission Innovation: Accelerating the Clean Energy Revolution" at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) near Paris, November 30, 2015. Photo courtesy REUTERS/Ian Langsdon/Pool

(RNS) On Monday (Nov. 30) representatives from 195 nations will gather in Paris to grapple with the greatest moral issue of our time — the war against Mother Earth. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warns that “It is life on our planet itself which is at stake,” and there is an “absolute urgency” to turn things around.

This is not political rhetoric or religious apocalypticism — it is science that is drawing (finally) nations together around our real foe: the environmental danger to our planet. If our forays into space the past 40 years have demonstrated anything they have instructed us that Earth is very special in the universe. Yes, we have discovered exoplanets we hope might some day reveal other forms of life — and hopefully of intelligent life — but for now, and in our neighborhood, Earth stands alone.

We are being urged as a species to wake up and get out of our narcissistic anthropocentrism, that is to say our preoccupation with all things human, at the expense of all our relations with whales and dolphins, elephants and tigers, birds and redwoods, rain forests and rivers, oceans and lakes.

Will we take this opportunity to wake up from denial? Whole political parties in America as well as giant industries supporting such head-in-the-sand candidates seem to prefer denial to truth. Yet only the truth will set us free and get us working.


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Think how much shared work there can be between people of Asia, North and South America, Africa, and Europe, if we were to put aside our usual war-oriented budgets in favor of this real battle to defend the Earth and the survival of our species and other living things. Instead of new aircraft carriers and faster bombers, why not invest immediately in alternative methods of agriculture, energy, production, and transportation that are respectful of the Earth and future generations still unborn?

Scientists tell us that rising seas will swamp huge areas of many great cities, from Shanghai to New York. Much of Florida will disappear (strange that we have two presidential candidates from Florida and both are in denial about climate change). Millions of people will be thrown into extreme poverty by drought and the disappearance of soil and flooding.

We are told that if the planet heats up by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a path we are currently on), 600 million people will be displaced. Where will they go? Who will welcome them? How would they get there? If the planet heats up by 3.5 degrees, 280 million people will perish.

We are being told that 800,000 to one million years ago was the last time our planet hosted greenhouse gases that are equivalent to what we are now producing. “We are now really in unchartered territory for the human race,” said ‎Michel Jarraud, chief of the World Meteorological Organization.

Solutions must come from the Paris conference but they also must come from rapid education and change of values, from what the gospels call “metanoia” or change of consciousness. This is where spirituality comes in.


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I define spirituality as “waking up” and I am not alone in this — the great Indian mystic of the 15th century, Kabir, said: “You have been sleeping for hundreds of millions of years. Why not wake up this morning?” Both St. Paul and Jesus talk about “waking up.” We humans have been in a deep sleep, especially in the West, mesmerized by our own doings and gadgets and projections, but the crisis at hand is a wake-up call.

Our religions must change and be part of the solution and not the problem. My work for 45 years in bringing back the creation spirituality tradition has obvious implications for renewing Western religion but also for other religions as well.

As I pointed out in my book, “The Coming of the Cosmic Christ,” published 27 years ago, there is no such thing as a Buddhist rain forest, a Catholic ocean, a Lutheran sun, a Baptist moon, or an atheist cornfield. When it comes to Mother Earth we are all guests — but guests responsible for right livelihood and right citizenship and thinking outside our own tribes to the survival of all beings and all of our children for generations to come.

Each religion must act swiftly and work with, not against, science. Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’” is a good example of this effort. Science too must work out of wisdom paradigms of justice and compassion. Education must be similarly reborn. The wisdom of indigenous tribes is indispensable for this change of consciousness for they have been in communion with Mother Earth and her creatures for thousands of years. They are leaders in a more-than-human awareness.

We will all rise or fall together. The greatest opportunity our species has ever faced invites us now to GROW UP and reach deep within ourselves, to the cave of our hearts, to ignite the creativity we are capable of, to work side by side with people of other tribes and religions and no religions to combat our one foe: denial born of narcissistic species-centeredness.

Ancient Scriptures say: “I put before you life and death; choose life.” What will we choose? Will we choose life and creativity and a new stage in human evolution?

(Matthew Fox is a theologian and Episcopal priest who was a Dominican friar for 34 years. His 32 books have been translated into 58 languages, including his recently revised “Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest.”)

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  • Glenn Hawkins

    Wait a minute! I thought that greenhouse gases were the CAUSE of “climate change”. And now I read that the same thing, without humans happened about a million years ago. Do you think that, maybe, just maybe this “second round” of climate change MIGHT NOT have anything to do with us? I mean, it happened before without us.

  • Cam Webster

    Glenn, if you read a bit more on the subject, and stopped ignoring the evidence, you would appreciate that this time, the case is strong that the climate change that is happening is being caused by human activity.

    Maybe, just maybe, you should actually study the subject more rigorously before spouting off about it.

    Now get started reading: www3.epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html

  • Matthew Fox! You post an article by the infamous heretic Matthew Fox? The Matthew Fox who was expelled from the Dominican Order by Cardinal Ratzinger because of his heresies?

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  • Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

    Thank you, Matthew Fox, for your thoughtful wake-up call. Yes, we experience a spiritual awakening when we realize that we are not the center of the universe — God is (Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s”). The whole of Creation is holy. Perceiving the sacredness of ourselves, of each other, and of the whole web of life is an essential change of consciousness as we face the climate crisis, the harm that humans have done, and the need for a radical change of course. Please note that your numbers are incorrect — the global climate needs to warm only 3.9 and 3.5 degrees (not 39 and 35, as stated in the essay) to cause the suffering that you describe. I give thanks for religious leaders who grasp the spiritual and moral urgency of tackling the climate crisis. Climate change is humanity’s wake-up call and a test of our moral compass.

  • Be Brave

    If there has already been several “mass extinctions” per scientific authority, why are we at all concerned with the current one? Why is science leading a cause against global mass extinction that science has proven is utterly immutable?

    Life and non-life and life again. The story of planet earth. Why deny that? If science is leading this global sales pitch to buy “Green” stuff aplenty, then why not cash in on the new gimmick for as long as it lasts?

    Climate Change means BIG MONEY for BIG BUSINESS.

    Until we’re snuffed out like all of living things have been before us.

    We WILL be back.

    I’ve read the science books to prove it.

  • Tom Downs

    You forget geological forces like volcanos. They filled the atmosphere with a blanket of dust and gases. You forget the meteor strike that wiped out the dionsaurs and again blanketed the earth. Natural yes, but not the current problem.

  • Sue

    You may have “read” a few, but you’ve never grokked a science book in your life.

  • Jack

    It’s obvious that this is more about religion and philosophy than about science.

    Fox shouts it from the housetops…..He attacks the Judeo-Christian premise of the primacy of humanity and endorses the pantheistic alternative that humanity must decrease and the rest of nature increase in our estimation.

    The dogma of human-caused climate change is his latest vehicle to advance this cause.

    People like him have spent decades hovering around the environmental movement, latching on to anything that will advance their pantheism. And environmental extremism has given them ample ammo.

    In the early 1970s, it was Paul Ehrlich’s hysterical beliefs that a “population bomb” would lead to starvation in America and Europe by the ’80s. After that, global cooling was the latest apocalyptic rage. Now it’s warming or “change” of any kind.

    It’s high time to hold these people accountable for their repeated failed forecasts on all fronts.

  • dmj76

    Sir

    Please give me an example of a scientific or engineering society that has pronouced human induced climate change a hoax.

    best wishes

  • Yup, climate changes.

    All by itself.

    It has done so for millions of years.

    The pollution contribution by 3% of the human race located in America is not significant compared to the billions of tons of pollution from India, Russia, China’s industries, and the animal dung used for fuel in so many places, and the billions of tons from home made charcoal in Africa, Asia, and Latin America where the fumes make it difficult to breathe.

  • Jack

    Sir,

    Please explain why I’m supposed to believe that the same people who were embarrassingly wrong on global cooling, population-bomb hysteria, and other apocalyptic warnings of coming calamities are somehow right about global warming being the ultimate calamity that awaits us if we don’t repent of the supposed sins of population growth and economic development.

    And please explain why these people have never admitted how dead-wrong they were about these previous scares.

    And finally, please explain why even in the global warming arena, their apocalyptic predictions from even 15 years ago have been so laughably wrong.

    They have the same predictive abilities as end-times preachers — which is to say, simply horrendous.

  • Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Increasing our wants and trying to consume as much as possible in record time is doing much harm to our existence and to the well being of the Planet.

  • Jack

    No it isn’t.

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  • Faith of Our Fathers

    “Our real foe – the environmental danger to our planet” God created everything which includes carbon dioxide (Essential for organic/plant life) and other gases. With all due respect, our real foe is the devil and everything that stands in conflict with God. Climate changes started long before use of fossil fuels. Noah saw climate change. The disciples witnessed God’s power to calm storms. Who is control?

    “Instead of new aircraft carriers and faster bombers…” There are programs giving benefits to non-citizens or people who choose not to work (unbiblical), and pointless research projects. The Chinese, Russians, and our other “foes” will welcome it. Starving children don’t need a solar panel. They need food. Our government pays farmers NOT to grow crops

    People of Faith should ask more questions of our leaders and scientists and not assume our leaders are seeking God’s wisdom and discernment. Blind faith leads anywhere, not necessarily toward God’s will. Q: Does Fox drive…