Last December, representatives of almost 190 nations did something they’d never before been able to accomplish; gathered in Paris, they reached an international agreement on climate change.
On April 22, the United Nations will host a signing ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York City. When fifty-five countries representing fifty-five percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions sign on, the Paris Agreement will enter into force; faith communities played an important role in making this outcome possible.
Over the past eighteen months, beginning with the People’s Climate March, people of faith around the world have mobilized on climate change at a larger scale than ever. We’ve signed petitions. Written letters. Studied and prayed. Visited elected officials. Conducted vigils and pilgrimages. Taken part in mobilizations and peaceful demonstrations. Conserved energy in our congregations and homes. . . . and more.
Spurred on by Pope Francis’s encyclical, high-level leaders from the Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions released strongly worded statements of their own. Other Christians, with leadership from the World Council of Churches, the Lausanne Movement, and many others, joined their voices to this global, multi-faith chorus. In Paris, faith groups presented UN leaders with petitions signed by 1.8 million people around the world; for a sector whose advocacy on climate change has been growing for over a decade, it was an impressive showing. More than ever before, we showed that we care about creation.
But even with this positive outcome, much of what we have achieved hangs in balance. Nations’ current emission reduction commitments are not nearly ambitious enough to achieve the universally agreed target to keep global temperature rise to two degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Instead, scientists warn they condemn us to an extremely dangerous 2.7-degree increase, at the same time that more and more experts are agreeing that a 1.5-degree rise is far safer.
If you think that a mere 1.2-degree difference doesn’t amount to much, think again. That seemingly small difference would prevent well over 100 million people from losing their homes due to droughts, floods, sea level rise, and devastating storms. The thought of this many people becoming climate change refugees is almost too much to bear.
In the face of this sobering reality, a new and continuing push by faith communities is crucial. That’s why on June 12, six months after the signing of the Paris Agreement, a large and diverse coalition of religious and spiritual groups is forming to hold a stunningly creative and beautiful, global, grassroots, multi-faith honoring of the earth and call to action.
We’re calling the event “Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust.” In Spanish: Tierra Sagrada. In French: Notre Terre Sacree. Regardless of the language, the meaning is the same. The earth, our common home, is in danger. People of faith are rising to respond.
In partnership with artists, thousands of diverse religious groups, people of diverse faiths and of all spiritualities, will go outside to pray, meditate, sing, dance, and process, combining religious tradition with creative, contemporary artwork as part of a global festival of faiths.
Plans for this event are just emerging; I urge you to take part. Soon, you’ll be able to sign on as a co-sponsor and to find information and materials at http://www.SacredEarth2016.org [please note: site is not live yet]. Together, we’re aiming to create the single largest multi-faith environmental celebration ever. We want to flood the media globally with images of people of all beliefs and spiritualities showing how much they care. We want to show our leaders that we want them to commit to the 1.5-degree target. We’ll urge them to get right back to the negotiating table to make this happen.
And we’ll be providing an opportunity for people and for faith communities to make pledges of their own to take care of the earth, our common home.
The Earth is a stunning gift. It supports life. It is the basis of all our economies. It conveys beauty. It evokes our recognition of something greater than ourselves. It is our temple, our mosque, our sanctuary, our cathedral. It is our home. Today, the balance of life on Earth is threatened by climate change.
This year, our faith communities must step forward to show that we understand this simple reality: One earth, one human family. June 12 is our time to rise. Will you join us?
The Rev. Fletcher Harper is Executive Director of GreenFaith, coordinator of the OurVoices campaign, and author of GreenFaith: Mobilizing God’s People to Save the Earth (Abingdon Press). Learn more at www.greenfaith.org.