By Sr Isabel Smyth SND
COP 26 has started, and thousands of people have landed on Glasgow. Today is the day for world leaders and significant individuals to address the conference. Listening to them they all seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet. Environmentalists and young people from developing countries face the conference participants with the reality of climate change and its consequence for the world and their generation with strong, honest and challenging words. ‘You do not need to see my tears or pain to know what is at stake’, said one of them. Thousands of protesters have proved their commitment by walking in pilgrimage to Glasgow, demonstrating across the River Clyde from the conference venue to remind negotiators of what is at stake and how the world is depending on them for a just and constructive agreement. A lot of their concerns and hopes for the future were echoed by the world leaders themselves. There is no need to doubt that presidents and prime ministers are unaware of the urgency of the climate crisis, of the greed and selfishness that needs to be challenged, of the solution that is in their hands. But will the worlds translate into action? – that’s the rub.
In ‘The Home We Build Together’ Lord Jonathan Sacks maintained that people will only work together for the common good if they are faced with the same problem, a problem that requires cooperation for a solution. Now we have such a problem. It’s hard to think of any other issue that affects every human being, rich or poor and, beyond humanity, all sentient beings, and the very planet itself. We are in danger of making this beautiful blue planet of ours inhospitable and uninhabitable. And many of us know it and feel the pain of it.
This was very obvious yesterday at an interfaith vigil to pray for the success of this COP. It was simple and showed a great unity of purpose. It began with the reading of what has come to be known as the Glasgow Multifaith Declaration by a Catholic and Episcopalian Bishop, an Imam and a representative from the Sikh faith. The declaration follows on from the 2015 interfaith Lambeth Declaration and the Scottish Religious Leaders’ Forum’s Statement of Commitment of 2020. It has been signed by religious leaders in Scotland and the UK and acknowledges the unity among faith communities ‘in caring for human life and the natural world’ and how people of faith ‘share a belief in a hopeful future, as well as an obligation to be responsible in caring for our common home, the Earth’. It includes the commitment to reflect deeply in prayer and meditation to discern how to care for the earth and one other, to make transformational change personally and communally through individual and collective action and to be advocates for justice for the earth and the poor who suffer most from climate change.
The other element in the vigil was a prayer for the environment from each of nine faiths – Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, Brahma Kumari, Sikh, Hindu, Baha’i, Pagan and Muslim. What struck so many of the attendees was how similar the sentiments of the prayer were even if expressed differently. For some people new to interfaith this was a revelation but others like me, who have been involved for some time, know there is a unity among people of faith and some of us feel closer to people of other faiths than we do to people in our own. One of the joys for me was to meet friends whom I have known and worked with over the years but have not seen for some time. One of them mentioned that it was her visit to the International Flat in Glasgow and meeting Stella Reekie that started her on her interfaith journey, which is my story too. Stella began the first interfaith group in Scotland, and I consider her the pioneer of interfaith in Scotland which now has a national interfaith body and twenty local interfaith groups. My friend said, ‘you can feel her presence here’ and so you could.
It is wonderful to know so many people who share a love and concern for the planet and it can be easy to forget that others might feel differently. Some people have too many survival concerns to be thinking of climate change, others are just not interested and don’t recognise the problem, but others are quite cynical about conferences such as COP. This is COP 26 – why, if the other COPS did not produce a result, will this one? Climate change has always been with us, human beings will eventually become extinct just as the dinosaurs did, how can politicians speak about climate change and fly all over the world to these meetings, the suggestion for combatting climate change are just not possible – all arguments put to me in a recent conversation. There’s no answering these statements. A desire to care for our planet cannot be developed through argument, I suspect, but only by a new vision that appreciates the interconnectedness of all life and our place in the great story of the universe – a story that we don’t hear enough of but one which might help us see with new eyes.