We are here today because…

climate change, climate justice, environment, integral ecology, Uncategorized

All over the world this weekend, in over 2000 cities and towns, people will come together to ask governments to take action on climate change. Here’s my short reflection which I will be sharing at the Dublin march on Sunday.
We are here today because we understand what is at stake.
We have accepted the science.
It tells us our world is in trouble;
We have made a choice that we must act.
Each of us has come on a journey,
And now we stand together.
Shoulder to shoulder,
Speaking with one voice:
We want decisive action.
We regret that too much time has passed,
Too many empty words have been spoken,
Too many excuses have been made.
We just don’t buy it any more.
Too much is at stake.
We are here today because we care.
In our hearts we know
Things cannot continue the way they are going.
We cannot continue to pump out polluting gases
from our homes,
Our cars,
Our factories,
Our farms,
Our lives
And act like it doesn’t matter.
It does.
We are here today because
We believe another world is possible,
We are prepared to put ourselves on the line to build it.
We know that solutions exist
And we are demanding that our leaders step up.
We are here today, above all, because
We know that there are many victims in the climate crisis,
Yet their voices are silent in the corridors of power.
If we stop and listen, we will hear their cries….
Cries of peoples on the tiny atoll islands of the south Pacific,
the drought ridden plains of the Horn of Africa,
the flood hit plains of Bangladesh…
People forced to flee as a result of conflicts and disasters
made far worse by climate change.
Cries the future generations,
our children and grandchildren,
who will face a future of insecurity and conflict,
a burden we seem content to place on their shoulders.
Cries of thousands of other species
with whom we share this beautiful mother earth.
Their cries should be deafening,
yet their silence speaks volumes.
Who will be their voice?
Who will speak for them in Paris?
We are here today because we want to ensure that their voices are heard
in the negotiating rooms in Paris.
That their rights are recognised and protected
and the ecological debt we owe them is paid.
We are here today because
we know that we can only change and build this future
if we connect with each other and make our presence felt.
“To change everything, it takes everyone”.
Neighbour with neighbour,
community with community,
leader with leader,
nation with nation.
Bridging divisions, healing divides.
Finding common purpose.
Right across the world today,
tens of millions of people are coming to the same conclusion.
Our voice of hope is far stronger
than the one that tells us we are doomed.
And let’s be clear: this is just beginning.
Paris will at best, open the door.
But we will not stop,
because our hearts tell us
that this is world is worth fighting for.

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Changing the zeitgeist – Reflections on climatejustice2015

climate change, climate justice, environment, integral ecology, pope francis

There is a joke going round Trócaire that I have a hot line to the Vatican. How was it that we managed to time our recent conference on Climate Justice to take place just four days after Pope Francis launched his new encyclical Laudato Si’ on ecology? Without a doubt, the timing was impeccable! I’ll let you in on a secret – there is more than a grain of truth to the idea that we may have influenced the timing. In fact, I suggested the date of 18th June for the Encyclical launch to Cardinal Turkson when he visited Ireland in March this year for the Trócaire Annual Lecture! In any case, the timing of the Encyclical and the #climatejustice2015 conference this week in Maynooth could not have been more perfect.
The dust is still settling on the Conference, which brought together many high powered speakers on climate justice – Mary Robinson (UN Special Envoy on Climate Change), Professor van Ypersele (IPCC vice-chair), and Bill McKibben (co-founder of global climate movement 350.org). Over 500 people participated in the event, which was livestreamed around the world and at one stage was trending globally on twitter. The heads of almost all religions in Ireland were present – as was the humanist association. Senior executives from over 25 companies attended. Many politicians, policy makers, young people, academics, teachers, religious, film makers, poets… And they came from all over the country. Ireland was in the room. The event was free and open to all who wanted to come and learn about the challenge of climate justice. Some prominent journalists found the first day so interesting, they came along on the second “just to learn more.”
The Climate Justice Conference took place in Maynooth University, but the purpose of the conference was far from “academic” – in the sense that we understand the term “purely academic” to mean detached from reality! The main purpose was to inform people about the mounting scientific evidence around climate change, the moral imperative it presents as a justice issue, and to inspire them to action. More than once, the process was described as a journey – a spiritual, moral and intellectual journey. In that sense, it was a profoundly normative initiative, grounded in the perspective that with climate change, we have moved into a new era, where the production of knowledge – and how we choose to use it, is a profoundly political and moral choice.
This idea was crystallized in the inspiring talk given by Bill McKibben entitled “we are all activists now”, positing the view that regardless of our profession or position, now is a time to be taking action. Appealing to the older generations in the audience to engage in direct action (and risk arrest), he said “If you have kept your powder dry till now, waiting for a big cause, your time has come.” Just eight years ago, in fact, he started out with seven students – and formed what is now one of the most powerful global social movements in 350.org and Peoples Climate. The movement is made up of young and old, from every corner of the globe. The inter-generational solidarity in the movement is very strong: the older people are on teh front line in direct action – so the youth will not suffer a criminal record.
Indeed, he used himself as the prime example of an unlikely activist. By character and by preference, he would much rather be at home thinking and writing books… but he came to a realisation that books alone would not change the world. I could really identify with that – having moved out of academia over a decade ago and into public policy and advocacy. He said that collective strategy, embracing evidence, moral arguments and action is required. Tackling climate change is not something one person can do on their own – since nobody can know all of the sides of the story. It requires a group effort, a movement. “If the people with power have money, we have to find a different currency – our currency is in movement building.” He urged us to use our efforts to build collective action here in Ireland. Bill talked of the priority now being about “changing the zeitgeist” rather than focusing on individual initiatives. Yes, we can all live more sustainably, and make a contribution to reducing emissions by an insignificant amount – but the problem is systemic, so systemic responses are needed. We now need a movement on the scale of the anti-aparthied movement in the 1980s, perhaps bigger.
Mary Robinson also talked about her reluctant “journey” from a human rights campaigner to a climate justice campaigner. She realised that it is impossible to talk any more of human rights when the most basic conditions for human survival are being undermined by climate change. She talked of the need to overcome our individualism if we are to build a movement for change. “We need to recover that ancient Irish saying ‘Ar scáth a chéile a mhairimid ‘- we live in each others shadow. A value so akin to the African value of Ubuntu.” Without rediscovering that value, and even celebrating it in music and dance, it is difficult to envisage the shift required to tackle climate change. Making that leap is not something easy, yet it is one required of each of us if we are to make the shift from isolated actions and campaigns with limited impact, to achieving a “paradigm shift” rooted in compassion, justice and love for our planet.
At the end of the Climate Conference I was honored to give the closing remarks. What struck me most was the spirit of hope which underpinned the conference. It was as if the 500 people there embraced the hard scientific and moral truth – looked it straight in the eye – and came out the other side with courage and determination to move forward. In truth, denial is the worst state to live in. It destroys the human spirit. Once you start to face the truth, you realise there are many things which can be done, and many new friends waiting to be made on the journey ahead.

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Laudato Si': A manifesto for a new world order

climate change, climate justice, environment, ethics, integral ecology, pope francis, religion, spirituality

Today Pope Francis released his long-anticipated Social Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’. I have had the privilege of spending the past three days immersed in this extraordinary document. The encyclical will require long, deep reflection – but here are my initial reactions to it.
You can’t read this encyclical and not be deeply moved. In his own, direct and ‘pull no punches’ style, Pope Francis presents a heartbreaking analysis of the various dramatic situations facing the world today – from the terror of climate change, to rapid biodiversity loss in every habitat, to the growing inequality of finite resources, against a backdrop of over-consumption and waste, which results in many people being regarded as disposable. It is a terrifying picture of a world on the brink of systemic collapse.
With a sense of urgency, he points to the deep ethical and spiritual roots of the current ‘socio-environmental’ crisis: a uni-dimensional paradigm founded on a blind faith in market-based technocratic solutions to resolve the world’s problems. He warns of the utter folly of seeking technical fixes to complex human problems, especially those which involve matters involving matters of human consciousness. In fact, he makes the point that we know very little about the interconnectedness of life – and often choose to ignore this fact. Overcoming this blindness requires an integral ecology – one that doesn’t try to solve problems in a piece meal fashion, but sees the deep interconnections between the different crises and seeks to resolve them in a holistic and interdisciplinary fashion.
The Pope dispels the common myths around the Judeo Christian tradition as being about domination of nature. He throws this out as a false interpretation – goes to great lengths to dispel this… need a new understanding of progress which embraces the ‘relationality’ of all things. A phrase that appears several times in the document is “everything is connected.”
In terms of what we can do, the Encyclical points to some very practical pathways for action. In this respect, it really gives hope! First, we each need to believe that simple actions make a big difference. We need to start by re-evaluating your own understanding of our place in the environment. He reminds us that we are made from the elements of the natural world. We do not sit apart from it. We are earth, and we need to re-find that deep connection. Reconnecting with our place in nature and refinding that “affectionate” relationship is the unavoidable starting point of an “ecological conversion.”
The Pope places a special focus on families and the role of parents in this regard. He makes a very simple call is for all families to start again to practice grace before meals as a sign of our appreciation of nature, and our dependence on God’s creation. It is a custom which has perhaps gone out of fashion. He also asks us to consider the Sunday day of rest – as a restorative day for nature and ourselves.
In our local communities, he affirms that integral ecology is central to the Christian message. He calls for an ecological spirituality – and asks us all to consider how we consume. He says that each act of consumption is a “moral and political act”. He reminds us of the power of boycott campaigns and the need to create a counter-culture based on ‘less is more’ and a new mindfulness, contemplation of nature. It calls for a new educational and spiritual awareness to ensure this happens.
It calls on NGOs like Trócaire, in particular, to continue to work for political change and to organise people to build political pressure for change. This is a strong endorsement of the work NGOs and social movements do to campaign and take political action on these issues.
At a political level, the Encyclical does not pull any punches. It highlights the way in which international finance has come to dominate politics at a national and international level, and how this is limiting and distorting our capacity to address common challenges. This is a failure of governance which requires a new way of governing the “global commons”. He says we need stronger, effective international agreements to combat environmental degradation, including climate change. In this respect, the need for a fair and binding agreement on climate change this December is essential to change course. Importantly, the encyclical stresses that poor countries should not have to bear the burden of this transition. They need to be supported both in terms of finance and technology transfers to make the transition to renewable energy.
At a national level, the Pope also has a timely message for Ireland, as we finalise our own climate legislation in the next few weeks. He points to the need for robust laws to protect the environment – and the need to ensure that they are enacted. These laws should not be subject to the whim of political cycles, but take the long view, thinking of the impact of their enforcement on future generations. In this regard, the need for addressing incoherences in Ireland’s climate legislation to be as robust as possible and to incorporate the principle of climate justice is very clear.
On the economic front, the Encyclical points to the need for macro-economic strategies and business plans in particular to integrate environmental costs. It points to the fact that the economy currently does not account properly for the use of natural capital – utilising it as if it were an infinite resource. We know now that it is not and that true natural capital accounting is essential. Similarly, all businesses need to implement Environmental Impact Assessments which take the full environmental impacts into account.
The most striking thing about this encyclical is the way it spans the simplicity of St. Francis example and the major problems of our time. In the end, the Encyclical starts and ends with a very compelling but simple message: we need to look at nature, and each other with new eyes. Before thinking about how we can use nature, we need to recover our capacity to contemplate it and give praise to God for its, and our existence.”

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40 Shades of #GlobalGreening

climate change, religion

I have to admit it – I LOVE St.Patrick’s Day! I love the parades, the eccentricity, the creativity and the sense of community spirit. Where else in the world would you get a whole country coming out in such a vibrant way to celebrate their national Saint? The essence of St. Patrick’s Day for me isn’t found in the big city parades in Dublin or New York – but in the hundreds of local parades up and down the country. Children are a big focus of activities, as are sports clubs and people with disabilities. Literally everyone who wants to has a chance to march!
A big feature of the national day is of course the colour green. It is everywhere – green hats, green hair, green pints… more cheap imported green paraphernalia than you could shake a stick at. Despite the fact that blue is the official national colour, green is the colour we associate most with St.Patrick and Irishness. The link dates back to the stories about the shamrock – the small native plant that Patrick used to explain the Holy Trinity. Of course, green also reflects the lush vegetation on his temperate island with rolling hills in the middle of the North Atlantic. An emerald green jewel. In the late 1700s when Ireland was struggling for independence, green was worn in sympathy for the Irish cause to such a degree that wearing it was outlawed around 1776. The colour has deep roots in Ireland’s history and its nature.
Sadly, there is little reflection nowadays on what the colour green signifies. For politicians, the colour green has taken on very pragmatic, global dimensions geared at marketing Ireland as a prime location for business investment and tourism. Evidence of this is the fact that back in February the government made a big announcement around 27 ministers travelling for St.Patrick’s Day – and the return on investment that this would bring. It is also seen in the buildings across the world which ‘turned green’ as part of a global strategy called #GlobalGreening.
Some may think this is harmless – and maybe it is on one level. But it strikes me that this kind of ‘green washing’ (or green lighting) risks becoming a parody of what the colour green stands for both in Irish history and in relation to its natural environment. At a time when concern for ecology is an absolute imperative, the disconnect between Ireland’s green image and green credentials is striking. In Trócaire’s recent policy report Feeling the Heat we highlighted the fact that Ireland’s climate emissions are currently among the highest per capita in the world, and that our emissions would be the equivalent of 400 million Africans. Ironically, it is our green fields – or rather the cattle that graze on them – that contribution to a large part of our emissions. Our national policies and are increasingly at odds with a truly green agenda, as I blogged about a few weeks ago.
But surely the Irish love affair with everything green – and the global love affair with everything Irish, at least for a day – is a massive opportunity to reclaim the #GlobalGreening for a more worthy green agenda – an ‘integral ecology‘?
I was very excited this week by the start of our Irish #climate conversations. The initiative brings together many sectors of Irish society to create a new narrative on climate change. It follows similar initiatives in Germany and Holland. The launch event took place in Liberty Hall and involved fantastic contributions from artists, musicians, faith -leaders, composers, politicians, business, campaigners, PR gurus… (If you missed it, you can watch the recording and find out about future events here). It is an opportunity to come together as a society – as concerned citizens of the small patch of ground called Ireland on planet earth – and to reflect together on the new conversation we need to have to respond to climate justice.
As Eamon Ryan put it so well on the night: ‘we need to slow down to speed up. We need to ‘put the kettle on’ and reflect together before rushing to save the world.’ There is something so true in that. It is a mammoth challenge which requires us to find new ways to come together and dialogue together. As I said at the recent Trócaire lecture, solving the problems of the future is all about collaboration rather than competition. It is about together discerning collective wisdom. Perhaps a new vision of Christianity rooted in St.Patrick’s Trinitarian God – a three-in-one God, ‘persons in community’ – could point us in the right direction.
What better country than the emerald isle to lead the way in going green for real. What’s stopping us!

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Integral ecology and the 'interior' world

climate change, pope francis, religion, spirituality, sustainable development goals

This week I had the honour of giving a reflection at the Trócaire Lecture given by Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The lecture was on “integral ecology” – the topic which Pope Francis’ much anticipated Encyclical will cover later this year. I have to confess that before this week I knew very little about integral ecology. After immersing myself in the subject in preparation for the lecture, I am fascinated by the idea and look forward to learning more. Three aspects of it appealed to me:

  • integral ecology demands that we put care for creation and a planetary perspective at the heart of all our decision-making. Environmental issues have to come out of their ‘special interest group’ box and become an integral part of all decisions. In the words of Pope Francis, Christians are not being asked to ‘go green’ but to ‘be Christian’.
  • integral ecology requires us to shift to a systems way of thinking. It is about integration and synthesis rather than individual, isolated perpsectives. I was really taken by this idea.
  • integral ecology means placing far greater value on ‘interiority’ – the awareness that is present within all living beings. This aspect of the concept really appeals to me – and is of huge value in a world which tends to devalue or disregard interiority.

The absence of integration and synthesis today is everywhere, especially in the political world. It results in incoherence in policies at every level, like that I mentioned in my previous blog. I see this especially when I go to the UN. It is remarkable to witness the sheer numbers and industriousness of NGOs, policy makers, officials… all fighting for very worthy goals. “I’m for disability” “I’m for indigenous peoples” “I’m for small island states” “I’m for people living in extreme poverty”… and so on. Yet everyone is so caught up in fighting their own corner. The end result is 17 new Sustainable Development Goals with 169 targets!!! This sounds fine until you realise that virtually no-one is thinking about the sum of the parts, the systemic questions which make the achievement of these goals possible. It is just too complicated, the power interests are too great. The result is ineffective action, not seeing the wood for the trees.

If we begin to focus on the ‘whole’, the ‘systems’, as an integral ecology proposes, it becomes evident that we need to rethink of our hierarchy of public values which currently puts economic growth above ecology – consumption above conservation, private gain above the universal destination of goods. As a placard at the Climate march last September put it “tell the next generation: it was the economy, stupid!” Despite so much research on human and planetary well-being, governments still define progress in terms of national and global economic growth, even when that growth is predicated on the destruction of the planet we call home. There is something seriously wrong in our accounting system! Rethinking global economic governance in a way that reduces excessive, wasteful consumption but still allows those living in poverty to achieve a decent standard of living is the major challenge today. Redistributive justice is also an ecological issue.
Developing an integral ecology is a collective exercise. This means focusing energy on breaking down the intellectual and political silos and finding ways to achieve new insights through shared knowledge. This demands a very different skill set to what is valued today. Yes, it still requires technical expertise. But above all, it requires an ability to dialogue, to share perspectives, to listen, to try to engage and understand the others perspective and appreciate what is good about it. It requires a certain humility – an ability to see that none of us has the whole truth, but many of us have partial truths.
What is most exciting about the ide of an integral ecology to me is the value it places on ‘interiority’: the spiritual and cultural renewal required to make the shift to a just and sustainable future. This transition, which prioritises care for creation and the poor, can only be achieved through a change of heart, a valuing of interiority. As Cardinal Turkson said at the lecture, ‘we will care for what we cherish and revere’. It means cultivating a sense of ‘wonder and awe’.
Western culture traditionally has placed little value on interiority, almost assuming that a rational, technical, materialist culture is adapted to address the problems of the 21st century. Religion is widely regarded as a private affair. Yet the attitudes, behaviours and values needed are far different. Rather than focusing on quick technical fixes, the key questions for society has to be ‘What is the interior world, the thought systems, the values that sustain or undermine an integral ecology?’ It strikes me that a communitarian spirituality, which is deeply attune to dialogue and mutual understanding, in this regard, becomes a critical public good. As Pope Francis points to, the horizon of hope needs to open up and be underpinned by a new interiority – a change of heart, a ‘revolution of tenderness’. In fact, the flourishing of a counter-culture which actually recognises the beauty and value of less is a profound paradox. It is a hard sell for those who are bought into the dominant culture, but perhaps not for those who have made the Gospel of love and justice the motivating force for their life!

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