Tag Archives: Pope Francis

A drop in the ocean

 

I’m sitting in a small loft in the old city of Brindisi, in the boot heel of southern Italy. Brindisi is a very old port city. The famous Appian Way from Rome ends here. The ferry will take me to Patra, Greece on Saturday. I’m going to Greece to learn about the plight of the refugees arriving there.

I don’t speak the language (any language except English) and I don’t know where I will end up. Trying to put myself in their place, which is impossible of course, I can sense the feeling of fear, isolation, and desperation just below the surface. If I had no home to return to, no U.S. passport to give me some measure of legitimacy, and no resources (credit card), I would panic. I don’t think I could be as brave as most of these refugees.

Thousands of refugees are dying in the Mediterranean Sea trying to make it to shore in Greece or Italy. Why? Why must men, women and children run such risks in this 21st Century instead of getting on a plane and flying somewhere safe? [I’m looking for the answer; haven’t found it yet.]

In April 2016, Pope Francis visited the Moria refugee camp on Lesvos Island. He returned to the Vatican with 12 Syrian refugees from 3 families, all Muslims. He acknowledged it was only a drop in the ocean, but “the ocean will never be the same again,” he said.

I met a newly-wed couple from Germany last week on their honeymoon in Rome. We talked about many things, including the large numbers of refugees coming to Germany. They believe Angela Merkel’s intention’s are good, but she hasn’t followed up with good planning or organizing to fully integrate the new arrivals into life in Germany. They told me about refugees setting fire to their camps out of anger and frustration. Germany has accepted more than a million Syrian refugees, a staggering number compared to the rest of the EU and certainly the US.  [Migration to Europe explained in 7 charts.]

The United States has accepted only 3,127 Syrian refugees in the past 5 years. Although President Obama promised to accept an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees this year, only 1,300 have made it through the tight screening process in the first half of 2016.

On September 20, 2016, Obama will host a Leaders’ Summit on the Global Refugee Crisis and urge “significant new global commitments to: 1) increase funding to humanitarian appeals and international organizations, 2) admit more refugees through resettlement or other legal pathways, and 3) increase refugees’ self-reliance and inclusion through opportunities for education and legal work.”  I’m curious how he can call for such action when it appears the U.S. is not stepping up to the plate. [I want to research more about the U.S. actions on the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly since the U.S. is responsible for so much of the devastation forcing Syrians to leave their country.]

As with climate change, it appears that the frontline in responding to the refugee crisis is at the local level, and cities are taking the lead.  The March 18 EU agreement with Turkey is abominable and is evidence (at least to me) that answers will not be found at the state-level (whether in the European Union or the U.S. federal government).

At its core, the agreement aims to address the overwhelming flow of smuggled migrants and asylum seekers traveling across the Aegean from Turkey to the Greek islands by allowing Greece to return to Turkey “all new irregular migrants” arriving after March 20. In exchange, EU Member States will increase resettlement of Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, accelerate visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, and boost existing financial support for Turkey’s refugee population.

There is hope.  Even before arriving in Greece, I have learned of two examples which might be the bellweather for successfully responding to the refugee crisis. [I will know much more after I visit Greece.] Both examples come from the individual, not government.

Somer Sood

Somer Sood – Operation Refugee Child

Operation Refugee Child was started in 2015 by a small group of mothers in Orange County, California, USA. Since then, they have achieved the following:

  • Created an organization run entirely by a team of five volunteers.
  • Developed a network of local contacts throughout Europe and the Middle East.
  • Received in-kind donations from corporate partners including Nike, Patagonia, ClifBar, CubeBot, Happy Baby and LuminAID among others.
  • Raised over $250,000 for purchase and delivery of supplies to refugees.
  • Distributed 5,080 lbs of aid supplies in 2016 including:
    • 2,480 backpacks
    • 800 thermal underwear and wool sock sets
    • 311 winter coats
    • 192 LuminAID solar pillow lights

I’m hoping to meet up with them in Athens at the end of the month, visit the camps with them, help them distribute backpacks to the children, and learn.

Pooya

Pooya volunteering with Emergency Response Centre International on Lesvos Island

The second example is a friend of a friend from California who is currently volunteering on Lesvos Island.  Pooya is a rescue team leader with Emergency Response Centre International (ERCI).  Check out his gofundme fundraising site here.  I hope to meet him on Lesvos Island and learn.

My friends ask me why?  “Why are you going to Greece?”

The short answer is the same answer I gave when they asked me “Why are you going to Gaza?”

I want to see with my own eyes, hear with my own ears, feel with my heart, and learn about the refugee crisis on the ground. What I learn may only be a drop in the ocean, but the ocean will never be the same again.

 

 

 

 

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IMCL conference day #1

Rome is an excellent location for an international conference about making cities livable. If my first impressions are any clue, this city has a mixture of both what works and what doesn’t (yet) work as a livable city.

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Rome, Italy

On the positive side, I count the historical buildings, monuments and architecture, along with the great public transportation, delicious food, and very kind people. On the other hand, the graffiti is a big distraction (it’s on every surface visible to spray paint). The homeless sleeping under the bridges, and the urban poor are clear reminders of the inequities that exist. I rode a city bus to the end of the line on the far west side of Rome and saw poor neighborhoods that most tourists won’t see.

An Italian architect who helped make the local arrangements for this conference lamented that his colleagues didn’t even bother to show up. “They could learn so much from IMCL speakers,” he said, “but instead we [architects] are making life worse and worse in our cities.”

The four days are jam-packed with presentations. Participants (I’m guessing 100+) are a mix of architects, urban designers, planners, policy folks and elected officials from around the world, and the venue (Pontificia Universita Urbaniana, Vatican City) is well-equipped for the program.

I presented a paper about Gaza on the first day (more in a future blog post) but my two colleagues from Gaza are not here. Israel wouldn’t allow Yaser to leave the Gaza Strip, and Italy wouldn’t give Eman a Visa to enter the country. (More here about the travel restrictions.)IMG_4555

Suzanne H. Crowhurst Lennard, IMCL Co-Founder and Director, opened the conference with words that easily resonated with me about what’s wrong with our city-building today. There are two competing value systems at work, she said. The first is based on GDP, where the city is seen as an economic engine, and its function is to fuel growth and raise the standard of living; while the second is based on the Quality of Life. In this model, the function of the city is the “care and culture” (Lewis Mumford) of people and of the earth.

Some of the highlights from her presentation:  Extreme capitalism creates a consumer society where we find hundreds of ghost cities in China; vertical sprawl in cities like Hong Kong (the least affordable housing in the world); and New York City with its “safe deposit boxes in the sky” (investors are stashing their $$ in high-rises, seen as good investments). In Tokyo’s housing, there are high levels of hikikomori — people who suffer from severe social withdrawal. Some estimate there are more than 700,000 hikikomori in Japan. Teenagers will not leave their bedrooms for days, weeks, even months at a time while their meals are left on trays outside their door. High-rise living can be detrimental to physical and mental health, and we see higher rates of obesity and related chronic diseases. Paris has a population of 20,000 people per square kilometer in 6 stories, but now is considering adding high-rises to its skyline.

Suzanne summarized the IMCL Principles of TRUE URBANISM: (as opposed to new urbanism?)

  1. Facilitate community social life. Key to achieving a high quality of life for all is the way we treat the public realm. The most essential task is to make it possible for people to come together, to form friendships and face-to-face social networks, and to develop social capital and community, but we seem focused on over-investment in private property and under-investment in the public realm.
  2. Facilitate contact with nature, including nature everywhere in our cities, and make nature accessible to children. My ears perked up when Suzanne mentioned community gardens. I wish my defunct community garden in Albuquerque was growing and active.
  3. Facilitate independent mobility. We must focus on balanced transportation planning that first prioritizes walking, second on biking, third on public transit, and lastly on the car. Living streets (“Wohnstrasse” designated by the international blue sign) have been traffic calmed and are safe for children and elders.
  4. A hospitable built environment that frames social life. Human-scale and mixed use environment instead of the mono-culture zoning districts in the U.S. which divide uses.

“Profit is privatized

Loss is socialized”

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Richard Jackson (r) and Suzanne Crowhurst Lennard (l)

 

Richard Jackson, a physician and professor of environmental sciences at UCLA, shared some provocative thoughts when he asked “will we merit gratitude from our grandchildren?” Dr. Jackson says the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) has been right about everything it has projected for the past 20 years with the exception of one thing.  The pace of change is occurring much faster than the IPCC experts thought it would. He used many of the same climate change slides that I have used when I talk about climate change —- but one stood out for me.  The IMF tells us that the fossil fuels industry is subsidized to the tune of $10 million/minute!! Estimate of $5.3 TRILLION for fossil fuels, much greater than our total expenditures for healthcare.  (At that point, my blood pressure was rising.)  He said there are 20 Attorney Generals in the U.S. filing a lawsuit against Exxon, similar to the tobacco litigation of the 1990s.

Are we guilty of child abuse?  Maybe, but certainly we are guilty of child neglect by our acts of omission — our failure to protect our children and grandchildren from the ravages of climate change, and subjecting them to a life of inactivity, in large part by the way we’ve built our cities.  There’s a lot of research out about the impacts of the built environment on our children’s health. I’m going to look for the May 2016 JAMA issue when I return home. Finally, Dr. Jackson mentioned British Columbia’s carbon tax which has dropped carbon use by 16%.  It’s working and others should follow their example.

Father Alejandro Crosthwaite, Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences, Pontificia Universita San Tommaso, Vatican City, addressed how the Pope’s Laudato Si relates to city planning.  I read the Laudato Si last summer when it was released, see here. Father Crosthwaite said The Holy See was shocked with the impact of the Laudato Si, especially among non-Christians. A number of good questions followed his presentation. Someone observed that the church hierarchy has been slow to teach and speak about the Laudato Si, another thought the Vatican needs a good marketing campaign to spread the word. Father Crosthwaite acknowledged that a lot more needs to be done and applauded the laity for taking the leadership around the world. The “structures of sin” didn’t come from outer space, they came from each of us as individuals, and so we need to do this both as a community and as individuals. Key for the Pope is “dialogue.” The Vatican city-state is now carbon neutral. They bought a forest to offset the carbon use within the Vatican as well as transitioning to solar energy. The Vatican also works closely with the United Nations, influences the meetings and discussions about climate change.

Richard Economakis, architect and professor at the School of Architecture, University of Notre Dame, shared a presentation entitled “Streets of Hope: Outlining an Urban, Environmentally Responsible Approach to Housing EU Asylum-Seekers”. I want to visit some of the refugee camps on the Greek Islands and was keenly interested in how Richard proposed to meet the challenges presented by this “migration of biblical proportions”. He mentioned that IKEA is producing housing for refugees using PVC components, non-degradable materials and designed to last 2 years. The Swiss government rejected IKEA’s housing as a fire safety hazard.

Professor Economakis stressed the “principle of repurposability” – meaning that designing and building human settlements for the refugees should consider the future reuse or repurpose of the structures once the refugees have moved on. Richard and eight of his graduate students prepared a Master Plan for the creation of temporary Refugee Villages to serve as processing centers for the refugees seeking asylum in the EU. He was kind enough to give me a copy. I hope I can find a way to send it to my colleagues in Gaza.

Statement of Intent

Let us build modest homes to serve as temporary shelters for the dispossessed in those ports and towns of their arrival. We must do so responsibly, using natural materials which have no carbon footprint, and in such a way that buildings can easily be torn down when they cease to be useful, without significantly impacting the environment – or else they should be able to stand for generations. Let us arrange the houses to form real communities of hope, villages that dignify the waves of tired men, women and children while they wait for their asylum requests to be processed. When the crisis abates and the refuges have moved on to new places and new lives, these towns may serve the hosting nations by being converted into affordable neighborhoods, academic villages or resorts.

Are there ideas here that might be applicable to the Gaza Strip?  I think so.

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The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change

My twin passions — climate change and Gaza — are puzzling to some of my friends. “What’s the connection?”

Justice and Life – pure and simple. 

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Mohammed and Lora in Gaza on Earth Day 2013

The occupation of Palestine, and the destruction of our planet, are each the result of human avarice and a destructive sense of superiority over others.

Humans think we have things under control on this fragile planet. We treat all life-forms as garbage, but with a little tinkering here or there, we believe we can restore the necessary balance to maintain our dominance. Wrong!  It requires a whole new radical rethinking about our rightful place among all life-forms on this planet.

Zionists think they have the Occupation of Palestine under control. With a little Hasbara and military support from its best friend, the USA, Zionists have a destructive sense of security believing they can maintain their State of Israel as a home for Jews only, while treating Palestinians as garbage. Wrong! It requires a whole new radical rethinking about each other’s humanity and their rightful place living as neighbors.

The planet and the Palestinians are not garbage!

I’m mourning these injustices, and I’m mourning the willful blindness that plagues so many (the majority?) of Americans.

We can all do better. I know it. I can see it in my “mind’s eye” but it’s difficult to have hope as the COP21 comes to a close in Paris this week and as Israel’s security forces have killed 10 Palestinians in the West Bank so far THIS MONTH.

Pope Francis released his Encyclical on the Environment and Human Ecology earlier this year.

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In August, Muslims issued the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change. The full text is here. I’m not surprised that religious leaders from these two great faith traditions agree: (1) climate change is real, (2) catastrophic climate change is human-caused, (3) human greed and over-consumption are big factors, and (4) God/Allah will not save us from our folly. He/she expects us to wake-up and restore the balance in the creation God/Allah gave us.

Some excerpts from the Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change follow:

The pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude from the gradual changes that previously occurred throughout the most recent era, the Cenozoic. Moreover, it is human-induced: we have now become a force dominating nature. The epoch in which we live has increasingly been described in geological terms as the Anthropocene, or “Age of Humans”. Our species, though selected to be a caretaker or steward (khalifah) on the earth, has been the cause of such corruption and devastation on it that we are in danger ending life as we know it on our planet.

An urgent and radical reappraisal is called for. Humankind cannot afford the slow progress we have seen in all the COP (Conference of Parties – climate change negotiations) processes since the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was published in 2005, or the present deadlock.

We affirm that –

God created the Earth in perfect equilibrium (mīzān);

By His immense mercy we have been given fertile land, fresh air, clean water and all the good things on Earth that makes our lives here viable and delightful;

The Earth functions in natural seasonal rhythms and cycles: a climate in which living beings – including humans – thrive;

The present climate change catastrophe is a result of the human disruption of this balance –

وَالسَّمَاء رَفَعَهَا وَوَضَعَ الْمِيزَانَ

أَلاَّ تَطْغَوْا فِي الْمِيزَانِ

وَأَقِيمُوا الْوَزْنَ بِالْقِسْطِ وَلا تُخْسِرُوا الْمِيزَانَ

وَالأَرْضَ وَضَعَهَا لِلْأَنَامِ

2.5 We recognize the corruption (fasād) that humans have caused on the Earth due to our relentless pursuit of economic growth and consumption. Its consequences have been –

Global climate change, which is our present concern, in addition to:

Contamination and befoulment of the atmosphere, land, inland water systems, and seas;

Soil erosion, deforestation and desertification;

Damage to human health, including a host of modern-day diseases.

ظَهَرَ الْفَسَادُ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ أَيْدِي النَّاسِ لِيُذِيقَهُم بَعْضَ الَّذِي عَمِلُوا لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْجِعُونَ

WE CALL

3.1 We call upon the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Meeting of the Parties (MOP) to the Kyoto Protocol taking place in Paris this December, 2015 to bring their discussions to an equitable and binding conclusion, bearing in mind –

The scientific consensus on climate change, which is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate systems;

The need to set clear targets and monitoring systems;

The dire consequences to planet earth if we do not do so;

The enormous responsibility the COP shoulders on behalf of the rest of humanity, including leading the rest of us to a new way of relating to God’s Earth.

3.2 We particularly call on the well-off nations and oil-producing states to

Lead the way in phasing out their greenhouse gas emissions as early as possible and no later than the middle of the century;

Provide generous financial and technical support to the less well-off to achieve a phase-out of greenhouse gases as early as possible;

Recognize the moral obligation to reduce consumption so that the poor may benefit from what is left of the earth’s non-renewable resources;

Stay within the ‘2 degree’ limit, or, preferably, within the ‘1.5 degree’ limit, bearing in mind that two-thirds of the earth’s proven fossil fuel reserves remain in the ground;

Re-focus their concerns from unethical profit from the environment, to that of preserving it and elevating the condition of the world’s poor.

Invest in the creation of a green economy.

3.3 We call on the people of all nations and their leaders to –

Aim to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible in order to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere;

Commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible, to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities;

Invest in decentralized renewable energy, which is the best way to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development;

Realize that to chase after unlimited economic growth in a planet that is finite and already overloaded is not viable. Growth must be pursued wisely and in moderation; placing a priority on increasing the resilience of all, and especially the most vulnerable, to the climate change impacts already underway and expected to continue for many years to come.

Set in motion a fresh model of wellbeing, based on an alternative to the current financial model which depletes resources, degrades the environment, and deepens inequality.

Prioritise adaptation efforts with appropriate support to the vulnerable countries with the least capacity to adapt. And to vulnerable groups, including indigenous peoples, women and children.

3.4 We call upon corporations, finance, and the business sector to –

Shoulder the consequences of their profit-making activities, and take a visibly more active role in reducing their carbon footprint and other forms of impact upon the natural environment;

In order to mitigate the environmental impact of their activities, commit themselves to 100 % renewable energy and/or a zero emissions strategy as early as possible and shift investments into renewable energy;

Change from the current business model which is based on an unsustainable escalating economy, and to adopt a circular economy that is wholly sustainable;

Pay more heed to social and ecological responsibilities, particularly to the extent that they extract and utilize scarce resources;

Assist in the divestment from the fossil fuel driven economy and the scaling up of renewable energy and other ecological alternatives.

3.5 We call on all groups to join us in collaboration, co-operation and friendly competition in this endeavour and we welcome the significant contributions taken by other faiths, as we can all be winners in this race

وَلَكِن لِّيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُم فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ

He (God) wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good deeds.

Qur’an 5: 48

If we each offer the best of our respective traditions, we may yet see a way through our difficulties.

3.6 Finally, we call on all Muslims wherever they may be –

Heads of state

Political leaders

Business community

UNFCCC delegates

Religious leaders and scholars

Mosque congregations

Islamic endowments (awqaf)

Educators and educational institutions

Community leaders

Civil society activists

Non-governmental organisations

Communications and media

وَلاَ تَمْشِ فِي الأَرْضِ مَرَحًا إِنَّكَ لَن تَخْرِقَ الأَرْضَ وَلَن تَبْلُغَ الْجِبَالَ طُولاً

Do not strut arrogantly on the earth.

You will never split the earth apart

nor will you ever rival the mountains’ stature.

Qur’an 17: 37

We bear in mind the words of our Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him):

The world is sweet and verdant, and verily Allah has made you stewards in it, and He sees how you acquit yourselves

Hadīth related by Muslim from Abu Sa‘īd Al-Khudrī)

Some friends and colleagues are totally engaged in climate change, but reject any criticism of Israel’s occupation of Palestine. While other “activists” are thoroughly absorbed with Palestine, believing “others will solve climate change.”   We must help each other recognize that our souls cannot be divided.  Life and justice requires our attention and action on both.

 

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On Poverty and Climate Change

(This article was written by Gerard O’Connell, special correspondent in Rome, and originally published in America 4-29-15, and then reprinted in the Saint Ignatius Catholic church bulletin on May 17, 2015.)

“We are the first generation that can end poverty and the last generation that can avoid the worst impacts of climate change.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, told this to a conference of 60 scientists and academicians, political leaders (including the Presidents of Italy and Ecuador), business experts and representatives of the world’s major religions, at a summit in the Vatican on April 28.

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

He addressed the high-powered gathering after “a fruitful and wide-ranging conversation” with Pope Francis, during which the pontiff confirmed that his encyclical on protecting the environment is finished and being translated, and expected to be published in June.

“I am very much looking forward to the upcoming encyclical,” the UN chief said; “it will convey to the world that protecting our environment is an urgent moral imperative and a sacred duty for all people of faith and people of conscience.”

Indeed, he noted, “eradicating extreme poverty, ending social exclusion of the weak and marginalized, and protecting the environment are values that are fully consistent with the teachings of the great religions.” Listening to him were representatives from the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the World Council of Churches, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, all of whom expressed full support of the call for action.

The Korean-born UN leader commended Pope Francis, and the faith and scientific leaders present, “for raising awareness of the urgent need to promote sustainable development and address climate change.” He identified climate change as “the defining issue of our time” and emphasized that on this subject ”there is no divide whatsoever between religion and science.” He believes the leaders of the world’s major religions now have a key role to play in the quest to get the community of nations to truly embrace sustainable development and reach a global agreement to address climate change.

Cardinal Peter Turkson

Cardinal Peter Turkson

“2015 will be a defining year” in this regard, Cardinal Peter Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, told the conference. In a wide-ranging talk he recalled “the great achievements of the last two centuries,” marked by remarkable scientific, technological and economic progress that has led to “significant numbers enjoying lifespans, livelihoods and lifestyles unimaginable for our ancestors”; a progress “that has lifted hundreds of millions out of extreme poverty” and transformed transport and communications.

This progress, however, has come with “unacceptable costs” and “starkly rising disparities,” the cardinal stated. It has left “vast numbers of people excluded and discarded, their dignity trampled upon,” in what the Pope has branded as “the throwaway culture.” As a result of this, “at least three billion of the seven billion inhabitants of the planet are mired in poverty, a third of them in extreme poverty, while privileged global elite of about one billion people control the bulk of the wealth and consumes the bulk of the resources.” He recalled how “the world produces more than enough food to feed its 7.3 billion inhabitants, but over 800 million (over 11%) go hungry,” while each year “one third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted.”

“We have treated the natural world with the same indifference, abusive treatment and throwaway approach,” the cardinal stated. Thus today, “the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the earth’s delicate ecological balance on almost-unfathomable scale.”

“In our recklessness – he said – we are traversing some of the planet’s most fundamental natural boundaries. And the lesson from the Garden of Eden still rings true today – pride, hubris, self-centeredness are always perilous, indeed destructive. The very technology that has brought great reward is now poised to bring great ruin.” He mentioned the disasters that have happened already in the Philippines and elsewhere.

The Vatican cardinal concurred with the UN Secretary-General and the renowned scientists present including Nobel Laureates such as Paul Crutzen, as well as representatives of the major world religions, and leading authorities in the field like Jeffrey Sachs, that climate-related disasters are a reality both for poor countries on the margins of the modern economy and for those at its heart.”

Speakers concurred that all the evidence leads to one conclusion: “We must fundamentally change our ways” (Ban Ki-Moon); “We clearly need a fundamental change of course, to protect the earth and its people” (Turkson). Participants later gave voice to this in a joint statement at the end of the day-long conference, which was held in the Vatican at the headquarters of the Pontifical Academy of Science, whose president, Archbishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, chaired the meeting.

Both the UN chief and the cardinal explained that crucial agreements to ensure a safer future for the whole of humanity and greater social justice are within reach at the high-level international conferences that will be held in 2015, if there is the political will. In July, the third International Conference on Finance for Development will be held in Addis Ababa. In September, the UN Special Summit on Sustainable Development (and the goals to achieve this) will be held in New York, at which Pope Francis will give the opening address. Finally, government leaders will gather in Paris from 30 November to December 11 to forge a meaningful agreement on climate change.

An essential goal for a meaningful agreement on climate change requires states to sign onto an accord to prevent global temperatures from rising above 2 degrees Celsius. But Ban Ki-Moon warned that this is imperative because “we are currently on course for a rise of 4-5 degrees Celsius, and this would alter life on earth as we know it.” To keep within the 2 degrees limit means moving to a low-carbon pathway and investing in clean energy that can power truly sustainable development.

Jeffrey Sachs

The technology exists to effect such a change, at a relatively low cost in global terms. Professor Jeffrey Sachs told the conference. “To stay below the 2 degrees Celsius limit we have to decarbonize the world’s energy system. It requires us to move to a very low-carbon electricity through the use of solar, geo-thermal and hydro-powers. This requires putting a price on carbon to create proper economic incentives so that utilities move to a clean system and away from fossil fuels.”

He explained later in interviews that “this means leaving ‘stranded assets’ such as oil, gas, coal, underground” but here, he noted, “the largest oil-producing countries and the major oil-companies are the ones that are most resistant to the changes that are needed to make the world safer.”

Asked about the minority who deny the scientific evidence that climate change is due to man and are against such a move to decarbonize the world’s energy system, Sachs said they ignore the fact that climatology is an established science for over a hundred years, and that the scientific evidence “is overwhelming.”

Professor Sachs said these people persist in a libertarian ideology that wants to operate freely without government interferences, whatever the cost. He said misinformation about climate change is disseminated by a smaller group that has a lot of political power in the USA right now: the very rich, the power of the oil and coal industries, and they pay politicians. Such misinformation is spread by the media linked to the fossil fuels – oil, gas and coal – industries, such as that of the Koch brothers. That same propaganda is also very strong in Robert Murdoch’s media. Nevertheless, Sachs believes that about two-thirds of Americans understand the issue properly; they know that it’s dry in California and there are big storms, and they know things are changing.

He’s calmly optimistic that agreement on climate change can be reached in Paris. The signs are good as many leaders in the oil industry are taking personal responsibility and reflecting on the risks to the world, and saying we need to do something. But he’s waiting to see if, for example, Exxon-Mobil in the United States will come on board and take a moral stance too.

He noted with joy that shareholders around the world are saying we will not invest in irresponsible practices; they are calling for shareholder resolutions and divestment protests. Many universities and foundations have now divested and the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Norway, which is the world’s largest wealth fund at almost a trillion dollars, is going to scrutinize its investments through a moral framework.

Sachs said the call from scientists and religious leaders is very important in helping people understand the urgent need for change, and he believes that Pope Francis’ encyclical will have a big impact in supporting the dynamic for change at “this historical moment.”

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The Emperor’s New Clothes

As an American, I sometimes feel like that young child in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, when I listen to members of Congress and mainstream media blathering about Israel. Really!

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Have they been so duped by AIPAC (the swindlers weaving a good tale) that they honestly believe Netanyahu is interested in “direct negotiations” for a meaningful peace agreement with the Palestinians?

Netanyahu is strutting around the globe completely naked. I see it, don’t you?

Bibi has no interest in a two-state solution and settlement building continues in East Jerusalem and the Occupied Palestinian Territories unabated but President Obama will be meeting with leaders from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) at Camp David on Thursday to tell them he has hope that the two-state solution is still possible.

What does Obama see that I don’t?

A critical mass is building — those who see the State of Israel is wearing no clothes — and the Vatican joins them in recognizing the State of Palestine.

The Vatican has officially recognized the state of Palestine in a new treaty.

The treaty, which was finalized Wednesday but still has to be signed, makes clear that the Holy See has switched its diplomatic relations from the Palestinian Liberation Organization to the state of Palestine.

I suspect Netanyahu (like the Emperor in the fairytale) knows he’s naked and the world can see through his costume woven with the “finest silk and purest old thread.”  Pope Francis sees the truth.

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter's square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Pope Francis gives his thumb up as he leaves at the end of his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2013. (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

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Filed under Israel, Occupation, People

Will Pope Francis shine a light on Palestine?

For a Christian …… attending Christmas Eve Mass is no big deal …… unless you happen to be in Gaza, right?  I found myself sitting with maybe 100-200 Palestinians in the Holy Family Church in Gaza on December 24, 2012.  My photos are here.

This simple fact struck many of my friends as very odd considering I was living in the heart of the Gaza Strip which is overwhelmingly a Muslim population with a Mosque on every corner.

There also seemed to be a subtle message of surprise that Hamas would be so tolerant of Christians celebrating their faith in their midst. One American friend asked me if I was nervous attending church in Gaza. “No!”

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Each parishioner came to the front to touch or kiss the baby Jesus.

One of the many misconceptions some Americans have about Gaza (and I suspect with Muslim countries generally) is that Muslims are intolerant of other religions and traditions. The Western mainstream media has fallen victim to, and perpetuated, that particular stereotype I’m afraid.

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There are about 1,500 Christians living in Gaza, and I witnessed no fear or threats of intimidation against any Christians while I was there.

Now that Pope Francis is visiting Bethlehem in the West Bank this weekend (May 24, 2014), Israeli authorities have agreed to let about 650 Palestinian Christians out of Gaza (through the Erez border crossing in the north) to travel to Bethlehem for this very special occasion.

Mapquest estimates this trip is about 70 miles and should take about 1 hour and 40 minutes.  The reality I suspect is that it took weeks of administrative hoopla to get permission from the Israeli authorities, and then it took hours waiting at the Erez checkpoint, and then it took several more hours by armed convoy traveling by bus to Bethlehem.

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One might think this news proves that Israel is a benevolent Occupier, until one reads that only people over the age of 35 are allowed to travel and many more requests were rejected. If nothing else, this treatment should convince the editors at The New York Times that Israel occupies Gaza, a fact the paper of record for the USA won’t admit.

Baby Jesus in his cradle in Gaza.

Baby Jesus in his cradle in Gaza.

Holy Family Church of Gaza

Holy Family Church of Gaza

So the Palestinians in Gaza have recorded a brief message to Pope Francis.

I hope the Pope’s visit will shine an international light on the Middle East and on the injustices of the occupation.

 

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Filed under Gaza, Hamas, Israel, Occupation, People, Spiritual - Religion, Uncategorized, Video