by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory.” ~Second reading for the Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation, taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the original Christian Community in the Roman province of Philippi
On April 22nd, 2016 an historic event took place in Paris, France. One hundred ninety-six countries of the world signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—better known now as the Paris Climate Accords. As we know, the Convention set up a worldwide framework for mitigating the current dangerous climate changes by limiting global warming; all signatories were to report regularly on emissions and on each of their efforts to implement reductions in them. Global stocktaking on these efforts would take place every five years and rich countries agreed to spend billions of dollars to help poor countries cope with the costs of this plan. The Agreements went into effect on November 4, 2016.
Americans can take justified pride in the fact that then-President Barack Obama played a crucial role in accomplishing this remarkable agreement. Especially with regard to China, world’s worst source (the U.S. is next to worst) of carbon emissions, Obama skillfully convinced President Xi Jinping to sign on to the Convention, which both presidents did on April 1st, 2016.
While this was a step forward in limiting and reducing global warming, all agreed that it was a very modest beginning. However, the consequences and promises of more significant measures on the part of practically every government of the world made the Paris Climate Accords an enormously hopeful sign for continuing the struggle to save a gasping planet.
In January 2017 a new president took office in the United States and on the 1st of June that year announced, incredibly, that that U.S. would withdraw from the Accords. Using his usual xenophobic language, he cited some of the reasons for this pending action: The Agreement is an attempt to seize American jobs and American wealth and redistribute that wealth to other countries and so forth.
On November 4th, 2019 Trump’s Secretary of State, Michael Pompeo, officially announced that the U.S. would indeed pull out of the Paris Accords, an action to take place one year from then, the earliest date under the Accords when it can be done. It seems that this step will be taken by our country, even if President Trump is defeated on November 3rd and the Electoral College affirms the results of the voting on December 14.
From the point of view of our reflections and prayers during this Season of Creation such a draconian act by the United States in nothing less than a defeat for humanity and our Common Home. As Mr. Todd Stern, a principal negotiator for the Obama Administration four years ago in Paris, said: “this decision by Mr. Trump is ‘crazy.” He went on to say that it would damage the whole world in attempting to control climate change; that United States leadership in this far-reaching goal is crucial.
This action together with hundreds of others by the current President make a mockery of today’s Second Reading cited above: “do nothing out of selfishness or vainglory.”
What to say, then, we who come to these issues from a faith perspective? What ought to be our frame of mind, our prayer, our reason for Hope? Without being pollyannaish about this terrible setback in caring for Creation, some words from theologian Elizabeth Johnson shed a ray of light on it. Writing about another such mind-numbing sin, the Holocaust, she says:
“There is no logical or theological answer to the mystery of this suffering but there is a mystical-political way to live that goes on to opening a pathway through the history of suffering. People can decide to oppose these wrongs in the public sphere, to practice justice and kindness, to aim at beauty and a full table of life’s good for all. Within the anguished human context this brings a kind of meaning.” (“Quest for the Living God,” page 68)
This strikes me as a viable for Pax Christi to continue “waiting for the vision.”
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.