Creation Care

Two Worlds: A reflection on COP28

December 7, 2023
Creation Care

By the Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California

We no longer see anyone from a worldly point of view…So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; look, new things have come into being! 2 Corinthians 5:16a,17, NRSV 

There are always multiple worlds vying for legitimacy among us, and only one of these fully accords with the dream of God for the world, including for humanity. The other world views are ersatz and imposters, but very good imposters. Really, many of us, certainly including me, most of the time subscribe, usually somewhat subconsciously, to the most successful of these imposter worlds.  

Right now, at COP 28, the United Nations Climate Summit under way in Dubai, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, with the COP Presidency being held by Sultan Al Jaber, there is an open struggle between two powerful world views, one of which I believe accords more nearly with that of the Beloved Community, and the other which promotes a path towards disaster for life on Earth – global warming that could reach a disastrous 3°C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century.  

This latter path is powered by spiritual values that “corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” (Book of Common Prayer, Holy Baptism), dynamics such as greed, selfishness, fear, objectification, and domination. The Beloved Community, by contrast is nurtured by peace, love, patience, faith, and courage, among other virtues.  

Yesterday the Guardian reported that a heated exchange broke out between the Honorable Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Dr. All Jaber, the COP President, who is also head of a UAE oil company.  

The terms of the argument between Robinson and Al Jaber may not strike you as having the theological, even cosmological content that I see there, but bear with me. Former President Robinson was pressing for the phasing out of fossil fuel production, which she claimed is necessary for any chance of holding to the 1.5°C ceiling for global warming called for in the Paris Agreements. Dr. Al Jaber rejoined that, “There is no science out there, or no scenario out there, that says that the phase-out of fossil fuel is what’s going to achieve 1.5°C…You’re reading your own media, which is biased and wrong. I am telling you I am the man in charge.” (What is telling, to me, is that last phrase, “…I am the man in charge.”).  

Indeed, the Guardian goes on to demonstrate, there is science, a preponderance of respectable science, that supports former President Robinson’s position. I urge you to read the Guardian article for yourself to see the comments from leading climate scientists in support of a phase out of fossil fuel production.  

But since we are talking about the Beloved Community, which includes all of life, it is important not to point fingers in this worldview debate: it would be misleading to make the UAE and other countries whose economies are heavily dependent on fossil fuels carry the blame for holding up the dominant false world view. Consider this: 30% of the UAE Gross Domestic Product (GDP) comes from oil. By contrast, 8% of the US economy derives from the fossil fuel industry. What this means is that the phasing out of fossil fuel production, which we need to do, will be felt much more acutely by the people who live in the UAE than in the United States.  

And, of course, the 331 million people who live in the United States overwhelmingly are enmeshed in a fossil fuel based life; in other words we support the UAE in its continued – and expanding – production of fossil fuels. Make no mistake – the phase out of fossil fuel production will be experienced everywhere by almost everyone, but as with all climate change and environmental effects, it will come down more heavily on some people than on others. This is why the Episcopal Church policy priorities for COP28 include significant support for international climate finance to support climate action, and designing solutions that prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable, including small island states and least developed countries, and financially impoverished and frontline communities. 

If you accept that the Beloved Community worldview is one that manifests God’s dream for the world most nearly – a world of peace, mutual respect, and love – then let me make three suggestions about how we might nurture that worldview and turn away from the worldview Dr. Al Jaber is peddling:  

  • Cultivate the values of the Beloved Community in your own life and in that of your community. You might take a look during COP 28 at the beautiful and meaningful Interfaith Meditation Cards produced for the Faith Pavilion to explore some of these values.  
  • Advocate for policies that phase out fossil fuels.  
  • Support a Just Transition, ensuring that workers in fossil fuel industries do not experience devastating economic and social losses in a transition to a green and sustainable economy.  

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Marc Handley Andrus is the eighth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. He was installed as bishop in 2006 — a position of oversight for a diocese comprised of 21,000 communicants in Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Francisco, and San Mateo Counties, and the cities of Los Altos and part of Palo Alto. Prior to his election as Bishop of California, Andrus served as Bishop Suffragan in the Episcopal Diocese of Alabama.

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