The elephant’s leg: coming up after COP! (written for a student Christian publication)

There’s an insulting, ableist fable about three blind folk who were asked to analyse an elephant. The first bumps into a leg, and concludes it’s a tree. The second gropes the trunk, and concludes it’s a snake.  The third feels a tail, and concludes it’s a broom.  

After impacting various protrusions, attending countless meetings, writing liturgies and more, over the last two years, what I have to share is as honest –  and as comprehensive – as the reporting of  the three, but probably of the one who bumped into the leg. 

My colleagues are still stumbling, dazed as to what to make of the emotional impact of an event which had to happen, which by the standards of previous decades, did so much good, yet in the days of Code Red, leaves so very much still to do. 

Thanks to some timely form-filling by a colleague, I was able, each morning, to pass through security into the ‘Blue Zone’  which was enormous grotto, full of fast-walking reporters, politicians, lobbyists and observers.

Every nation trying their utmost to present themselves as greener than green, especially  major polluters Australia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.  Indonesia, where deforestation has been extreme, offered a bamboo pavilion, traditional catering and costumes. Across the aisle, the UK pavilion, made of cardboard mailing tubes, bore  the legend “GREAT” all over it (in small print: ‘Britain and Northern Ireland”). Terribly friendly young people with t-shirts promoting collaborative practice swanned around close by, peddling dubious myths to support nuclear power such as “there were no casualties following Fukushima”.  

Of course, the COP campus was awash with greenwashing – and yet most of it did look truly ridiculous. Lies, bribery, and buying up the credentials of ‘experts’ may have had their day – unless of course, they’re about to get far more sophisticated than Shell’s discredited claim that their fuels enable you to ‘drive carbon neutral’.

A speaker in the WWF pavilion pointed out that there is not enough land on the planet  of any sort to plant sufficient trees to ‘offset’ planned levels of continued pollution.

Their “Panda’ pavilion,  as well as the  water, science, peatland and cryosphere pavilions, were meeting places for accessible and informative scientific presentations which filled in some gaps  in my own knowledge. That although we might hope that the beauty of the natural world would make its own case,  the economic arguments for the continuation of our current state of exterminative warfare against the web of life of whom we are part, really have fallen apart. 

 Amongst people around me, the level of awareness was very high,  of the multi-layered crises of biodiversity, climate, and everything to do with the oceans which has been revealed by the overwhelming consensus of science.

We do no one any favour, nor is it any longer an expression of love, to concede that denialism, delayism or incrementalism are anything approaching  valid ‘opinions’.  And you could include anyone who talks glibly about ‘solutions’ or ‘stopping the climate crisis’. It’s with us for better or worse, for all our lives and those of our grandchildren. 

But  I do hope to have grandchildren.  There’s no cause to give up on life itself. Christianity prizes ‘hope against hope’.  It keeps me going each day to remember Jesus’ words ‘not to worry about tomorrow’ because you’re up to your eyes in the ‘kakia’ [original vulgar Greek]  of today.

For people of faith, the lesson of COP is that  it’s finally time to mean what we say;  to ransack the treasures of our spiritual resources, recycling and repurposing “old and new”  [cf Matthew 13:52] and discovering how much sense it makes to look even to scary ideas of scripture and tradition, which, arose in times of threat and oppression. Faith should  build spiritual resilience, and my own extreme irritation with the dominant current narrative of British Christianity is that though ‘lament’ may be part of our response, it’s far from the whole picture. 

We need something more like the ‘Hallelujah anyway’ of liberation movements: for joy in a long-haul struggle. We sensed that on that great march with 100K people on a damp November day in Glasgow. 

 Traditionally,  Advent confronts us with pictures of global turmoil, yet insists  that such times bring us close to ‘redemption’  which we read well as “discovering our true place, purpose and potential as activist creatures amongst God’s creatures”. Most of all, we have to learn from the indigenous voice at COP, of our kinship, dependence on and responsibility to all other life. To abandon the suicidal fiction of anthropocentricism. In life… and especially in faith.