2nd Opinion: Why climate change requires a spiritual rebirth

World leaders attend a meeting to launch the “Mission Innovation: Accelerating the Clean Energy Revolution” at the World Climate Change Conference 2015 near Paris. (Photo courtesy REUTERS/Ian Langsdon)

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PARIS—Representatives from 195 nations have gathered to grapple with the greatest moral issue of our time—the war against Earth. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned, “It is life on our planet itself which is at stake,” and there is an “absolute urgency” to turn things around.

This is not political rhetoric or religious apocalypticism. It is science drawing nations together around our real foe—the environmental danger to our planet. If our forays into space the past 40 years have demonstrated anything, they have instructed us Earth is very special in the universe. Yes, we have discovered exoplanets we hope might some day reveal other forms of life. But for now, and in our neighborhood, Earth stands alone.

We are being urged as a species to wake up and get out of our anthropocentrism—our preoccupation with all things human—at the expense of all our relations with whales and dolphins, elephants and tigers, birds and redwoods, rain forests and rivers, oceans and lakes.

Will we take this opportunity to wake up from denial? Many Americans seem to prefer denial to truth. Yet only the truth will set us free and get us working.

Think how much shared work there can be between people of Asia, North and South America, Africa and Europe if we were to put aside our usual war-oriented budgets in favor of this real battle to defend the Earth and the survival of our species and other living things. Instead of new aircraft carriers and faster bombers, why not invest immediately in alternative methods of agriculture, energy, production and transportation that respect the Earth and future generations still unborn?

Scientists tell us rising seas will swamp huge areas of many great cities, from Shanghai to New York. Much of Florida will disappear. Millions of people will be thrown into extreme poverty by drought and the disappearance of soil and flooding.

We are told if the planet heats up by 3.9 degrees Fahrenheit (a path we are currently on), 600 million people will be displaced. Where will they go? Who will welcome them? How would they get there? If the planet heats up by 3.5 degrees, 280 million people will perish.

We are being told 800,000 to 1 million years ago was the last time our planet hosted greenhouse gases equivalent to what we now are producing. “We are now really in unchartered territory for the human race,” said ‎Michel Jarraud, chief of the World Meteorological Organization.

Solutions must come from the Paris conference, but they also must come from rapid education and change of values, from what the Gospels call “metanoia” or change of consciousness. This is where spirituality comes in.

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I define spirituality as “waking up,” and I am not alone in this. Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul talked about “waking up.” We humans, especially in the West, have been in a deep sleep, mesmerized by our own doings and gadgets and projections. But the crisis at hand is a wake-up call.

Our religions must change and be part of the solution and not the problem. My work for 45 years in bringing back the creation spirituality tradition has obvious implications for renewing Western religion but also for other religions as well.

As I pointed out in The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, published 27 years ago, there is no such thing as a Buddhist rain forest, a Catholic ocean, a Lutheran sun, a Baptist moon or an atheist cornfield. When it comes to Earth, we are all guests—but guests responsible for right livelihood and right citizenship and thinking outside our own tribes to the survival of all beings and all our children for generations to come.

People of faith must act swiftly and work with, not against, science. Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ is a good example of this effort. Science, too, must work out of wisdom paradigms of justice and compassion. Education must be reborn similarly. The wisdom of indigenous tribes is indispensable for this change of consciousness, for they have been in communion with Earth and her creatures for thousands of years. They are leaders in a more-than-human awareness.

We all will rise or fall together. The greatest opportunity our species ever has faced invites us now to grow up and reach deep within ourselves to ignite the creativity we are capable of, to work side by side with people of other tribes and religions and no religions to combat our one foe—denial born of narcissistic species-centeredness.

Ancient Scripture says: “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 2:19).

What will we choose? Will we choose life and creativity and a new stage in humanity?

Matthew Fox is a theologian and author of 32 books. His column was distributed by Religion News Service.

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