|St. Ann parishioner Dr. Cliff Cockerham, a health sciences researcher and educator, feels so strongly about the “moral imperative” to act on climate change that he has taken an early retirement to volunteer full time for environmental and social justice causes.
St. Ann parishioner Dr. Cliff Cockerham, a health sciences researcher and educator, feels so strongly about the “moral imperative” to act on climate change that he has taken an early retirement to volunteer full time for environmental and social justice causes.
He hopes that Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” will signify a “paradigm shift” that prompts Catholics and all people of good will “to come together and do something about the justice issues that the Church has traditionally addressed.”
Like Pope Francis, who draws connections in the encyclical between climate change and the quality of life for all the Earth’s inhabitants, Cockerham sees the connections and says now is the time to act.
He will soon be traveling to Paris to participate in “COP21,” the 21st United Nations Conference of Parties on Climate Change, which runs Nov. 30-Dec. 11. Observers say that the conference is crucial because nations from around the world will have the opportunity to make binding commitments to reduce their carbon emissions.
Cockerham, president of the Tennessee Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility and Chair of the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club, will be on the ground in Paris coordinating communications between a network of guest speakers and student reporters with schools and community groups back in the United States.
He is working to organize a webcast with St. Ann School students in Nashville so they can have a chance to hear directly from a conference delegate in Paris and ask questions. “We are tailoring the conversations so people can have a sense that they are connected with Paris,” Cockerham said.
Despite the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, Cockerham anticipates his plans will remain largely unchanged; the main difference will be increased security throughout the city. “Moving around Paris will probably be harder … but everything’s a go,” he said. French authorities have canceled two large marches that were planned in conjunction with COP21, but the talks in Paris are still expected to draw 120 heads of state, including President Barack Obama, and as many as 60,000 attendees.
People of faith from around the world who have a passion for environmental justice will have a close eye on the conference. Catholic environmental advocates are hopeful – yet some are doubtful – that the Paris summit will result in a long-term pact to reduce carbon emissions with the goal of slowing climate change.
“This could be the most important meeting in decades around climate change because it seems like everything has been leading to this moment,” Lonnie Ellis, associate director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington, told Catholic News Service.
Ellis said he was buoyed not just by the actions of advocates, but that, ahead of the Paris gathering, 119 countries, including the United States and China, have submitted proposals to reduce greenhouse gases by 2030.
Such a response comes as faith leaders mount a growing campaign to bring the moral message of “Laudato Si’” to Paris: that climate change, disrespect for the environment and consumer-driven lifestyles impact the poorest people most and that the world has a responsibility to act.
“I think what Pope Francis and Catholics around the world have been able to do is refocus our minds and our hearts on the fact that this is a moral issue,” Ellis said. “That has immense power.”
Organizations such as the Caritas Internationalis, Franciscan Action Network, the Canadian church’s Development and Peace, the Latin American church-sponsored Pan Amazonian Network, or REPAM, and country chapters of Pax Christi International planned to send representatives to Paris. Some will attend the U.N. meetings while others will be at side events. Caritas Internationalis will be the Church’s official representative.
Catholic advocates told CNS they will be pushing for the final agreement from COP21 to include reduced deforestation, assurance of territorial rights for indigenous people, land rights and access to markets for subsistence farmers, human rights in contested mining regions, and financial commitments to help communities in the global South adapt to climate change.
The Catholic bishops of the world, too, have taken notice of the importance of the climate meeting. After concluding the Synod of Bishops on the family in Rome, the presidents of the U.S. and Canadian bishops’ conferences and the leaders of six regional bishops’ conferences called on world leaders to implement a strong, enforceable agreement in Paris.
While the summit’s main focus will be finalizing an agreement on carbon emissions for nations to follow, advocates said the real work will be in implementing the final pact and that will require cooperation among business, governments, activists and local communities backed by diligent observance that the emissions goals are reached.
In the lead up to the Paris climate conference, faith communities are conducting a month of prayer, fasting and action under the identity of #Pray4cop21.
“If you believe prayer has power, by all means, pray for world leaders to have the courage to take action on climate change,” Cockerham said. “We have the technology, the resources and the know-how to take action, the only thing blocking it is political will and moral courage.”
Fasting, especially by eating less red meat, can play an important role in improving personal health and the health of the planet, Cockerham said. Making an effort to reduce reliance on fossil fuels by turning off lights and driving less, paired with eating less meat will have an immediate benefit, Cockerham said. “It’s not only about what we can do for our great-grandkids. It’s what can we do for today?”
Nashvillians who are concerned about climate change are encouraged to attend an interfaith vigil on Dec. 3 at Belmont United Methodist Church, which will include a liturgy and outdoor candlelight witness. Prior to the vigil there will be a live feed from Paris that will include a conversation with Nashvillians who are there to observe the talks. The live feed will begin at 6 p.m. and the vigil will begin at 7 p.m.
Interfaith Climate Vigil
Thursday, Dec. 3
Belmont United Methodist Church
2007 Acklen Ave., Nashville
Live video feed from Paris, 6 p.m.
Vigil at 7 p.m.