COP26 - Critical Moment for Climate

In November, Glasgow will play host to the COP [Conference of the Parties]26 at which discussions will revolve around how to work towards the targets set out in the Paris Agreement and UN Convention on Climate Change. There has been a great deal of excitement generated by the event and a definite feeling of momentum. However, this is also balanced by a sense of skepticism in whether the conference’s aims will be met, as well as what, and who, is being left out of the discussion. Here at the Glasgow Catholic Worker, we are acutely aware that there are still necessary topics that seem to be neglected, including living simply and the link between the climate crisis and violence, both of which are glaringly omitted from the official narrative.

If you look at the statement from COP President, Alok Sharma, on the official COP26 website, you’ll see that it begins by addressing how COVID has disrupted the “global economy.” He continues on to state that we need to “build back better”; “We can deliver green recoveries across the globe that bring in good jobs, trillions in investment and ground-breaking new technology.’ It is not that a green recovery is bad per se, but this approach smacks of a technological and economic mindset.
In other words, it speaks to me at least, of more of the same capitalist, financially driven approach we have seen for decades, but a little bit greener, a little bit “nicer.” What this approach seems to totally miss, is that climate change is not just an economic issue requiring economic reform. What is needed is a complete structural revolution that challenges business as normal.

Care for creation has been central to the Catholic Worker mission from its very beginning when Peter Maurin advocated for a return to the land in his proposed “green revolution.” He spoke of the values of cult, culture, and cultivation, using the means of “agronomic universities” where people could reconnect to, and live in closer harmony with the earth. Importantly, Maurin’s vision wasn’t about “building up’” but rather was about scaling down, living simply, moving away from an industrial, technocratic paradigm. Without doing so, it seems difficult to see how the intended aims of COP26 can be realised. The COP documents speaks of how the UK has been a world leader in showing that ‘climate action can go hand-in-hand with economic growth.’ Surely though, the pursuit of unlimited economic growth is what has got us into this mess in the first place and it is the very structures that underpin this mindset that need to be dismantled. It seems questionable as to how we can really curb the effects of climate destruction whilst remaining in a system that values profit over people, and champions individual acquisition and greed.

Furthermore, climate change is not just an economic issue, but is also one of structural violence and injustice. The selfishness and greed of more affluent countries disproportionately affects those in less wealthy nations, causing migration and displacement which will only increase as the crisis continues. Simultaneously, we respond to this displacement not with understanding or acceptance of our role, but often with violence, in order to protect the resources we already have, or the ones that we want to gain. We see this acutely in the role that militarism has to play in the climate crisis. The US military alone has a carbon footprint bigger than as many as 140 countries and there is a bitter, twisted irony in the fact that COP26 is being hosted so close to Faslane, home to the UK Trident submarines. How can we seriously claim to be a world leader in environmentalism when we continue to build up a nuclear system designed to destroy the earth?

My hope is that these issues will be realized during the COP26 discussions, and that our global leaders will have a sincere conversion of heart, embracing an ethic of repentance and sacrifice. I hope that we will be presented with a seamless garment approach that realises that the commitment to non-violence to the earth is inextricably linked to a commitment to non-violence towards each other. I fear however, that this will not be the case, and that the elitism and injustice already present in our system continues. Ultimately only time will tell if COP26 is able to achieve a sustained commitment to the climate crisis. Unfortunately, time is the one thing that we don’t have. As Day and Maurin agreed, I think we need be careful about placing all our trust in those at the top to make changes and not forget the role of personalism and resistance. The excitement COP26 has generated is encouraging, and we are witnessing an overwhelming effort of communities to ramp up pressure on the conference delegates; however, it will require a continued effort to bring about radical change. Hopefully this effort can be sustained and bring about the green 
revolution that we so desperately need. Ω

Anna Blackman