Glocal Realities and the Elephant

I feel a constant tension at COP15. On the one side, the climate change crisis is complex and global, it affects people everywhere in various ways. Therefore, the narratives of these many people are interesting: their experiences contribute to a better understanding of the crisis. These voices, and particularly those of the most affected people, carry seeds for imagining and designing a sustainable life together on our planet. Each particular voice is worth listening to. On the other side, the COP15 discussions very often reflect the particular interests of countries and nations that enter in power games with one another. Although the clash of these particular interests highlights some very important aspects of the crisis and in that sense is constructive, the game of particular interests becomes destructive for the whole, if it is not set against the background of a worldwide concern. In that sense, some call for global, worldwide structures of governance.

The tension balances between a force downwards (the need to pay attention to individual experiences) and the need for a broad force field that can act effectively on a worldwide scale, beyond the power games of national interests. Such a “glocal” (global & local) approach represents a new challenge to our ways of doing politics. Is there a way to give due respect to personal narratives and experiences, while at the same time focusing on the world as a whole? I am not sure that the politics of negotiating between nations is the best way to proceed? Who are the real parties at the table of negotiation?

The situation is even more complex. This “glocal” tension looks at the crisis from a very anthropocentric perspective: it is a crisis of humanity before being a crisis of the planet as a whole. There is, indeed, an elephant in the room: the voice of the planet as an actor who confronts us with limits and with reactions that move beyond our control. To me, it was symbolized by a loose butterfly in the “Niels Bohr” room, an animal that should not be there at this moment of the year, an animal that had entered the Bella Center without accreditation and without passing through the necessary controls. There may be danger that the human parties at COP15 try to answer in just and equitable terms (for human beings) the challenge to live together, while forgetting to take into account the limits and uncontrollability of our one natural resource, the earth. Who at this conference is advocating for the elephant party in the room?

Allow me a theological reflection on COP15 realities. This triangle of tensions is not unfamiliar to Christians. Indeed, the Christian experience is always located in individual human beings, whose narratives are crucial to understand and to transmit faith. Nevertheless, that faith has a social and a universal scope: it requires the manifold of human experiences to truly unfold as a gift to all of us and to disrupt a self-centeredness that we like to cover up as faith – there is a challenge to justice and equity. Therefore, Christians pay a critical attention to the gift of faith in the poor and excluded, in those who vulnerably maintain their t(h)rust in a dignified future together even amidst the most brutal and inhuman conditions. Church emerges as concrete communities with a universal scope, when these experiences of faith are shared and offer the space for the revelation of the deeper ground or source that – or better: “who” – critically holds and brings us together. However, there is one more critical step to go, lest we should reduce reality to mere human togetherness according to “our” plans (the plans of the most powerful amongst us, who impose their will and interests on others, using even the appeal to objective science and technological control to do so). The source Christians recognize and call God, cannot be imprisoned in the structure of our life together, in our human societies. Reality is larger than human community and society – as reality is larger than the game of countries and nations at COP15. There is an elephant in the room of human life together: there is a world, a universe, to which we all belong and out of which we emerge, and this is a reality that ultimately escapes all human attempts to control and dominate it and that Christians, therefore, call creation. This “escape” of reality is not grounded in its brutal force that would hold us at bay, but, paradoxically, in its vulnerability that lies beyond our control because reality is too poor to yield all that we would want to extract out of it. Reality’s real protection and strength lies in the fact that by destroying it, we destroy ourselves – when the awareness has grown that we can destroy the environment through which we receive life, we become aware of a responsibility that makes us similar to the Creator but that keeps us from replacing the Creator.


One response to “Glocal Realities and the Elephant

  1. Johannes van de Ven

    Hello Jacques – thanks for these enriching and enlightening comments. The tension between local and global is indeed key to understanding the real issues. In the climate debate, geographical borders are useless and dangerous. The last days, for example, I have experienced the limits of living dangerously: human trafficking and illegal gold mining in the triangle of Brazil, French Guyana and Suriname. Nations are not capable of tackling these issues. Your quest for human narratives are a better alternative at least in mapping the real issue. Good luck in spreading this message in Kobenhavn. Also in the name of the Marrons and Arawak indigenous people here, go for a tough and binding climate contract. Greetings from Macapa, at the mouth of the Amazon river, Johannes

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