Editor’s note: On Nov 30, government officials and global citizens from around the world gathered in Paris, France, to try to finalize an agreement on addressing the existential threat of global warming. The goals of the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, are to craft an international agreement to combat climate change (keep global warming below 2 degrees C) and accelerate the transition to low-carbon societies and economies.

This is the third of a series of guest-blog posts by Gary Payton  of Sandpoint, ID, an active ICL member and the 2015 recipient of the Keith and Pat Axline Award for Environmental Activism, ICL’s highest award for activism. Gary traveled to Paris as part of the delegation from the Presbyterian Church (USA), an historic mainline Protestant denomination. While in Paris, Gary will post reflections on the progress, challenges and spirit of COP21.  

More than once, I’ve been asked "why?" The question has come from loved family members, from friends, and from reporters. For me, the answer comes from my faith tradition. I believe that eco-justice for God’s creation requires people to reflect deeply and then to act. In my case, I can be a witness to the process, enthusiasms and outcomes of COP21 and communicate a part of this critical story to those who will read and those who will listen.

The answer to the "what’s happening" question is negotiating, sharing and security. Inside the Blue Zone, national representatives are discussing key questions of financing (from the developed world to the developing world), timelines, target numbers for CO2 reduction, and more. These are the women and men who were inspired by their heads of state on Monday and are now charged with finding a path to an agreement acceptable to their country while being mindful of the impact on all countries and peoples.

Inside the Green Zone, open to all, it is a global market place of ideas, languages, and faces-all are dedicated to addressing climate change and its impacts. Those present come from a host of religious traditions or no tradition at all. Today alone, I have enjoyed conversations and perspectives from a young woman from Zambia who helped organize a faith based, pre-COP21 bicycle ride through eight East Africa countries, an official of the Port Authority in Senegal looking for solutions to rising sea levels, and a South African engaged in work opposing a secret deal between her government and Russia to build nuclear power plants.

Finally, for all with security concerns, a comment: On the streets of Paris, life continues. Traffic rumbles. People bustle. It feels "normal" by major world city standards. In many metro and train stations, police and military presence is marked. It is not uncommon to see dozens of armed security with eyes out scanning the passing crowds. And, at the UN COP21 site the armed security is multi-tiered and very visible. I feel as "safe" as French forces are able to make me. And, I am cautious at all times, maintaining my "situational awareness" as I move about the city.

In my current phase of life, I am inspired to work as an environmental advocate because of my faith and because of the leadership of others. Among others, the leadership of Bill McKibben, cofounder of 350.org and sometime Methodist Sunday school teacher has been pivotal. As a major contributor to today’s global climate movement, Bill regularly reminds us of the currency of movements: passion, spirit, and creativity. I see this currency in Earth Care congregations; among those who take part in Global Climate Marches; in those who advocate with our elected leaders; and, in staff and volunteers in environmental organizations across Idaho, the region and the world.

So, as COP21 unfolds I urge you to read widely of the progress and challenges of these two weeks in Paris. I urge you to reflect on your personal role to address the causes of climate change. And, I ask you to act.

-Gary Payton
Read Gary’s first post and second post.
You can visit with Gary during our special Paris to Pend Oreille Lunch and Skype Tuesday, Dec 8.