In the last of my pelerins posts I will reflect on a mixture of what we did in Paris, what we may have helped in a very small way to achieve, what I have learnt from the experience and what we can all learn.
The first lesson we can learn from COP21 is that religions are taking climate change more seriously. There were a number of events we attended over the weekend from a Christian/multifaith perspective. The first of these was a gathering on the the Friday night for us and other pelerins. Some Tearfund supporters had walked from London but many had made much longer journeys than all of us. One couple had cycled from Vietnam. Whilst most of this event had to be trashed due to translation into 2 other languages than english taking a lot longer than was thought, we did get to pray and sing. We also had to present a song based on our trip, a snatch can be heard here on BBC radio 4 Sunday programme.
On our second day in Paris we went to a multifaith event at St Denis cathedral followed by a presentation of our petitions to the chair of the conference Christiana Figueres. Ms Figueres burst into tears. This second event was high impact. As Ms Figueres turned up (to our surprise), the world’s press was there.
On the Sunday we went to the protest planned to link arms near Place de la République. Despite being unofficial the police allowed this to go ahead. Tearfund banned their people from going, but we decided to take the risk. The event was entirely peaceful with a wide range of people young and old present. We were right opposite the Bataclan theatre. After this we looked the memorials (almost unbearable) and went to the Place de la République. To get there we passed though lines of CRS (riot police) and it was obvious anarchists we spoiling for a fight. This was starting to remind me of my time in China in 1989. Later we saw the trouble and teargas from a distance. Our final act as pelerins was to go to a Tearfund organised church service in which we prayed for Paris and the COP.
Whilst the religious involvement concern for climate change is growing we should not exaggerate. As a group we went to 8 different churches. Of these none had taken much interest in environmental issues. The same was true of others we met from round the world. If climate change and peak oil are the defining issues of our time they have little traction in most branches of Christianity (and I suspect other religions too). At the same time I must say there is some interest in evangelical circles. We were staying in a Christian centre, (wonderfully) hosted by a group from the Lausanne movement from the US and other US evangelicals then joined us.
I am aware that this blog series has been from my perspective- albeit with lots of “we”. Like Chaucer’s pilgrims we were a mix of people and that inevitably leads to tensions. Nevertheless we were a team most of the time. We could not have done without our brilliant guide Chris and his bike mounted GPS system (so invaluable in urban areas). Caroline from Climate Stewards also helped lead and organise accommodation. Mark brought a huge collection of postcard petitions from school children and wrote a blog for children. The two Clare’s largely wrote our song (with contributions from others). I attempted to play whistle on the song. Geoff suggested the chorus should repeat so our audience could join in and made sure they did so, the contributions go on and on…
My final thoughts of this blog series turn to what has been achieved. What have I learnt? What has COP21 (more importantly) brought about? They say that what you learn from a pilgrimage is what you bring back. I’m still trying to process this in spiritual terms, but in human terms I feel a great sense of satisfaction. Firstly having physically survived and second having made a microscopic contribution to something so important. And what about the outcome. Better than I could have possibly hoped for with mention of 1.5C. Yes its not perfect, yes its not binding (at least not the whole treaty). But its still a miracle. 195 countries agreed this is a huge problem and pledged to do something about it. This in of itself knocks the sceptics arguments on its head. We have made a start, set a direction of travel and it seems likely will end up as humans taking a very different direction than we would otherwise have done. As one of the team of pelerins that makes the whole thing worthwhile.