Summit of Conscience: The climate crisis is also a crisis of meaning

Summary

The Summit of Conscience was held in Paris on July 21, at the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (ESEC). Close to 40 public figures from a variety of different backgrounds gathered together: religious dignitaries, spiritual leaders, heads of State, Nobel Peace Prize winners, artists, representatives of peoples, global justice advocates, and more. The aim? To reassert their intention to make the fight against climate change an absolute priority and to explain the moral aspects of the environmental crisis.

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“What we need isn’t more knowledge, more technology or more science. What we need is more soul, more conscience,” as Nicolas Hulot summed it up in his introduction to the event he organized in conjunction with the Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC), the R20 (a network of local authorities and companies, founded by Arnold Schwarzenegger), ESEC and Bayard.

Why do I care?/How I care/What do I do?/Inspiring the world to care

The opening ceremony saw François Hollande, Koffi Annan, Prince Albert of Monaco and Michael Higgins take the floor, reiterating the need to bring a wide variety of international figures together to consider climate change through a cross-over approach involving economics, public health, spirituality, philosophy, art and more. The day focused on four plenary sessions: Why do I care?/How I care/What do I do?/Inspiring the world to care. Among those present were unusual profiles such as Pierre Rabhi, the famous eco-farmer, philosopher and champion for ‘happy sobriety’, Mohammad Yunus, 2006 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and the inventor of microcredit, Sebastiao Salgado, photographer and founder of the NGO Instituto Terra, Marina Silva, environmental activist and former Brazilian Minister of the Environment, and the hilarious Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“The climate crisis is a possibility given to humanity to rediscover our common values.” US Rabbi David Rosen

Realizing that only scientific, economic and political arguments were fueling the environmental debate, the organizers felt that the environmental question was also a search for meaning and so wanted to provide a platform for ‘spiritual’ voices. As US Rabbi David Rosen recalled, “The climate crisis is a possibility given to humanity to rediscover our common values.” This is a vision shared by most of the speakers, regardless of their religious, spiritual, political or social convictions. For his part, Arnold Schwarzenegger explained that, after his discussions with many different scientists and political and economic leaders, he understood the importance of including spiritual leaders in the fight against climate change. “I strongly believe that religious and faith leaders can demonstrate in their respective pilgrim cities that this better future is possible, inspiring hundreds of millions of pilgrims to take action, just like Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi inspired human rights revolutions.”

“Our objective is to create a healthier society, based on the recognition of a moral obligation to encourage altruism and curb selfishness in order to launch a process of deep structural change.” Mohammad Yunus

With only four months to the COP 21, the Summit of Conscience went a step beyond a mere conference on awareness-raising for climate change: it launched a call to the 196 parties involved in the negotiations. And, through their personal testimonials, the organizers and participants also hope to “inspire global awareness, beyond cultural differences and religious convictions.” The mass involvement of civil society is the aim proclaimed by the Brazilian Marina Silva, who dreams “of a new community of thought, in which the ethics of fraternity is the choice made by all.” To this end, the Summit also provided the opportunity to launch a ‘Call to Conscience’ with an international campaign dubbed “Why do I care?”1, which invites everyone – leaders, public figures and private citizens – to “answer to that question which comes from your soul and from your conscience” and express the reasons for their commitment. 53 international figures have already signed the Call. Through their testimonials, they hope to inspire every man and woman around the world to participate, a goal emphasized by Mohammad Yunus at the end of his speech: “Our objective is to create a healthier society, based on the recognition of a moral obligation to encourage altruism and curb selfishness in order to launch a process of deep structural change.”

1 https://www.whydoicare.org/en

Photo © : Jean Luc LUYSSEN/CIRIC