International Unitarian Universalism

No More Time to Procrastinate

A line of forest fire burns at dusk, the flames silhouetting trees, the rest of the landscape dark. Smoke rises into the grey-brown sky.

By Bruce Knotts

This post was originally sent out on August 23 via a monthly email message from Director Bruce Knotts of the Unitarian Universalist Association Office at the United Nations. Subscribe to the UU@UN email list.

I’m a cancer survivor. Those who know about cancer know that early detection and action is important. The longer you wait, the longer the cancer can grow, and the harder and more painful it will be to obtain a cure.

Our planetary parallel is of course climate change. We’ve known about the problem for over 50 years. Token moves have been made nationally and internationally over the past decades towards sustainability, but never with the urgency required.

In the U.S., Republican presidents have made a habit of reversing any climate measures their Democratic predecessors established, and this lack of consistency has had global repercussions, destroying momentum towards meaningful international joint action. If we were fighting cancer in this manner, we’d be in bad shape, and so it is with our planet.

The effects of climate change are abundantly evident this year with floods, forest fires, droughts, sea levels rising, polar ice cap melting, and more. There are politicians – even some like Justin Trudeau and Joe Biden who are outwardly vocal about the dangers of climate change – whose actions show they are still dedicated to saving fossil fuel industries. They bolster coal mines and protect oil pipelines like Line 3 that contaminate sacred Indigenous land. Meanwhile we should be moving as quickly as possible away from fossil fuels, industrial agriculture, and all that continues to compromise the climate health of our planet.

Had high-emitting countries like the U.S. and Canada committed to the Kyoto Protocols signed in 1997, and promoted vigorous global action to implement that agreement, the planet could be well on its way back to good health. Had we shifted all oil subsidies to fund sustainable energy in 2015 after the Paris Climate accords, we’d be in better shape.

But with many nations continuing not only to depend on but to subsidize fossil fuels, oil extraction, and coal power, we’ve made our planetary recovery much more painful and less likely to succeed.

Miraculously, there is still hope for our sickened planet.

We’re not dead yet, but we don’t have the luxury to play anymore with the health of our planet.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which brings together the world’s best climate scientists, reported recently that it is too late to avoid some of the consequences of climate change, but there is still time to save the planet from the most disastrous scenarios.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, said, “This report must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet. There must be no new coal plants built after 2021. Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil-fuel subsidies into renewable energy. By 2030, solar and wind capacity should quadruple and renewable energy investments should triple to maintain a net-zero trajectory by mid-century.”

The UU@UN agrees that we need to bold transformation, in ways that center those most harmed by our current systems. We are working with the UU Service Committee to put together a BIPOC set of proposed delegates to the next UN Conference of Parties (COP26) in Glasglow, Scotland. In our conversations with the UN we advocate for biodiversity conservation, ending subsidies and explorations for fossil fuels and moving to total reliance on sustainable forms of energy by 2030. We also strongly support ending commercial animal agriculture. We support indigenous land management to restore soil health, as well as the stewardship and planting of natural forests to enhance biodiversity and absorb carbon. We promote all this at the United Nations and in our programming for UN Sunday services.

I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 21 in 1970. The doctor said I needed to be hospitalized right away for surgery. I said that I had weekend plans and asked if surgery could be postponed to the following week.

The doctor was as firm with me then as the IPCC report is with us now. There was no time to wait for surgery then and no time to delay action on climate change now.

There is no room for the usual political games and procrastination. Decisive action is required right now.

That’s why it’s so important for you and your congregation to be All In for Climate Justice. I hope that your congregation will center climate justice—with a focus on food equity—this October on UN Sunday. Please explore the UN Sunday resources on our website, which will help not only to plan a meaningful service but also to help your congregation get involved in the UU climate action movement.

About the Author

Bruce Knotts

Bruce Knotts is the Director of the Unitarian Universalist Office at the United Nations. He was born and raised in Southern California. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in History from Pepperdine University and his Master’s Degree in International Education from the Monterey Institute of...

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