Report by Grove Harris, Representative to the United Nations for the Temple of UnderstandingThe Saronic Islands, June 5-8, 2018
The Temple of Understanding’s Executive Director Alison Van Dyk and Representative to the United Nations Grove Harris were honored to be invited to participate in the Green Attica Symposium. The symposium brought together 200 diverse thought leaders, including theologians, scientists, political and business leaders, activists, and journalists from around the globe.
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, a 2010 Hollister Award recipient, is famous for seeing environmentalism as a spiritual responsibility and has hosted such symposia since 1996. Settings have included the Adriatic Sea, the Amazon River, the Arctic Ocean, and the Mississippi River. His environmental writings set the tone for the event:
Climate Change and Social Justice
If human beings were to treat one another’s personal property the way they treat the natural environment, we would view that behavior as anti-social and illegal. We would expect legal sanctions and even compensation. When will we learn that to commit a crime against the natural world is also a sin?
Sacrament and Sin
We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying it’s wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.
Healing and Repentance
Ecology cannot inspire respect for nature if it does not express a different worldview from the one that prevails in our culture today, from the one that led us to this ecological impasse in the first place. What is required is an act of repentance, a change in our established ways, a renewed image of ourselves, one another and the world around us within the perspective of the divine design of creation. To achieve this transformation, what is required is nothing less than a radical reversal of our perspectives and practices.
Any abuse of our earth’s resources – and, above all, of water as the source and symbol of life and renewal – contradicts our sacred and social obligation to other people, and especially those who live in poverty and on the margins of society. Water is a fundamental human right. .. [Read Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s full Statement on Water]
The Symposium was a stunning opportunity to visit Greece and connect with old and new friends for more inspired and connected work towards climate justice. We spent three days visiting the islands of Spetses and Hydra, with intense program sessions considering religion and science, economics and the market, refugees, and the future, all including faith perspectives.
You can read a detailed description written by Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and the Washington Post article “Climate change is a top spiritual priority for these religious leaders,” both on the website of our colleagues at the Forum on Religion and Ecology.
Prior to the Symposium, we visited the world heritage site of Delphi, to meditate in the place considered the navel of the universe in ancient Greece.
At the Symposium, the Temple of Understanding:
- responded to Dr Jeffrey Sach’s economic presentation by reminding him that people of faith make an even more prophetic call for radical action, based on love and faith demanding more responsive action to redress environmental wrongs
- convened a small round table with water justice expert Maude Barlow and other participants towards more effective actions after the Symposium
- called for ethical guidelines to constrain economic growth, as part of the Symposium’s inclusion of corporate responsibility
- promoted the Water Justice Guide
After the symposium we visited the island of Aegina and learned of the water challenges there, where most of the water is shipped to the island by tanker, and people buy bottled water to drink. We supported local activism with connection to the water justice work and Sustainable Development Goal 6 at the United Nations, as well as with ideas about local plastic recycling, including the Plastic Whale, a project that takes people out to fish plastics from Amsterdam’s canals and then processes the plastic into boats. Back at the UN in New York City, we raised concern about the water supply and plastic bottles during the Voluntary National Review provided by Greece during the High Level Political Forum.