By Scott Stearman
Very soon President Obama, Pope Francis, and Chinese President Xi Jinping will be gnarling up traffic for me (and a few others) in New York City.
Here’s why I think you should care.
First a story: I have a friend who is running for governor. The name and state, I’ll keep to myself. Its possible he may not want to be associated with this story. The other day he had an innocuous comment about his candidacy on social media. It was something about the need for politicians of all stripes to listen to all of their constituents. It was a “blah, blah, yes, yes, indeed,” kind of comment.
Knowing better, I did what I rarely do anymore: I glanced at the comments section. My friend is a self-described conservative, with a super-human resume; the kind that makes you question if half of it is fiction. In this case it’s not. But at least for one commentator, his candidacy must be rejected because, in spite of all his accomplishments, he is a “globalist.”
“The last thing we need is a ‘globalist’ who pays any heed to the United Nations,” said an apparent anti-globalist. Indeed, my friend is guilty of starting a military veteran’s nonprofit organization recognized and awarded by an arm of the U.N. For this very impressive work, he is maligned as a “globalist.”
While I assume it’s possible to be so globally minded that you are no local good, I don’t think this is the case for most of us. In fact it is quite possible we suffer from a more dangerous mental outlook: a localism that hasn’t processed how very interconnected we all are on this globe. If this localism is left untreated, it can develop into an isolationist mentality that is quite dilatory to the health of the world.
On Friday, the General Assembly of the United Nations will officially adopt the Sustainable Development Goals, a 15-year plan known as “Agenda 2030.” It seems timely to be reminded how small the world is. It is increasingly clear that either we will learn to live together on this small rotating planet or we’ll die together – possibly having won a tribal battle for more resources, but having lost the war of a livable planet for our descendants.
There are reasons why I think it’s essential to give attention to what is happening on the global scale. Let me mention these three: the physical science, the humanitarian reality and the theological foundation.
The current consensus of environmental scientists isn’t just that humans are partly responsible for climate change, but it is also that the only way to hope to retard the process is global cooperation in greenhouse emission reduction. The gases from the growing economy of India affect the population in the United States, and vice versa. The imploded Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan has emptied radiological waste into the Pacific that has been measured off the cost of California. The melting polar cap affects small islands in the South Pacific. A warmer ocean doesn’t simply affect marine life, but also weather patterns around the globe.
Indeed an eco-injustice here is a potential eco-problem everywhere.
The world is small. As technology and population grow, it shrinks. I know this is beyond obvious, but the implication seems to be missed by many. The only way we will win the battle for a healthy planet is through global action reversing historical trends. If it is true that the greatest prediction of future behavior is the past, we’re in trouble.
As I mentioned, on Friday the General Assembly of the U.N. will officially adopt the 17 goals of the Sustainable Development agenda. These 15-year goals come out of years of collaboration with U.N. agencies and much input from civil society. It’s worth taking a look at the 17 goals and the targets under each goal here.
Following the adoption of these goals there will be a climate conference in Paris (Nov. 30 – Dec. 5). The 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP 21), will for the first time in over 20 years of U.N. negotiations, aim to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate related objectives. The aim is to keep global warming below 2°C.
But even if you are climate change skeptic, there are humanitarian reasons to be very engaged in the global discussions of our small world. An easy example is the recent Ebola outbreak. A local disease outbreak in a country far from the United States, and on a continent which seems quite exotic to most of us, created emotional havoc here. The virus never seriously threatened the west, but it was a reminder that we are not so disconnected from what happens in an African village.
The Syrian refugee crisis is another like reminder. We can’t ignore warring, tribal disasters and assume it won’t arrive at our borders. The 9/11 Commission intimated that part of the reason we were caught off guard is our sense of isolation from the rest of the world. We’ve no good reason to feel so isolated today.
Related to our shrinking world, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer has recently written a book titled “The Court and the World: American Law and the New Global Realities.” In this work, where he argues for a greater appreciation of international law in U.S. Courts, he shares a story about being with some visiting foreign guests on 9/11. Their sympathy was more than just normal empathy.
“I began to understand the important divisions in the world are not on the basis of race or nationality or country or where you live,” Breyer wrote. “They are really between people who believe in a rule of law as a way of deciding significant issues and those who do not believe in a rule of law — who believe in force.”
Unfortunately the issues around human rights and international law are complex. Fortunately there seems to be a growing awareness that we must work across international lines to make progress.
For those of us who seek to follow the teachings of Jesus, there is also a very clearly stated theological premise that undergirds our concern about this world. It’s something we teach our Sunday School kids in Pre-K. God made the world and God loves the world: Genesis 1 and John 3:16. Those are simple ideas but have profound implications. If indeed, “God so loved the world…” then we must also. And “cosmos” (the Greek word for world) can never be reduced to “us” or “our kind” or “the like-minded.” God loves the world. Love is not a passive construct, as we who look on the cross should know. To imitate our Creator, incarnated in Jesus, is to love the globe.
I don’t expect much sympathy for my traffic issues this week. But I hope you’ll join me in praying for those seeking to address the global issues of our day, and in whatever way we can, advocating for positive action towards compassionate ends.
The Rev. Dr. Scott Stearman serves as pastor of Metro Baptist Church in New York City.