New Orleans.- Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew opened on Wednesday October 21, the Eighth Religion, Science and the Environment (RSE) Symposium, entitled “Restoring Balance: The Great Mississippi River” with a plea for more action to save the planet and stop destroying it “as if there is no tomorrow.”
Standing beside the Mississippi River, he made said “The dilemmas we are faced with are the problems created by human beings.” “We are consuming environmental capital and destroying its sources as if there is no tomorrow.”
He added: “We have cracked the code of DNA, we can create life in test tubes, we can genetically modify crops, we can put men upon the moon-but we have lost our balance, externally and within.” (The full text of his speech on page 51).
Since 1995, Bartholomew has brought attention to the world’s environmental problems with a series of forums billed as the Religion, Science and The Environment symposia. The New Orleans event, entitled “The Great Mississippi River: Restoring Balance,” was the eighth forum overseen by Bartholomew. Numerous scientists and politicians attende the symposium, which ends Sunday.
Roman Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond of New Orleans welcomed the Ecumenical Patriarch and read a cordial, prayerful and personal message from Pope Benedict XVI in which he conveyed his support and solidarity in the effort of caring and protecting the environment and “the safeguarding of God’s creation.”
Following the Patriarchal Address, retired US Senator Paul Sarbanes, who was a participant in the symposium read a message from former Vice President Al Gore, in which he expressed his esteem and respect for the Ecumenical Patriarch’s perseverance demonstrated by this Eighth Environmental Symposium. Al Gore was the first to address Patriarch Bartholomew as the “Green Patriarch” in 1997 when welcoming him to Washington D.C.
Finally, Archbishop Demetrios, as the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, called attention to the troubles of New Orleans and the Mississippi.
“We are in this wounded city, New Orleans, and in an equally wounded River, the mighty Mississippi. This glorious river through the years has become heavily polluted causing grave damage to both the land and the Gulf far beyond its basin. And we are here to contribute, as much as it is possible, to the healing of both,” said Archbishop Demetrios and added that His All Holiness is “the Healer Patriarch who laboriously, incessantly, and deliberately serves in an extraordinary way the ecological healing process and tends to the wounds inflicted upon nature by human beings.”
In concluding Demetrios said. “There is a concerted effort to reverse the damaging course of pollution and return to the pristine clarity of the waters, but restoration is not easy.”
Climate change proposals due to be presented at the Copenhagen summit, from the world’s major carbon emitters, will not prevent substantial temperature and sea level rises, delegates were warned on Thursday.
During the morning session of the second plenary, Robert Corell, Chair of the Climate Action Initiative, told participants that the reductions offered by 25 nations ahead of the Danish climate conference will still lead to an average global temperature rise of 3.5 degrees and a sea level increase of 0.7 metres by 2100.
The 2007 Nobel Peace Prize winner explained that these projections are “optimistic” and that the Earth is heading towards a future “very different from anything experienced in human history”.
To improve the prospects of world leaders preventing this catastrophe, Mr Corell called for greater input from the scientific community into international climate change negotiations.
This viewpoint was reiterated by George Schmidt, senior scientist of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, who predicted that the planet will warm “significantly”, even with mitigation more aggressive than governments have presently agreed to.
He informed delegates that environmental policy decisions should be made by world leaders on an issue-by-issue basis – with particular emphasis placed on the reduced use of coal and biomass for domestic burning in Asia.
“We will not be able to stop climate change in our lifetimes,” he said. “All we can do is decide whether it will be more or less serious”.
Speaking on behalf of the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Graeme Kelleher, chairman of the Great Barrier Relief Marine Park Authority for 16 years, also chose to emphasis the need for cooperation on climate change issues.
The veteran of a number of Religion Science and Environment symposia explained that climate alterations will “accelerate” without “dramatic interventions” by politicians.
Peter Bridgewater, Chairman of the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, presented a less catastrophic view, and remarked that an unsuccessful Copenhagen Climate Conference in 45 days time would not bring about the end of the world.
Under the gaze of the ‘healing patriarch’ HAH Ecumenical Bartholomew, the former Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention on the international importance of wetlands said that humanity could support its ecosystems with the “right governance, solutions and will”.
However, he too expressed fears that the resilience of the “global garden’s” ecosystem will be exceeded by climate change drivers thanks to the ineptitude of its gardeners.
The plenary, chaired by the Lord Bishop of London, also explored the issue of water resources thanks to a speech by Minik Rosing, Professor of Geology at the University of Copenhagen.
Mr Rosing told participants that climate change is causing the redistribution of water into different areas of the world, which he explained is “without consequence” from a planetary perspective, but will bring problems to our species as we become unable to adapt.
The Greenland-born geologist also admonished humanity’s “stupid” methods of obtaining energy through oil and coal instead of the sun, suggesting that existing technologies can easily meet the 25 megawatts per m2 required to sustain our societies.
Held in the aptly-named Riverside Conference Centre in the New Orleans Hilton, the plenary was given a local perspective by Brigadier General Michael Walsh of the US Army Corps Engineers and Robert Harriss, President and Chief Executive of the Houston Advanced Research Centre.
Brigadier General Walsh spoke of the need to find a balance in the water management of the Mississippi Valley among the competing demands of scientists and politicians, while Dr Harriss suggested that enhanced capabilities are required to reduce the threat posed by natural disasters to the Gulf Coast.
“We are going to have to raise the level of discussion about adaptation”, he said. “Now is the time to bring this to the fore.”
WITH RELIGIOUS LEADERS
On Thursday, October 22, His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew received leaders of the Christian Community of New Orleans. Expressing his solidarity in prayer and hope with them, His All Holiness listened attentively to their concerns for the poor and dispossessed, who have suffered as a result of Hurricane Katrina. In a gesture of ecumenical goodwill, he thanked them for their efforts and assured them of his continued prayers. The church leaders thanked the Ecumenical Patriarch for this, his second visit to New Orleans after the storm, and for his continuing work for environmental responsibility.
The Leader of World’s Orthodoxy, whom former Vice President Al Gore has called the “green patriarch” accompanied by a delegation of Orthodox church leaders, visited neighborhoods flooded by Hurricane Katrina and took a trip up the Mississippi, where oil refineries and chemical plants dwarf rural communities and light up the night sky with burning flares.
Draped in a bishop’s gold-embroidered stole, with incense wafting around him, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Orthodox clergy entered a tomb at St. Louis Cemetery No. 3 on Friday and chanted trisagion for the souls of New Orleans, including those taken by Hurricane Katrina and in memory of the late Archbishop Iakovos. He was accompanied by clergy from France and Korea, as well as Archbishop Demetrios, the head of the Greek Orthodox community in North America, and Metropolitan Alexios, the regional leader from Atlanta.
Nearby, New Orleans businessman John Georges, one of Bartholomew’s local hosts, and retired restaurateur John of Metairie, a native of Sparta, joined in the prayer.
Koniditsiotis, 71, a native of Sparta, brought the ritual incense and incense burner from Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, where Bartholomew was expected to preside over the Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m. Sunday.
Doug Daigle, an expert on environmental policy for the Mississippi River, said the river’s water quality has improved much in the past 30 years, but urban and agricultural runoff still pose a problem because they have turned the river into a conduit for nutrients. The river’s nutrient-rich waters flush into the Gulf of Mexico and create a huge area of low-oxygen known as a dead zone every summer.
“Broadly speaking, it’s not as polluted as it used to be thanks to the Clean Water Act,” Daigle said. “But it’s got pollution.”
“The patriarch’s message is more than about changing your light bulb and recycling paper goods,” said the Rev. Mark Arey, an ecumenical officer for the patriarch’s trip. “It’s also about raising your consciousness toward your relationship with other human beings and your relationship with the entire world.”
John Barry, the New Orleans author of “Rising Tide,” a history of the Army Corps of Engineers’ efforts to tame the Mississippi River, called Bartholomew’s comments “apt and impressive.” Barry spoke at the symposium Wednesday.
The patriarch is scheduled early next month to meet President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington, Arey said.
The patriarch’s U.S. trip also will include stops in New York, Georgia and Maryland.