Everyone in the conference center at COP27 (The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference) was looking for something. Some were looking for new partners or to expand their networks, others were looking for investment opportunities or new policy commitments. But I was looking for something less concrete: hope.
This search was shared by many in my group as well. I had travelled to Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt with the Christian Climate Observers Program (CCOP), a non-denominational group committed to teaching Christians to be better climate advocates. This organization brought together Christians of all ages from all around the world, and among many of the young people in the group shared a common struggle with climate anxiety. It was this fear of what the future would hold if no action was taken against climate change that motivated many of us, myself included, to come to this conference. For others in the group, anxiety had already passed into grief. Family members lost to flooding, communities lost to wildfires, or livelihoods lost to financial burden were the driving factors behind their activism. We all sought hope of some kind, proof that God was working in midst of the chaos. And so, our anxious and mourning souls went into the massive conference center, longing for a reason to hold onto hope.
My first activity at COP27 was to listen to the opening speeches. I sat giddy with excitement in a large overflow room filled with others who also weren’t granted in-person access to the main event. We watched on big screens as the most prominent world leaders gave their opening remarks. Given the overwhelmingly large scope of climate change, I had gone into the conference expecting to find hope in these largest and most powerful bodies, so I listened intently to what they had to say. ‘If the world’s governments couldn’t solve climate change, who could?’ I thought to myself. But as I listened, my excitement and hope plummeted. I realized that I had developed a strange sort of climate Stockholm Syndrome.
Stockholm Syndrome is a condition that some people fall into during hostage scenarios. In a distorted understanding of their situation, the captives start to develop a bond and sympathize with their captors. And I admittedly fell into this.
The climate is being held captive by private economic interests and political systems that value profit and growth more than the well-being of those held dear by God. And yet, I had placed my hope in these very systems. I thought they were well-intentioned, and that if we had the right people in power, saying the right things, that meaningful change would come. It was with this twisted hope that I sat in that room.
I listened as world leader after world leader rambled on about “unity,” “urgency,” and “taking action,” and became increasingly disillusioned. My skewed read on where hope would be found was made obvious to me as I realized I was being told how important reducing carbon emissions was by oil barons. I was listening to military dictators tell me how much they cared about justice. Even those from my own country, the United States, bragged about our new partnerships with billionaires and private corporations (the leading contributors to carbon emissions) to fund new environmental programs. It was these systems and leaders that I was sympathetic to, that I looked to for salvation. Yet they were the very ones holding our planet and future for ransom.
I spent those first few days rather discouraged. I had realized misplaced hope, and tried to dismantle my climate Stockholm Syndrome, but I didn’t know where else to turn for hope. I asked myself again, ‘If the world’s governments couldn’t solve climate change, who could?’
I did eventually find hope at COP27, just not where I had thought I would. But in hindsight, I should have expected it. Our hope is in God, that much should be obvious to Christians, but where God would be found was what I needed to answer. God has never been revealed in the most powerful among us, in the wealthiest or most privileged. God did not appear to Elijah in 1 Kings 19 in the strong wind, or the fiery earthquake, but rather in the gentle whisper. God did not come to Earth in the form of a Caesar or military leader, but rather as a carpenter from Nazareth. So, I should’ve expected that God would not be revealed to me in Egyptian President Sisi’s speech, or in Joe Biden’s.
Every morning, the group I was with started the day with breakfast and a devotional. We shared of the high points and low points from the previous day and discussed scripture passages to set the tone for the new day. We would rejoice about successes and commiserate about frustrations together. My hope was found in these meetings.
With every lecture or panel discussion that I attended, I sat in the crowd, shoulder to shoulder with people from all over the globe, eagerly listening to and learning from the speakers. Often, I would have conversations with those around me before or after. My hope was found in these interactions.
Learning that there were thousands of others who cared, who cared for the right reasons, who cared enough to travel to the middle of the Egyptian desert, who cared enough to listen and learn in any way possible, gave me the hope I was looking for.
It is clear that we need to overcome our reliance and trust in those systems that are holding our planet and future hostage. To make it through the changing of our climate, we need serious change. But what COP27 taught me is that this change will never come from the top down. Our hope will not be found in the economic powers and world leaders that preside. Our hope is where God is, with the marginalized, disenfranchised, with the mourning, with the anxious, with the masses who are calling out for a better and more just world. We are each other’s hope, and only together will we be able to accomplish the change we need.
- Isaac Mann is currently a senior pursuing a BS in Environmental Biology at Houghton University, but he grew up in the community at Eastern Nazarene College. A baseball player and avid backpacker, he has loved the outdoors since he was a child and believes this passion is a calling into the field of ecology. Post-graduation, he hopes to continue his studies in graduate school and go on to work restoring and conserving Creation.