Why Do I Care? French Government makes climate change debate personal

In a move that many, including key government figures, said was “remarkable”, “unique”, “historic” the French government agreed last night to send through its diplomatic channel a letter from leading religious and cultural world figures to the heads of the 195 delegations coming to the climate change COP.

The letter asks them to ask themselves a single and personal question: Why Do I Care?

“Why are we asking you to do this?” it asks. “Because we hope that in answering this question, you will come to the COP primarily as a conscious human being not just a representative of a Government or agency. In the end the most important element of this is that we hear from you as a person, a member of the human family who has for a time a uniquely significant role to play in protecting the world.”

The letter was announced at a groundbreaking “Summit of Conscience” in Paris, July 21, hosted by the Elysee Palace, along with leading French publisher Bayard Press and the UK-based Alliance of Religions and Conservation (ARC).

“The Summit of Conscience departs from the place that the climate crisis … cannot be reduced to scientific, technological, economic and political dimensions, however important those are,” said French President Francois Hollande. “It is in fact a crisis of meaning.”

“In the past we have talked about “stewardship” but now we must talk about care,” said Cardinal Turkson, President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, who presented Pope Francis’ Laudato Si Environment Encyclical to the world in June.

“When we care it is with passion and commitment and attachment. Commitment to embrace with passion not just with thoughts and ideas but with the heart….What kind of world do we want to bequeath? An environment will not be able to sustain life after us unless we embrace commitment – we received a garden as our home and we may not turn it into wilderness. The garden we received must be passed on and bequeathed,” Cardinal Turkson said

Arnold Schwarzenegger supported the Summit and sent a special video in which he talks about his childhood in Austria. "I have to admit that I wasn't always on my best behaviour when my parents brought me to church - I hope that you can forgive me for that - but any time the priest talked about Noah's Ark, I hung onto every word, I loved the story of Noah building a ship large enough to save every species on Earth. That epic mission captured every fibre of my imagination. And today we have an epic mission of our own." 

“France is one of the most secular governments in the world and for the president and government of France to propose this level of cooperation with the major faiths of the world is highly unusual.” said ARC’s Martin Palmer.

“In fact both the French Minister of the Environment Segolene Royal and the French Development Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of it as never having happened before.”

The Summit of Conscience was championed by the French TV personality and environmentalist Nicolas Hulot, appointed President Hollande’s Special Envoy for Climate Change.

It was the first of many.

Already Senator Loren Legarda from the Philippines has pledged to ask her own government this weekend to host its own Summit of Consciousness, and leading figures from Senegal’s two Muslim majorities (the Confreries Mourids and Tidjanes) who represent some 80% of the population, will ask their government to do the same.

“The issue of climate change and protecting our planet has largely been taken away from people by governments, by scientists and international agencies making most people feel powerless or even hopeless in the face of all the data,” said Palmer.

“We need that but we also need to feel that we each can make a difference.”

Swami Amritasvarupananda, representing Amma, or India’s “hugging saint” perhaps expressed it most succinctly.

“For the climate to change we must each change.”

Why Do I Care now an international movement

This is not just a movement for politicians or delegates or people who are already leaders. When Bayard, one of France’s largest publishing companies especially for young peoples’ magazines, agreed to sponsor the costs of the meeting, and carry out much of the on the ground organization, their editorial staff said they thought this was a question their young readers would love to answer.

They created the website in which people of all countries are invited to tell their story in less than 200 words or a one minute video and this testimony will be added to the words of thousands of others, like a river of personal commitments.

Bayard are also devoting many of the autumn editions of their magazines to this theme.

Meanwhile other organiations such as MOA Japan which hosts an international childrens art festival with more than 400,000 entries every year made the question “Why Do I Care” a key theme to this year’s competition.

And so almost by accident a movement was born, because in asking the question “Why Do I Care” everyone can take part.


Twitter: @WhyDoIcareorg #WhyDoICare and #Sommet21
Text of letter:
Bayard Press:

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