What Do You Love and Hope Never to Lose to Climate Change?

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“The secure rhythms of nature that are the foundation of our home.” — Rachel, Illinois

“Clean air and water for my grandchildren.” — Cheryl, Utah

“We are losing nothing short of life itself.” — Susan, Faiths for Safe Water

“Love, family, life.” — Great-grandmother Mary Lyons, Ojibwe Elder, Member of The Grandmothers Circle

What do you love and hope to never lose to climate chaos? That was the question, and these were some of the responses written on over 1,200 ribbons gathered at the Parliament of World Religions in Salt Lake City, Utah, October 15-18. These ribbons are on their way to Paris to join thousands of others on the Climate Ribbon Tree, a massive art ritual installed during the COP21 UN Climate Summit this December.

Climate Tree

Climate Ribbon Tree, The Watershed, NY

The Climate Ribbon aspires to be an AIDS Quilt for the climate justice movement. It’s an arts ritual to grieve what each of us stands to lose to climate chaos, and affirm our solidarity as we unite to fight against it. A way for faith communities to connect heart and soul to the hard facts and figures of climate change.

“Why up till now, has there been so little public action on climate change?” asks Gan Golan, one of the project’s co-founders. “It turns out, it may not be from a lack of awareness, but in some ways, because of it. When we try to absorb the full consequences of what is now happening — and the enormity of what is yet to come — we can easily become paralyzed. When we experience these feelings alone, the issue feels too big, the costs too difficult to grapple with,” adds Golan. “Instead of being spurred to action, we often turn away.”

“But,” says Andrew Boyd, co-founder of the Climate Ribbon, “when we create a safe container to go through these feelings collectively, together with others, something different happens. Instead of holding the feelings in, we let them out. Instead of isolation, we can find solidarity. Instead of powerlessness, we find empowerment. Instead of resignation, we pave a way toward action.”

“In short, it’s about moving us from the me to the we. Sometimes art and ritual can do that in ways that conventional organizing and protest don’t do as powerfully,” says Golan.

From this central insight the Climate Ribbon was born. It first appeared as the finale to the People’s Climate March in New York City in the fall of 2014, the largest march on climate to date, coinciding with the last UN Climate Summit. There, in the middle of Manhattan, a sculpted grove of trees were erected, and thousands of ribbons hung on their branches. Marchers were invited to find a stranger’s ribbon, read it aloud, and have the group answer “We are with you,” or “We’ve got your back!” Then they tied the ribbon onto their wrists and took it home with them, committing themselves to work to beat back climate chaos so that their chosen stranger’s worst fears would never come true.

Peter Adriance, Representative for Sustainable Development in the U.S. Baha’i Office of Public Affairs, was one of the participants in the Climate Ribbon ritual in NYC, and he took home a ribbon written by Cathy in Massachusetts, who didn’t want to lose “Humanity and all the other wonderful species that depend on this wonderful Mother Earth.” Adriance was so moved by this ribbon, that he found Cathy via facebook, befriended her, and struck up a conversation about organizing for climate justice. He was part of the team that co-created the Climate Ribbon installation at the Parliament of World Religions, where ribbons welcomed over 9,500 attendees from many faiths and all corners of the world. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny.”

Traveling Climate Ribbon Exhibit at the Parliament of the World's Religions, Salt Lake City, October 2015

Traveling Climate Ribbon Exhibit at the Parliament of the World’s Religions, Salt Lake City, October 2015

In the past year the project has grown from a one-time event to an ongoing ritual, spreading to faith communities and college campuses — an installation at Judson Church in NYC, a roving stream of ribbons at the Climate Parade in Berlin, a living tree memorial at The Watershed Center in upstate New York, as part of a climate arts show at ThoughtWorks technology office, on campus at Northern Arizona University (NAU), and beyond.

Next stop? Paris.

The Climate Ribbon Tree — whose leaves will be ribbons inscribed with messages of climate love and loss from around the world — will be part of the massive march in Paris on November 29
, the day before the UN Climate Summit begins, and installed at key mobilizing venues throughout Paris during the entire two weeks of UN negotiations — from right alongside the UN meetings to the Citizen Summit for Climate and the Global Village of Alternatives and the Climate Action Zone. Finally, the ribbons will take the streets, as part of the direct actions closing out the UN Summit, when activists draw the climate “red lines” that negotiators must not cross.

The Climate Ribbon Tree and its stories will be a powerful statement of global public opinion, reminding negotiators of all that we stand to lose if we do not secure a strong treaty. This art ritual could become the powerful unifying symbol of all the world’s climate heartbreaks and hopes that this unprecedented historical moment deserves.

The Climate Ribbon is inviting congregations, communities, organizations and schools to make ribbons to send to Paris, symbolically sending their hopes, stories, and promises.

Together, the love and commitments represented by each ribbon weave a giant thread connecting all of us as we work for a healthy, sustainable planet. As Parliament speaker and renowned primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall added to her ribbon, “Only if we each do our part shall we save the world. And we must.”

Rae Abileah is a social change strategist, Kohenet Jewish priestess, and a co-organizer of the Climate Ribbon project. Find out how to send your own climate ribbon -physically or digitally – to Paris and join the ritual. @climateribbon