Earth In Our Hands: Epochal Stakes For Paris COP21

Global Climate March in Rome on Nov. 29
Global Climate March in Rome on Nov. 29
Jean-Francis Pecresse

PARIS â€" France, the host of the COP21, has in its hands the most vital mission it has ever been entrusted with: spare humanity the irreversible disaster that would come from a two-degree rise of the globe's average temperature by this century's end, compared to the pre-industrial era.

There will be no second chance. We can always try to reassure ourselves with the thought that the human species will somehow manage to adapt to global warming â€" it’s probably true, but it would come at the expense of millions of deaths, of unprecedented displacements of population and of huge land masses rendered uninhabitable because of rising waters or droughts.

This apocalyptic world no longer falls under the category of prediction, but expectation. It’s no longer reserved to the southern hemisphere. It no longer threatens distant generations, exotic tribes or voiceless populations. We know the victims of climate terror: They are our children.

Our common home is burning, and among the 196 joint homeowners who have arrived in Paris for the COP21 United Nations summit, some are still looking elsewhere. Saudi Arabia, sitting on its deathly oil slicks. India, which sees in the calls for a de-carbonized economy a new form of Western imperialism. Russia, eyeing the huge energy reserves of the Arctic soon to be liberated by the melting of the ice caps.

Finding a consensus on a legally-bound agreement despite these opposing interests, establishing the need to raise, as early as 2020 and for five years (not 10 â€" we no longer have the time), the contributions to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and thus avoid a deadly three-degree warming path: This is the weighty responsibility that French President François Hollande has undertaken by hosting the COP21 in Paris.

Given its past diplomatic failings, whether in relation to Russia or the handling of the Syrian conflict, there are reasons to worry about France’s capacity to produce a result that would measure up to expectations.

This time, however, there is room for hope. First because Paris, learning lessons from the Copenhagen failure in 2009, has had the good idea of gathering the heads of state and of government at the very start of the conference, in order to provide the political momentum necessary to put the pressure on their respective delegations.

Secondly because France is not alone. It has natural allies: Germany, but also the United States and China, the world's two main polluters, are on our side â€" as long as their obligations are reasonable. Finally, the global world of finance is becoming a driving force: Hundreds of billions of euros of assets are about to be completely de-carbonized.

What if, in the end, it was cold hard cash that saved the planet?

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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