These are the remarks that were delivered at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America’s (ELCA) Advocacy Group Convening Session held on 29th & 30th April 2019.
“Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change”
I am honoured and humbled to address you not just because I gather that the ELCA is one of the largest Christian denominations in the United States, but because as I attempted to learn more about the ELCA your words on the home page resounded, “We are the church for the sake of the World…. we nurture faith, build alliances and gather resources for a healed, reconciled and just world.”
What comfort to an islander like myself who was born a stone’s throw from the seashore, who watched as year by year, stone by stone we were forced to build sea defenses against the rising waters, rebuild destroyed homes and ravaged lives, endure the traumas of hurricanes barreling towards our shores from the vast Atlantic Ocean, fueled by its warming waters or perhaps emerge ferociously out of nowhere in an erstwhile calm Caribbean Sea. As a region the Caribbean contributes less than 1% of the world’s greenhouse gas emission and yet it suffers disproportionately from the negative effects to the point that Climate Change is an existential threat. For us as for all Small States, it could hamper the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
But lest I get carried away by the imagery and memories, let me focus on the intriguing topic at hand which is “Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change.”
In deconstructing the topic, we are forced to focus on preparedness, care and advocacy. Inherent in the construct of the theme is the acknowledgement that God’s natural occurrences are intensified by man’s actions which expands the carbon footprint or at best complacency or inadvertence.
Despite scientific evidence that globally sea levels are rising at an average of 3mm per year and in places like Micronesia and the Solomon Islands as much as 12mm per year as glaciers continue to melt, notwithstanding shifting seasonal patterns, record fires, droughts, hurricanes and cyclones, there are still those who will not accept the reality that we islanders know and feel all too well.
It’s a reality to the entire Caribbean the majority population of which lives within one mile of the coastline. It’s even more of a reality to countries like the Bahamas where 80% of the population lives in low-lying coastal areas and which falls within the top 5 most affected areas in the world, it’s a reality for the Maldives where 1,100 islands at an average of 4.2 ft. above sea level, stand the lowest and most threatened in the world. It’s a reality for Tonga islands’ 103,000 inhabitants and Anguilla’s 14,000. It’s an existential threat for Seychelles’ 92,000 people as it is for Nauru’s 10,000. For all these from the Pacific where by the end of 2017, 8 islands had already disappeared, and where the authorities of Kiribati have purchased land in Fiji for its 103,500 inhabitants, to the Caribbean and Dominica whose 75,000 inhabitants found themselves without drinking water despite boasting of 365 rivers, Climate Change is real!
I can never forget the images of a young woman in Dominica saying, send water we have no water! 365 rivers whose banks were swollen, were filled with debris, household items and yes bodies! Reminds me of the poem, “water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink!”
But make no mistake it’s not islands alone that are affected, in fact Bangladesh is on the top 10 list of those countries most vulnerable and right here the US has experienced its first climate refugees!
In Louisiana, Isles de Jean Charles has lost 98% of its land mass since 1995 and the remaining inhabitants are being relocated with Federal funding. At least 17 communities, most of which are Native American or Native Alaskan, are already in the process of climate-related relocations. It has been reported that there will be up to 13 million climate refugees in the United States by the end of this century. Even if humanity were to stop all carbon emissions today, at least 414 towns, villages, and cities across the country would face relocation, according to a study published in the National Academy of Sciences.
Only an islander can fully appreciate that when a storm is upon us, we cannot evacuate, we obviously cannot evaporate so we must be prepared to educate, advocate to innovate in order to mitigate and adapt to the ever-increasing threat of Climate Change.
I believe as a church which has proclaimed:
“We discover and explore our vocations in relation to God through education and moral deliberation. We bear witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ through dialogue and collaboration with ecumenical partners and with other faiths. In all these ministries, God’s generosity flows through us into the life of the world,” the ELCA is well placed to prepare to care, to advocate and to be a beacon of light in this effort to diminish our carbon footprint, adapt to and mitigate against the ravages of climate change.
Accordingly, in addressing how we prepare to care, permit me in the next few minutes to look at light as an acronym; LIGHT
L – Line up the facts
The global average temperature has risen by about 0.3°F per decade since 1970. In comparison, the rise up until that point was about 0.1°F per decade. Unless widespread action is taken now, the world is on track to bypass the 2˚Centigrade (3.6 °F) of warming by the end of the century.
The consequences thereof are arctic thaw, sea level rise, ocean acidification, coral bleaching, reduced fish stock and fish migration, severe reduction of crop yields, more extreme weather inclusive of hurricanes, floods and drought. These are the facts.
I – Internalise these facts! Hear then, not just with your ears but with your hearts!
Follow closely: these are small countries which means sometimes small populations with limited advanced educational opportunities. Many already lack the institutional and technical capabilities to carry out the demands of government. Yet although these disasters limit government’s capacity to respond, often accessing funding at concessionary rates are denied because, despite the perennial threat, vulnerability is ignored as we measure ability to respond and rebuild by GDP.
Armed with such knowledge, I believe the church can play a role through alliances, collaboration and advocacy to bring the plight of climate sufferers who are often the least of these, to the forefront.
G – Get out, Go – See your representatives and all those in authority armed with the tools of facts and your own internalization thereof.
After you have put yourselves into the shoes of those directly affected by climate change, the church has to use it voice and use its role of caretaker of humanity.
How do you advocate? There are many politicians who are evangelical Christians which gives a common talking point to begin with. They may just be unaware of gravity of the situation, unaware that even our best efforts may already be too late for islanders like me!
There may be others who take a fatalistic view, who look at the Scriptures of Joel 2, the approaching Day of the Lord with signs in heavens and on earth, blood, fire, columns of smoke, darkened sun and blood moons also repeated in Matthew 24. I believe that too! The wars and rumours of wars that makes that Day of His coming seem so imminent and we get that too!
Yet Scripture tells us that we do not know the day or the hour so until then, Go tell them! Tell them that we are called to be good stewards of our God given creation including the environment! Tell them of the consequences of ignoring the suffering of “the least of these!”
H – Help them to understand the plight in the messaging they understand.
The current administration understands the language of the economy and national security. To really get some members of the administration on board we need to highlight the effects of the changing climate on their bottom line and the effect it can have on the economy and national security of the country.
For example, while arctic thaw may open sources of crude oil, sea level rise and stronger storms will raise the expenditures considerably higher in this sector. There is the impact that climate migration will have on the United States of America. The Caribbean is the US’s third border! We have seen it in migration to Miami from Puerto Rico and the USVI after the hurricanes of 2017.
As we prepare to care we must be able to appreciate that there is another kind of economics. It’s an economics whose policies when operationalised are not quantified, capitalized and monetized. An economics in which according to Morris Dees, “equity, justice and environmental sanity prevail.” An economics of CARE, Concern for the affected and afflicted, ever-present Awareness of their plight, Responsiveness to their need and most of all Empathy!
Empathy has become a “scarce commodity” in our world particularly in the past 40 years! In fact as the effects of Climate Change have become more apparent, the very empathy which allows us to understand each other’s predicament, enables us to walk a mile in another’s shoes, motivates us to meet others at their point of need has become more scare. As a church we must see that this is unacceptable, and we must prepare to CARE! Climate sufferers, climate refugees need us to CARE!
H– Also stands for hope and I have reason to hope for a new perspective, a kinder gentler approach to the Climate Change issue by Evangelicals who hold a view that Climate Change is a hoax.
I mentioned the plight of Isles de Jean earlier and all evidence suggests they will not be alone. In fact, one author stated that not only is it an inevitability that the numbers of refugees will rise, but that there is currently “no U.S. government agency, process, or funding dedicated to confronting this impending humanitarian crisis.”
I recently had the opportunity to listen to an interview on C-SPAN with Hon. John Conger Director of The Center for Climate and Security. He highlighted the cost to the DOD of the recurrent storms along the US coastline and the damage to military bases. He also made 2 striking comments, one was that if we need to dispel a body of peer reviewed evidence then we must produce more peer reviewed evidence and introduce it into the body of knowledge. He also asked the question “if 97 experts warned that there is a minefield ahead and 3 contradict, would you walk into that minefield?”
This gives me Hope! Hope that as more and more persons express their views openly, as more departments are transparent about their concerns, at some point, based on the drum beat of the preponderance of the evidence, the body politic would shift. Believe me the world needs the most powerful country in the world behind climate action.
Finally let me turn to T… T –Touch the lives of others through advocacy
Gal 6:9 admonishes us to not be weary in well doing and these are the ways that you can use your advocacy to make an impact.
T –Take your own initiatives to assist directly.
The Church broadly and ELCA specifically can look to its own operations and set in motion mechanisms to reduce its own carbon emissions globally. Whether it is switching to electric buses or reducing air travel. Whether it’s making church buildings carbon neutral or using recycled materials for outreach. As good stewards, as Ambassadors for Christ let it all begin with us!
Brothers and sisters, we are the LIGHT of the world and if we take up that torch and embrace that LIGHT as I have outlined: Love, Line up facts, Internalize those facts, Go tell, Go give, Help, Hope, Touch lives and Take initiatives, then in all certainty there will be a warmth of a different kind shed abroad in our world! Rest assured that in the midst of the worst of Climate Change the Church by its LIGHT can indeed infuse the world with what Katherine Hahoe would call, A “CLIMATE OF CHANGE!”