Climate is a controversial topic, sparking fiery debate. We contemplate complicated questions: Is what’s happening really outside the norm for our planet? Whose fault is it? How radical a change is needed if we want to stop the trend? How much will it cost, and who will pay for it? How much wiggle room do we have before we really feel the consequences?
While we continue to debate these questions, and world leaders settle on goals that will be palatable to economic interests, many people in the world are in fact already feeling the heat. The recent climate discussions in Cancún ended in a fairly general agreement that representatives of many environmental groups and nations most affected by rising global temperatures have found troubling. Bolivia stood alone in opposing the agreement, and ambassador to the United Nations Pablo Solón has written about why they refused to accept the document. The Guardian’s environment editor John Vidal agrees that the deal offers precious little in terms of measurable goals with promise of fulfillment. In his assessment, “after four years of talking, politicians are congratulating themselves for doing nothing in 20 years.” And the question of how long we can afford to do next to nothing seems to have a rather urgent answer.
While Andean glaciers–the primary source of water for millions of people in Bolivia and Peru–are disappearing at an alarming rate, Colombia has been suffering intense rains and resulting landslides and flooding in recent months. President Santos has declared a state of national emergency and blames the tragic flooding on climate change. Meanwhile, 2 million Colombians have been affected, untold thousands have had to flee their homes, several hundred have died, and as the waters subside, disease and hunger will likely follow. Anastasia Moloney’s December 15 article paints the direness of the situation well. Many of the flood and landslide victims are internally displaced persons, who live in vulnerable and precarious situations. This includes a significant group from the Presbyterian Church of Colombia. The church is small, but around 30 families totaling about 200 members in the northwestern Urabá presbytery have been affected, losing all of their belongings and in many cases their crops and houses.
Situations like these, when water is either excessive or lacking, create urgent human need, and when we see it we may choose to respond with immediate aid. (Information is available here with one option for directing flood relief funds to the church in Colombia, please send me an email or leave a comment if you have questions or would like more details.) But real solutions are more illusory and challenging. Throwing money at the problem when it becomes acute and tugs at our heartstrings, while often an important step, does not bring about lasting justice, reconciliation, or right relationship, whether among peoples or between humankind and the rest of creation.
My friend Susan Ellison preached a sermon on Sunday titled “Why Rachel Still Weeps,” which offered a challenge: to ask the hard questions about suffering and injustice in this world, face the often uncomfortable answers, and listen carefully to see how God would have us respond. Her focus was on a somewhat different yet related area of systemic injustice, but the point is well made regarding climate change and our responsibility to live more in harmony with the rest of creation. Susan closed with these words:
God commands us to listen to the world around us, to ask questions, and to act. The reality of the world into which Jesus was born . . . is often dirty, ugly, and painful, full of discrimination and injustice. Sometimes we learn – much to our own dismay – that we are part of the problem. But the good news in this story is that we should not despair: when God tells us to arise, God also tells us where to go. We needn’t flee from messiness, from complexity. We needn’t flee from the hard questions. But in order to be faithful, we do have to ask them. And when we do, the good news is we won’t be alone. For the prophet said that the infant would be called “Emmanuel,” God is with us.
May we have ears to hear, eyes to see, and courage to follow our companion God as we seek greater wholeness and shalom for our brothers and sisters and for all of God’s good creation.