Climate change: No longer just facts & figures

Deacons —  January 11, 2016

By Rev. Susan Mullin

Rev. Susan Mullin is a Minnesota Conference deacon and a member of the six-person United Methodist Creation Care Team. Mullin represents North America on this new team, created by the General Board of Global Ministries.The group represented the international United Methodist Church at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris, Nov. 30-Dec. 11, 2015.

Our Global Creation Care Team had the opportunity to travel to Paris the first week of December to participate in the civil society events surrounding the climate talks. We are a team of six United Methodists from around the world, including representatives from the United States, Argentina, Switzerland, Liberia, Fiji, and Cambodia.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Susan Mullin (second from right) meets with people from around the world at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Members of the team have powerful stories of what is happening in their countries as a result of climate change. Jefferson Knight from Liberia talked about returning last year to a village along the Suakoko River, where he grew up, and finding that the tree-lined river he remembers is completely dry and the trees have been cut down. He was shocked. Another member, Sotico Pagulayan, shared that in 2015, 13 (out of 24) provinces of Cambodia experienced crop failure. Extreme drought and flooding have combined to threaten the livelihood and food security of farmers.

As a team, we are committed to energizing local churches to take action on climate change and other environmental crises. This was only our second opportunity to meet together, so about half of our time in Paris was devoted to discussing how we can best work in our own regions and with the General Board of Global Ministries.

Highlights of our time in Paris included a round-table discussion on the intersection of faith, race, and climate and a conference devoted to women on the front lines of climate change that included powerful, passionate indigenous women leaders from the U.S., Canada, Ecuador, Sweden, and the Maldives.

How many lives are we willing to sacrifice?

Thilmeeza Hussain, founder of Voice of Women, told us that the Maldives “might be a small group of islands, but our lives are not small.” She pointed out that for her people, food security, clean water, and housing are all impacted by climate change. “Climate change is not distant,” she said. “People are dying. How many lives are we ready to sacrifice?”

Meanwhile, Josefina Skerk, vice president of the Sami Parliament in Sweden, also said that her country is seeing the effects of climate change. If the earth warms an average of two degrees Celsius, it will mean an increase of eight degrees in her northern lands. “We are not white strawberry jam,” she said. “We don’t want to be preserved: We want to guide our own development.”

Eriel Deranger, communications manager of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation of Canada, reiterated what many poor and endangered peoples have said: “Our voices are left out of the discussions.” She added, “We are people of the delta. Our entire system is threatened.”

Worshipping and sharing a meal with the members of Resurrection United Methodist Church was also a powerful experience. Most members of the congregation immigrated to France from Ivory Coast, and both their worship style and the wonderful meal they provided reflected their cultural heritage.

We met with the team from the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society (GBCS) on multiple occasions. This team was credentialed to enter the blue zone, where the actual climate negotiations were taking place. The feeling from the team was cautiously optimistic throughout the negotiations. They worked very hard lobbying leaders from the U.S. and around the world to make sure there would be adequate financial provisions for countries that have not contributed significantly to the problem of climate change but increasingly will suffer loss and damage. They recorded daily videos of their work that are available on the GBCS Facebook page.

The final accord is worth celebrating. For the first time, we have a worldwide agreement with a goal of limiting global warming to “well below 2 degrees Celsius” (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial temperatures. Nations also agree “to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius” (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit). These goals are much more ambitious than many people expected to see in this accord. But…this is only an agreement! Now we have to actually achieve the goals we have set for ourselves.

Climate change exacerbates all injustices

If there is one thing that I take away from this experience, it is the many ways that climate change intersects with issues of social and economic justice. After hearing the pain in the voices of sisters and brothers from all around the world, after learning how their ability to provide food, housing, and water for their families is threatened and disrupted by climate change, it is no longer a matter of facts and figures, or computer models that predict the future. Climate change exacerbates all injustices, including race, poverty, gender, and age. As United Methodists, we say that our task is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Our team reflected on the vision of Ezekiel (47:7-12): a river of fresh water flowing from the sanctuary, bringing life where there is no life. We challenge ourselves and all United Methodists to look for places where the waters of God are bringing life where there is no life, and to join in the healing of our world.

Rev. Susan Mullin is a deacon who serves as minister of faith formation and community outreach at Faith United Methodist Church in St. Anthony, Minn. This article is reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which initially published this reflection.

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