A SURVEY by a British cereal manufacturer last year underlined the extent of our estrangement from the natural world. One in seven of the 2000 British people surveyed had not been to the countryside in the past two years. Many struggled to name native animals or trees.
Seven out of ten agreed that they had lost touch with nature. Another survey, by Cadbury’s, suggested that one third of children did not know that milk came from cows.
Contrast this with the words of the Rt Revd Apimeleki Qiliho, Assistant Bishop in the diocese of Polynesia: “I am indigenous to the village of Rukurukulevu. . . Like every indigenous Fijian, I derive my identity and sense of belonging from the vanua [land]. I am defined by my attachment to my vanua.
“Today, the land to which I belong is in crisis. The source of my identity and belonging is threatened by the immense changes being brought about by climate change.”
Of all the global justice issues, none crosses our borders — socially, geographically, and generationally — quite like that of climate and environmental change. An approaching tropical storm does not care how wealthy you are. A drought will not stop because of the nation-state lines drawn on a map. We live in a world shaped by the decisions of our ancestors, in the same way as our choices will decide the state of the planet inherited by our children and grandchildren.
Yet in the UK we are shielded from much of the impact of this threat. We are less vulnerable, because changes in weather patterns or sea-level rise are less severe than elsewhere in the world. Also, we are fortunate to have the technological and financial capacity to adapt. Thus we benefit from the use of our planet’s natural resources — while exporting the consequences to others.
But the voices of those who are enduring the “immense changes” that Bishop Qiliho speak of are asking for our attention. Mission in the 21st century cannot ignore them.
USPGA welcome to worship in Fiji during the USPG international consultation in 2016
AT ITS heart, climate change is an issue of justice. It asks us to reconsider who our neighbour is, and how we live and love in a way that reflects our connectedness to every other being on this planet. In the process, we are led to ask — as individuals and as the Church — what type of people we are, and how are we sent out into the world to live out these ideals.
It is through delving into these questions that we are drawn into God’s mission for our world: a mission that asks us to reconsider our relationship with God, one another, and this planet, and to look for reconciliation in each sphere.
The restoration of these relationships requires our radical transformation, in the same way as countering the effects of climate change will require the radical transformation of our communities and global systems and structures.
As we encounter God and each other, we are shaped not only by facts and science, but by a powerful voice that comes from the heart. By listening deeply to the experiences of others — especially those who inhabit different places and cultures — our perspectives are broadened. We enter into a greater vision of what global issues, such as climate change, mean for the global body of Christ.
Last year, I visited the diocese of Toliara, in Madagascar, where drought had led to famine in many communities. As I walked through one town, the dry, sandy soil ran through my toes as it would have done if I was strolling along a beach.
“Globally, we know that we are facing different degrees of climate change, and that some parts of the world are more exposed that others,” the new Assistant Bishop in the Province of the Indian Ocean, the Rt Revd Samitiana Jhonson, told us. “But the impact of climate change cannot be denied: it is visible and real, and we need to help each other understand that.”
We can often find ourselves shocked into acts of compassion when we are faced with the aftermath of extreme weather events. At these times, incredible acts of solidarity occur both within our communities and across borders. In 2015, the Church of Bangladesh sent financial support to churches in the UK in response to the 2015 floods, showing that they understood what it is like to suffer in that way.
But what does this solidarity look like when it is not a reaction to an anomalous extreme event, but a response to a new normality created by climate change?
SPEAKING last year at the USPG conference, the Moderator of the Church of Bangladesh, the Most Revd Paul Shishir Sarker, described the impact of climate change in his country, including cyclones and floods.
“They are like friends to Bangladesh,” he told us. “This year, we have early rain, and areas are flooded. We have lost good crops in the lowland areas. We also have landslides which cut off the hills and the people who live there. Crops have come one month earlier than anticipated. Bangladesh is normally self-sufficient for food, but the impact of this is that we need to import rice from Thailand and Myanmar, and importing increases the cost of rice.
“Climate refugees are also moving into the city: by 2050, over 50 per cent of people in Bangladesh are predicted to live in urban areas, with the majority cause of this expected to be from climate refugees.”
And what does this solidarity look like when our lifestyle of over-consumption and waste are part of what is causing the problems?
I, like many other this Lent, have been observing a plastic fast. Each decision that I make has reminded me how my lifestyle is one link in a complex chain of production and consumption which spans people and places the world over. It is a transformation in my own thinking that digs deeper into my connectedness to our planet and its people.
Such thinking is being done throughout the Anglican Communion. In the Church of the Province of Myanmar, Joy Hla Gyaw, its development consultant, told us of plans to integrate climate justice into mission practices: “We recognise that our efforts might be a drop in the ocean, but these little drops add up, and will one day become a mighty ocean.”
While these global environmental challenges cross our borders, so do our opportunities to unite and work together. We are reminded of our power and influence as a global Church.
Bishop Qiliho told us, “We need to focus on proactive approaches, multi-lateral co-operation, and innovation. If we are of one mind, one heart, and one spirit, we can challenge leaders and decision-makers to work effectively to end the calamity that awaits us if we continue blindly down this road.”
For Bishop Jhonson, “creation and re-creation must be part of our liturgy and teaching.”
Here, in the UK, our individual identities are no longer intimately connected to our environment. In many respects, we no longer recognise that our lives are intertwined with the natural world. How do we rediscover the truth in the Genesis narrative: that God created humans from the land?
IDEAS about re-creation invite us in to be active participants in reimagining the world, and in encouraging its radical transformation into a place of justice and love that cross the borders of countries and continents. We are asked to participate in the mission that God has for our world, and to be creative in renewing and restoring our relationships with one another and with our planet.
Rebecca Boardman is Programmes Co-ordinator at USPG.