Climate change is upon us and many of our Pacific neighbours are in the eye of this storm.
This was the take-home message at a climate change conference hosted at Victoria University in Wellington last month. Called ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ the three-day gathering saw a number of speakers and guests with backgrounds in science, politics and the media discuss the implications of changing weather patterns and temperatures on the people of the Pacific.
Among those in attendance was the Methodist Church Public Issues Network co-ordinator, Rev Dr Betsan Martin. Betsan went to see what lessons she could bring back to the Church as it looks to transition towards creating its own low carbon pathways. Given the large contingent of Pacific peoples within the Methodist Church, Betsan says it offered a chance to “drill into the issues of importance” to the community.
Many of those at the conference spoke of how the Pacific was one of the most vulnerable areas to rising sea levels, super storms and extreme weather events. But beyond the Pacific community, Betsan says “climate change is a significant public issue” for all. Director of Australian National University Climate Change Institute Dr Will Steffen illustrated this point well in his talk, she says. “Will emphasised the globe is a living evolving system and explained that we should not be managing this system but ourselves and what we do within it. “He also showed just how tenuous a climate that is suitable to human existence could be. There is only a narrow band of temperatures compatible for our existence.”
Betsan says already those in the Pacific were beginning to feel the impact of global warming and the rising sea levels on their lives. Low-lying countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tokelau are among those who are facing a complete loss of land in the near future. “When these people have to relocate, what happens to their sense of nation-hood?” Betsan asks. “Are they still sovereign? Do they still have jurisdiction over the exclusive economic zone of their islands? These questions really dramatize what people are facing.”
Despite these challenges Betsan says many of those present showed a determination to keep fighting and an imagination to find alternative solutions. She uses the Republic of Kiribati president Anote Tong gave an account of going to Saudi Arabia for advice on creating a floating island. “This shows the breadth of imagination of the Pacific people.” Another campaign effort also stood out for Betsan. 350 is a group of young people who are active in a number of climate campaigns, projects and actions through in more than 100 countries.
Betsan says some of its members were recently in Europe for the climate talks in Paris and they have embarked on a pilgrimage, emphasising prayer and peace. “It was quite a dramatic action that included this spiritual dimension.” Having seen and heard from many of those involved in the climate change arena, Betsan hopes to have the church host a similar conference later in the year. She also hopes the ideas from the conference will help activate support for a number of parishes to transition to low carbon ways of working.