|Climate inaction a danger, United Methodists say|
A delegation from United Methodist Women participated in a massive march through the streets of Copenhagen during the U.N. Conference on Climate Change.
A UMNS photo courtesy of the Rev. Pat Watkins.
A UMNS Report
By Linda Bloom*
Dec. 18, 2009
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said “God’s justice” would prevail.
A UMNS Photo by Peter Williams, WCC.
Someday soon, Tupou Kelemeni fears, her ancestral home could be washed away.
Pacific island nations are among the countries under immediate threat from global warming and Kelemeni, a United Methodist from Hawaii and native of Tonga, is concerned about all of them.
As a member of the United Methodist Women’s delegation to the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, she had a chance to interview young people from the Solomon Islands and the Maldives Islands, in the Indian Ocean, about the situation.
“They are in the frontlines of being washed away by the oceans,” she explained. “When they spoke about it, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. I can see that happening to the young men and women in Tonga.”
By the summit’s final day on Dec. 18, it seemed unlikely that such threats would be addressed in the near future. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Copenhagen the day before to declare that the United States would contribute to the annual $100 billion cost of helping poor nations adapt to climate change, but that commitment came with significant conditions. In particular, the United States and China remained at odds over aspects of any agreement.
While United Methodists traveled to Copenhagen hopeful that a new agreement could be negotiated among the representatives of nearly 200 nations, they were more focused on providing ecumenical solidarity to the poor nations most affected by climate change.
In addition to Kelemeni, the denomination’s participants included the Rev. Pat Watkins, Esmeralda Brown and Pamela Sparr, representing United Methodist Women; Meghan Roth, John Hill and Liberato Bautista of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society; and the Rev. John McCullough, executive director of Church World Service.
A “crucial moment”
McCullough considered Clinton’s announcement “a very positive development.” But he is not sure world leaders realize how many consider the summit to be a “crucial moment” to ordinary folks who “understand how change in the climate is having a direct impact on their communities and their quality of life.”
Coming to Denmark was a way to get that message across, he said. “United Methodists need to understand that these people who gathered in Copenhagen for the summit see this as a life-and-death issue.”
Former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the “pre-eminent voice” among religious representatives focusing on how climate change impacts the poor, McCullough pointed out.
When Tutu handed over a clock symbolizing more than 500,000 signatures for climate justice collected by the Countdown to Copenhagen campaign, the action summed up what the conference was all about, Watkins said.
“He reminded us of the civil rights struggles in the U.S. and of apartheid in South Africa,” he added. “In both instances, God’s justice prevailed. And he stated, with amazing certainty, that God’s justice would prevail in this case, too.”
Inaction is inadequate
Inaction is an inadequate response, said Bautista, who deplored what he perceived as the muzzling of the “civil society voice” during the conference’s second week.
Representing United Methodist Women were, from left, Pamela Sparr, Esmeralda Brown, Pat Watkins and Topou Kelemeni. A UMNS photo courtesy of Pat Watkins.
“The climate crisis has a human face, and the lack of political wisdom and courage from the world’s leaders to not seize on this singular opportunity in Copenhagen is most frustrating, even deadly already, to so many people in developing countries,” he declared.
Sparr expects progress on climate change “will come sooner at the grassroots level,” through municipalities and regional governments. “We have a long way to go before we get international agreement among nations to set a sufficiently strong, binding target to limit greenhouse gas emissions,” she added. “At this time, the U.S. government is not willing to do what we must to meet our moral and legal responsibilities in this regard.”
Brown foresees a redoubling of efforts by some to assist Pacific Islanders and others who are among the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of dramatic climate change.
“I think progress can be made on climate justice issues because we have the presence and advocacy of the faith community and women’s organizations, as well as other organizations,” she said.
Young people could be a catalyst for change, said Kelemeni, who was encouraged by the presence and commitment of the young people she saw in Copenhagen.
“That was one of the things that made me feel hopeful,” she said. “They were really willing to give up two weeks of their lives to go there and make a difference and hopefully make the leaders listen to their concerns.”
Roth, a 23-year-old student at Wesley Theological Seminary, was one of those young people.
Her experience at the summit, she said, helped her recognize her responsibility for Christian stewardship of the Earth. She also is called to “encourage and equip local communities of faith to see that responsibility.”
She is considering how to do that work through her connections with the seminary, with Shenandoah University in Winchester, Va., where she is an intern, and with the Board of Church and Society, of which she is a director.
Sparr said she realized some “soul work” on environmental stewardship must be done in the United States.
“We need to spur a deep psychological, emotional and spiritual shift,” she explained. “As a people, we are comfortable in our privileges, we tend to be ignorant of what is happening in other parts of the world as a result of our policies and lifestyles, and we are fearful of and resistant to change.”
Kelemeni’s concern is that the plight of those whose land is being washed away or cannot sustain crops will continue to be ignored.
She hopes “the leaders of the world will realize they’re not just talking about statistics. We’re talking about people’s lives.”
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.
News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or email@example.com.
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