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Climate justice is everyone's issue

Imagine that every time you give your children water from the tap, you are poisoning them with lead. Imagine that every time you bathe, you are cleaning yourself in bacteria-laden water.

The people of Flint, Michigan, don't have to imagine. They are living this nightmare, says to the Rev. Maurice Horne of Lincoln Park United Methodist Church in Flint.

The United Methodist Church connection and other groups continue to work to rectify the tragedy and provide clean water for the people of Flint. United Methodists are also seeking justice for those affected.

The General Board of Church and Society sent a team to the 2015 United Nations climate change conference in Paris to share diverse perspectives and experiences and engage actively in seeking justice solutions. Known as COP21 (the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change), the conference gathered world leaders and environmental ministers from over 190 countries to negotiate a new global climate agreement.

John Hill (right) and Jennifer Ferariza Meneses (second from right) talk with Yeb Sano (former climate negotiator for the Philippines) and another Filipino attendee at COP 21. Hill and Meneses were part of the General Board of Church and Society delegation to the event. Photo credit: GBCS/Daniel Obergfell.

The conference also serves as a backdrop for side events where religious leaders, industry CEOs, indigenous communities and other stakeholders met to share challenges and solutions in building a more just and sustainable future. The conference achieved its goal to reach a legally binding and universal agreement on climate, with the aim of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

"Having brought teams of United Methodists to prior climate conferences, I was particularly struck by the access and impact our delegation was able to have during the Paris negotiations," said John Hill, general secretary for advocacy and organizing. "Being able to share directly with lead negotiators, including the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, our church's principles of justice and stewardship and the experience of United Methodists from climate vulnerable communities was powerful."

Climate change is deeply personal to Jenn Ferariza Meneses, member of the Philippines Central Conference.

"I live in the Philippines and am part of the indigenous Lumad people," she said. "We have a proud culture and resilient communities … but large-scale mining interests are sowing fear and violence."

Meneses added, "Fossil fuel corporations are driving the climate crisis, leaving us increasingly vulnerable to typhoons."

According to the UCLA Institute on the Environment and Sustainability, polluted air and water negatively affect brain, lung and immune system maturation. In addition, air toxins can impair lung function and neurodevelopment, or exacerbate existing conditions, such as asthma.

Taholo Kami, a Tongan Methodist and regional director of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said the Pacific Islanders are on the frontline of climate change. Tonga is likely to lose some islands in the future, he said, and experiencing the realities of severe weather patterns.

Pacific Islanders are developing their own homegrown solutions, because they fear international assistance will not come in time. They are taking a stance on justice and putting their faith into practice.

For United Methodists, caring for and healing the earth are integral to what it means to have a biblically based faith and live true to the United Methodist tradition. Standing together and putting wide words with informed actions can eliminate threats to justice everywhere and fulfill God's mandate to be good stewards of God's creation.

The Rev. Kathy Armistead, Ph.D., is publisher at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and a deacon in The United Methodist Church

One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Please encourage your leaders and congregations to support the World Service Fund apportionment at 100 percent.

First published in March/April 2016 issue of the Interpreter magazine.

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