Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation in the Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Australia, is home to more than 11,000 people, whose very existence, which at one time was tied to the ocean and its bounty, is now threatened by rising ocean water levels.
The world's fourth-smallest country – at 26 square kilometers – is shrinking, and the people of Tuvalu are facing a future as environmental refugees. The injustice in this situation – and others like it worldwide – were at the heart of discussions at the International Ecumenical Peace Convocation (IEPC) on Friday, when the daily theme was “Peace With the Earth.”
The Rev Tafue M. Lusama, General Secretary of the Congregational Christian Church of Tuvalu, said his country is now facing longer droughts, and that saltwater has intruded into the underground water table. “Now we depend on rainwater only, and we are facing unpredictable weather patterns.”
A once-sustainable existence is now endangered by forces beyond Tuvalu's control, Lusama said. “The people are not able to use their traditional skills in order to survive.”
The cause of the rising waters around Tuvalu rests far from this south Pacific paradise, finding its roots in the industrial heartlands of the northern hemisphere. It is here from which the greatest contribution to climate change is being made and the greatest challenge rests for reversing its negative impact.
Adrian Shaw, a project officer for the Church and Society Team of the Church of Scotland, said churches worldwide must begin to lead the fight against climate change.
“Climate change poses a serious and immediate threat,” he said. “Our violence against the earth is also violence against people.”
For Lusama, the rising seawaters threatening Tuvalu mean the loss of home, culture, lifestyle and dignity. It no longer takes a war to cause this level of violence.
Shaw described an “eco-congregation” movement that originated in Scotland and is now beginning to spread worldwide. These congregations pledge to become informed regarding their carbon footprint and take steps to reduce it.
There are more than 270 eco-congregations in Scotland, Shaw reported.
Professor Dr Kondothra M. George also spoke of the relationship between justice for humankind and justice for the earth. “Peace and justice are not simply human issues to be debated and worked out in isolation,” he said, but these issues should be discussed with the knowledge that there are millions of created life forms on earth in addition to humans.
“We have to change our present paradigm of progress and development,” said George. “Is this the greatest human achievement?”
The idea of human achievement is closely related to the malady of human greed, pointed out Elias Crisostomo Abramides, a Greek Orthodox layman (Ecumenical Patriarchate) from Argentina and also a WCC representative to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.
“Another world is possible,” he said. “This world of greed and pride is not a world of the future. We need a change in paradigm, which will bring peace, dignity and love to the lives of all human beings. To be at peace with the earth, there must be peace in the earth.”
Other speakers described their vision of peace with the earth in a more lyrical way. Sr Ernestina López Bac, a Kaqchiquel indigenous theologian from Guatemala, spoke of a theology of ancestral ties.
“Talking about the cosmic vision and wisdom of the indigenous people means to fundamentally talk about values,” she said. “We understand value as the heart and energy of thinking and wisdom.”
As more and more of the fragile ecosystem surrounding Tuvalu falls victim to warming waters and rising sea levels, the reality remains stark for those of the industrial North. Reducing and renewing God’s creation is no longer a luxury but an urgent task if places such as Tuvalu are to survive.
During the next several days the IEPC will also explore peace in the marketplace and peace among peoples. On the second day of the convocation, the participants explored peace in the community.
The convocation, which is sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Caribbean Conference of Churches and the Jamaica Council of Churches, concludes on 24 May.
The IEPC opened on Wednesday 18 May and concludes on 25 May.
* IEPC resources page: www.protestantnews.eu/europe/8242
* Live web streaming: www.overcomingviolence.org/
* An Ecumenical Call to Just Peace: www.overcomingviolence.org/en/resources-dov/wcc-resources/documents/decl...
* All Ekklesia's material on IEPC: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ipec
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Ekklesia is running stories from journalist and regular contributor Stephen Brown in Jamaica, as well as official reports from the WCC and other commentary.