In Dulac, Louisiana, residents take a boat to travel to their home after Hurricane Ike submerged much of the town. Ike was the most intense Atlantic storm of 2008 and the third costliest storm in the U.S. This is compared to Hurricane Katrina (2005) which ranks number one as the costliest storm to hit the U.S., followed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which takes the number two position.
By Susan Kim*
April 15, 2014—Several years ago, in Papua New Guinea, people who lived on the Carteret Islands began packing up their belongings and moving to higher ground. Although the slow exodus is better documented now than it was when it first began to occur, still, it didn't make international news headlines the way most disasters do even though the Carteret Islanders were climate change refugees.
Ever-rising waters still threaten to overtake their homes, and large tides have also washed away their crops. Rising sea levels have poisoned those crops that remain. People have been—and are still being—forced to move.
At this point, isn't climate change a disaster? When will we view it as such? After all, we continue to live with the aftermath of disasters worsened by rising sea levels and warmer ocean temperatures, pointed out Christy Smith, a U.S. Disaster Response consultant for the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR).
“We need to be proactive because disasters are coming, and we need to work against them coming. It's counter-productive to only be in the reactionary mode. We've got to be able to see that trouble is coming,” she said.
Caring for the earth is among the formal Social Principles of The United Methodist Church, which note: “All creation is the Lord’s, and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings. God has granted us stewardship of creation.”
Part of Our Job as Christians
When the Rev. Pat Watkins, a missionary for the Care of God's Creation, talks to people about climate change, he starts with the Bible. “I always start with biblical theology that makes it clear that part of our job as Christians is to care for God's creation,” he said.
While many people have become educated about the effects of climate change, the challenge, Watkins said, is to communicate the urgency of the need to act fairly quickly---and in a huge way. “The challenge is not so much to convince people but to come up with real, appropriate, and lasting solutions.”
Those solutions involve not only responding to human needs in the wake of disasters but also to considering a community's economics, ecology, health and disease, violence, poverty, sustainable agriculture, food security, subsistence living, and other factors.
Yes, it's complicated, acknowledged Watkins. “But all of these historic and traditional mission focus areas of The United Methodist Church are interconnected. They don't exist in silos,” he said.
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