In 2015, Rev. Tafue Lusama, leader of the Christian Church of Tuvalu, embarked on a speaking tour with Restoring Eden in an effort to explain how climate change isn’t a hypothetical concern for the future, but a real and present danger to communities across the world. Tuvalu, a group of Pacific islands, is one of the smallest countries in the world, lying on average at just 2 metres above sea level. That means, in the event of rising oceans, Tuvalu is going to bear the brunt of a changing climate. Not only will land disappear beneath the waves, but valuable crops will be wiped out and sources of fresh water will be lost.
Tuvalu is small and remote, and doesn’t get much coverage in global media. Yet it’s on the frontline of climate change. A subsistence economy, the church in Tuvalu has a more proactive approach to the current threat, seeing a response to climate change as an intrinsic part of the church’s mission. The land is eroding away, livelihoods are being threatened, and ironically the country is suffering from drought (too much salt water, not enough fresh water). It’s easy to suggest evacuating the islands, but that’s almost a flippant response, requiring the loss of a home, a culture, a community, a language, an identity.
This situation illuminates the difference between rich, secure nations and smaller, low-lying countries. In the US and the UK, people will debate whether climate change is even real; in Tuvalu, climate change is the most social issue, impacting resources, skills, economy, environment and culture. This isn’t a matter for debate, this is something that is bleaching coral and salinizing water right now. That’s why the church in Tuvalu is so involved with the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network.
The Church needs to take this seriously: Climate change isn’t ideological or hypothetical, it’s pastoral. It’s pastoral for ministers like Rev. Lusama, it’s pastoral for you and me. Lusama makes the point that we need to know which side we’re on – the side of those who are suffering the immediate impacts of climate change, or the side of the systems that would exploit, ignore and belittle those people. As a Church, the answer to that should be easy; unfortunately it too often isn’t.