What happens when the rains don’t come?
I’m guessing that most of us reading this haven’t had to answer this question; the closest I’ve been to an environmental disaster is watching a post-apocalyptic move on the SyFy Channel. But then I’m privileged, and lucky, and insulated; not everyone has that luxury.
The increase in global temperatures is leading to a hotter, drier climate in the Middle East, a serious problem for a region that’s already hot and dry. There’s been a reduction in rainfall, and increased evaporation desiccates soil. This is the situation that faced Syria from 2006-11, resulting in a collapse of agriculture and the subsequent migration of farming communities into the cities. Then food prices started to rise, poverty levels increased, all of this collided with existing tensions, and then…
Well, just watch the news.
That’s not to say that climate change directly causes wars. But it’s increasingly being recognised as a ‘threat multiplier’, something that exacerbates existing conditions and, in worst case scenarios, pushes delicately-balanced problems over in to the abyss; in that sense, climate change isn’t strictly a cause, it’s a catalyst.
None of this is hypothetical any more. Waves of refugees have fled Syria. Those left behind are suffering a horrific civil war. The US military is keeping an eye on climate change because of its national security implications. And as people abandon once fertile land, terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko Haram move in.
As with Tuvalu and other places vulnerable to drought or rises in sea level, climate change in Syria is a justice issue and a pastoral issue. Churches can spend all the time they want debating the causes of climate change, but in the meantime homes are destroyed, bombs keep falling and lives are lost. From the perspective of global mission, this is going to become the new normal, and our churches need to come to terms with that when looking to practice justice, compassion and love. Because sometimes the rains don’t come, and we need to be prepared for what happens next.