Commentary
By Mick Pope 11-17-2017

The COP23 talks are in full swing in Bonn, Germany, and the United States is something of a pariah there as the only non-signatory to the Paris climate agreement.

While 2017 is set to be one of the top three hottest years on record, President Donald Trump’s appointments to various key environmental positions, like the EPA, demonstrate a blatant disregard for established science.

Meanwhile, Australia is making itself an international outcast by repeatedly violating international law in its treatment of refugees on Manus Island.

Both cases serve as textbook examples of failure to love our neighbor.

In A Climate of Justice: Loving Your Neighbour in a Warming World, I explore the parable of the good Samaritan as a story about justice — one that shows how loving God means showing justice toward our neighbor.

We often overlook the bandits in this parable. In the world of first century Palestine, “bandits” could refer to the guerrilla fighters who targeted Roman authorities and their Jewish collaborators. These bandits often had popular support among citizens who saw the taxes that the Romans collected as oppressive.

In today's interconnected world, we, too, support unjust systems that produce banditry. 

Christians often want to be good Samaritans in dealing with the symptoms of sinful systems. So we lobby for asylum seekers to be allowed into the country and we advocate for tackling climate change. The two are not unrelated — climate change can be a driver of significant migration. Consider the Carteret Islanders, who are now abandoning their homes as the rising seas swallow their islands, and seeking a new life on Papua New Guinea. And some researchers have even suggested that climate change was a factor in the Syrian crisis, as a six-year drought drove up food prices and forced people into poverty.

As the planet warms and more people are forced to move, how can we allow our governments to ignore the role of climate change in the migration crisis, or to maintain such harsh stances toward those seeking refuge?

Climate change forces people into unsafe situations. Changes in global temperature have affected India's monsoon rains, making them irregular and heavier than normal, and is melting the Himalayan glaciers, which feed the rivers of northern India. The net result is more devastating floods, which destroy crops and homes.

This is what happened to Uma Tudu, a woman who lives in northern India. When she was just 16 years old, Uma’s village was destroyed by floods, forcing her to make the 1,000-mile trip to Delhi. Uma’s journey for employment and a better life landed her in bonded labor. Two years later, she was rescued and returned to her village.

Whether it’s the Adani coal mine or the Dakota Access Pipeline, carbon colonialism (the oppression of first peoples in the name of the fossil fuel industry) continues to prop up dying industries, to the detriment of the first peoples of Australia and the United States. In the case of the Adani coalmine, it would impact Aboriginal ancestral lands and waters, totemic plants and animals, and cultural heritage. For the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, water supplies and cultural heritage is also under threat.

If we don’t want to be bandits, what do we do? We embody one Hebrew word for justice — tzadeqah. Tzadeqah means living righteously until unjust systems no longer exist. We are to use our privilege for the good of others. We must amplify the voices of people affected by climate change. We are Esther in the court of Ahasuerus, put there for a time such as this.

While governments like Australia close their borders, and the U.S. closes its mind to climate change, Christians are to love our neighbors by linking these justice issues together. Pray for the Bonn negotiations, lobby your representatives to support tougher action on climate change, and reduce your own emissions. Together, the church can help create a climate of justice, and truly love our neighbors in our warming world.

Dr. Mick Pope is a meteorologist and a Professor of Environmental Mission at Missional University. He has recently written A Climate of Justice: Loving your Neighbour in a Warming World (Morning Star Publishing/Wipf and Stock, 2017). 

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