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Martha, UnitingWorld gender project officer, standing in front of a devastated Port Vila. Photo by UnitingWorld.
Martha, UnitingWorld gender project officer, standing in front of a devastated Port Vila. Photo: UnitingWorld

Climate change: a spiritual crisis

Climate change isn’t just an issue of science and economics, it is also a spiritual crisis for people in the Pacific who are most affected. Cath Taylor explores.

Can God fix climate change? It’s the question on the lips of many within Pacific churches—this month more than ever in the wake of one of the region’s most deadly cyclones. Vanuatu’s president did not hesitate to link Cyclone Pam to the accelerating effects of climate change, appealing again to the international community to do more for people left ankle deep on the global climate’s shifting front line.

But within the Pacific, where faith is central to identity and culture, the debate often has a different focus. And very few agencies are equipped to deal with it: Where is God in the midst of climate change?

“Our people experience all this for themselves—the changes in weather cycles, the flooding that comes more often, the tides and storms,” says Rev Maleta Tenten of the Uniting Church in Kiribati. “But we have been taught to be people of great faith. Many people believe God will save them, even as they experience great distress. When I speak to them of the need to adapt, of changing climate, it falls on deaf ears.”

A spiritual identity is absolutely central to Pacific people. It’s also never been so fraught.

According to many Pacific people, to believe in or act against climate change demonstrates a lack of faith. God has “promised never again to flood the earth.” God will save. At the same time, personal experience of devastating events undermines faith at every turn.

While Australians perceive climate response mostly in political and practical terms, Pacific leaders know that spiritual nurture and leadership from the church are also critical. Maleta says her people urgently need better theological education and pastoral care in order to understand what the Bible teaches about stewardship, creation, justice and the presence of God.

“This is the only way people will begin to act for themselves in response to what is happening.” Maleta says. “We start here. It’s the foundation of our work because it’s the foundation of people’s belief about how the world works. If we can convince people here, we can motivate them to act and reassure them for the future.”

Through UnitingWorld, the Uniting Church is supporting projects that teach about God’s presence, environmental stewardship and justice, train counsellors and chaplains for survivors of extreme weather events, help communities complete disaster risk assessments and advocate for climate justice.

The project will cost $45 000 in its first year and UnitingWorld is seeking support to fund workers and resources. Please contact UnitingWorld on 02 8267 4267 or unitingworld.org/pacificchange

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