The Ocean is Rising and So Are We

Rev Dr George Zachariah —

This is a time of expectant waiting for the children of Tuvalu and Kiribati. The UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26) is scheduled to be held in Glasgow this month. COP26 will be decisive for the future of these children. “We’re sinking. Enough sleeping. Do something now.”

Let us hope and pray that the world leaders will listen to this lament from the Pacific and “do something NOW” to save the earth and her children. We, Te Hāhi Weteriana o Aotearoa, should discern this lament from our neighbourhood as a “sign of the times” and “do something NOW” to revision our ecological mission and ministries.

Ecological crisis is essentially a justice issue. However, mainstream environmentalism tends to reduce the ecological crisis into changes in the weather patterns, extinction of different species, and the decrease in the natural green canopy over the earth. Since human beings are the culprits who have created this crisis, we are told that we can fix this problem through life-style changes and technology. We do not investigate the problem at the interface of interlocking systems and practices of oppression, inequality and marginalisation prevalent in our society. Instead, we homogenise human beings and blame anthropocentrism, and thereby perpetuate the economic, racist, and patriarchal interests of the dominant.

The indigenous engagement with the ecological crisis interprets the crisis as the consequence of the colonisation of the whenua, moana and the atmosphere. Colonisation of the whenua and moana has resulted in the alienation of the tangata whenua and the subsistence communities from their whenua and moana. This discernment calls for a new problematization of the ecological crisis as ecological injustice and ecological racism, caused by the corporate appropriation of the commonwealth. Ecological justice is the discernment that the distress of the planet and people is a systemic problem and hence ecological restoration is not possible without economic justice, racial justice and gender justice. Our feel-good environmentalism and ecological ministries which do not recognise the current crisis as a justice issue perpetuate the ecological crisis. This realisation challenges us to decolonise our ecological mission and ministries.

Ecological crisis is a crisis of faith. Christian faith, particularly our scripture, has been used intentionally to legitimise and perpetuate the destruction of earth. The first creation story, narrated in the book of Genesis, is used conveniently to reduce God’s beautiful creation into commodities for corporate plunder. Ecological crisis is also explained by conservative Christians as God’s plan and God’s punishment for our sins. So, it is important for us to reclaim our scripture and faith in the context of the ecological crisis that we face today.

Creation is a web of life which celebrates interdependence, relationality and mutuality. The vocation of human beings in this community of creation is “to till and to keep” the earth. The Bible categorically exposes the correlation between genocide and ecocide. The story of Hagar and Ishmael reveals the role of interlocking systems of patriarchy and racism in their wilderness experience. Ecological vocation, therefore, is more than mere recycling and veganism. It is a call to engage in the system-threatening mission of the reign of God.

The vision of the new heaven and new earth is the assurance of the divine promise of the redemption of earth. God is determined to do a new thing on the earth. God is going to change the face of the earth. Eco-justice ministry, therefore, is to align ourselves with the grassroots movements for the flourishing of life and dismantling systems and practices of accumulation, plunder, supremacy and exclusion.

The distress of the earth and the earth community is essentially a justice issue because those who are least responsible for the crisis are forced to bear its gravest consequences. Settler colonialism, capitalism, racism and patriarchy are intrinsically connected with the ecological injustice that we experience today in Aotearoa New Zealand. While the Global North has contributed disproportionately to the destruction of life on earth, the Global South—particularly the vulnerable communities in the Global South—continues to suffer the worst environmental catastrophes.

Global negotiations on climate change are always controlled by the wealthiest developed nations. Instead of changing their carbon-intensive economic order, they use the climate crisis as an opportunity to continue their economic colonisation of the Global South. It is the polluters and colonisers of the earth who decide which communities are worth protecting and saving. This is the context in which the children of Tuvalu are chanting: “We’re sinking. Enough sleeping. Do something now.” How would we respond to their cry? Let us affirm our solidarity with these children by shouting the slogan of the Student Strike for Climate movement: “The ocean is rising and so are we.”