This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Swallowed by the sea

During his opening address at the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in September, Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoanga implored U.N. member states to hold each other accountable for lowering greenhouse gas emissions.


“Climate change is a weapon of mass destruction. It is slaughtering fellow human beings,” he said. “Every single year wasted with no climate change action draws Tuvalu a year closer to its total demise from Earth.”

Evidence of changing climates comes from a wide range of studies and sources, with plenty of content coming from citizens of island nations like Tuvalu. But many global northerners are only just starting to see these countries as their physical borders fade from maps.

Proposed solutions to climate-exacerbated crises often fall under one of two categories: climate mitigation and climate adaptation. Mitigation emphasizes actively reducing climate change and slowing its effects through reducing greenhouse gases. Adaptation involves making adjustments to accommodate the state of the environment or the projected future.

The U.N.’s strategy on climate change incorporates both. To promote international cooperation, U.N. member states formulated the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Seventeen objectives are intended to be achieved by 2030. The goals include affordable and clean energy and sustainable cities and communities. These goals are a groundbreaking example of international solidarity and commitment. But “sustainable development” embodied in actions often differs from ideals.

Climate chaos arrives both suddenly and slowly to Pacific island nations like Tuvalu. Between the tsunamis and hurricanes that blip on Western media, Tuvalu, Kiribati and other small nations are being slowly swallowed by the sea. This has led to discussions about drastic solutions: fortifying islands with layers of cement or transferring rock erosion by building high, heavy sea walls. Former Kiribati President Anote Tong recently purchased about 7.7 square miles of land from Fiji to secure a refuge for Kiribati citizens should their nation be submerged. Japanese company Shimuzu has presented plans to build “floating cities” as an option for island nation citizens permanently displaced. Western writers excitedly debate how the people of Kiribati will retain their cultural and political autonomy if they are forced to relocate.

There is an air of acceptance from the global community that the climate trend is irreversible and the next step is to form partnerships to replace lost earth with innovation. “Sustainable development” is tipping to “corporate development” as companies find ways to build profiles and profits from hurricane rubble.

Mennonite Central Committee is increasing its work regarding climate change. Demanding changes on behalf of MCC’s partners is a responsibility claimed out of the Mennonite call to live simply and promote justice.

We have an opportunity to reroute climate-change conversations back to those who witness its effects more intensely every year. We seek to counter the temptations of corporation-funded development by promoting awareness and insight learned from MCC’s grassroots programs.

The way we care for the Earth reflects the way we care for our fellow humans, as our earthly existence is inseparable from our environment.

Abby Hershberger is program assistant in the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office.

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