In 2016 the United Methodist Women commissioned the publication of the book Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action, an illuminating and wide-ranging look at an issue they had been studying for several years.
Rosalie was a seven-year old girl who lived on Rapu-Rapu, a remote island in the Bicol region of the Philippines. She was the beloved middle child of seven brothers and sisters. There her family and neighbors lived in simplicity by farming and fishing. But Rosalie was struck down running home from school, fatally sickened by the poisoned earth and water around her home.
The land, both below and above, and surrounding sea were so rich in natural resources that the commercial potential of the island was recognized by Lafayette Mining Corporation of Australia. In 1998, the Philippine government permitted the corporation to operate without limits to extract the extraordinary riches of Rapu-Rapu, particularly at a polymetallic mining site with copper, gold, zinc, and silver reserves. Because of permit disputes, mining did not begin until April 2005. Six months later, two heavy cyanide-laden spills into bodies of water caused the ecological death of rivers and large fish kills. The livelihoods of the native people--farming and fishing-- were destroyed. Hunger, sickness, and widespread suffering have since traumatized the community. Rapu-Rapu, once an ocean island paradise, became a wasteland.
This chapter was written by Norma Dollaga, a United Methodist deaconess, community worker, and general secretary of KASIMBAYAN, a national ecumenical organization in the Philippines. She states forcefully that “the world where we live is not our private property . . . the land, sea, air, and sun are not ours to control . . . it belongs to the Creator (Genesis 1 and 2, Leviticus 25) . . . it should not be owned by multinational corporations, by colonial masters, or big landlords. We are stewards of God’s creation.”
She reminds us of a Native American proverb: “Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our children.
As she reports the horrors of two recent typhoons in the Philippines, she writes that even after natural catastrophes, it is the poor who pay the highest price for environmental devastation, even though they are not the primary violators of ecological laws. Those who have contributed least to climate change are those most harmed. She asserts that it is the very poor “who are exposed to multiple layers of vulnerabilities.” Those who stand with the poor, taking the side of climate justice, also face the anger of government and corporations whose controlling motivation is greed.
Dollaga contends that although individual stewardship of the environment is important, private lifestyle changes are not enough. We must join global efforts to challenge the economic, political, and cultural structures that allow for the destruction of our environment and the devastation of the world's poorest populations. Our environment suffers. We are witnesses to its dying, and we hold hope for resurrection by bearing our responsibility for stewardship and justice now.
Visit https://www.unitedmethodistwomen.org/ for information about the work of the UMW throughout the world. If you are interested in reading this book, please let us know. Copies are available.
Jan Lichtenwalter, Glenn Environmental Committee