How many issues do we face today that demand resolution now? There is compassion for the poor, racial equality, care for the environment. And yet we find excuses to put them off. We would all have our own list. I am aware too, that when we choose a topic, we look at it very much from our personal point of view and how it affects us personally.
I readily admit that I have been caught out doing this myself. My Catholic background filters what I am discussing and can prevent me from seeing other possible angles.
It is possible that many of us have a tendency only to look at one side of the coin and not the two sides together. For example, in the CI News over the last couple of months much has been written on whether the ship Tiare Taporo can be moved under its own power away from the wharf. However, the other side of the coin is that the outer islands need shipping. Yet I have never seen one article on the lack of shipping to the outer islands, which was the reason for bringing the Tiare Taporo to the Cook Islands.
Another issue that is in a similar basket is the amount written on the prime minister being out of the country. But the other side of the coin, is he perhaps overseas attending meetings important to the future of the country?
If in 50 years, the islands of Swarrow or Palmerston were to disappear to rising sea level would we, if we were alive, feel guilty that we didn’t do more about preventing the causes of the rises of sea level today?
In today’s Church Talk, I want to address this issue of Climate Change as I understand the prime minister is in Bonn, Germany attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference.
It is time for me to put on my church hat on and come back to scripture. Jesus was constantly opposed by those who claimed his ideals, but found some legal or social occasion to caution him from acting on them. Healing was a good thing, but not on the Sabbath because it might be defined as work, which was forbidden. In Luke 14: 3 Jesus put the question directly to the Pharisees: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? The Pharisees remained silent, eager to see him break the law. Jesus promptly healed the man, who just happened to appear at the gathering, and then shamed his critics with another question. Would they rescue a child or an animal if it fell into a well on the Sabbath? Again they did not answer.
I think we are all on board wanting to address the issues causing climate change. Yet just how much is our heart has gone into actually addressing the issues of climate change?
Am I prepared to change my lifestyle for the sake of the environment? In my television viewing, I find myself jumping from TV One News to BBC or CNN news. There wouldn’t be a week that goes by where we are not presented with some new fact about the environment.
For example, the alarming rate at which coral is dying on the Great Barrier Reef in Queensland and the destructive cyclones that hit the United States of America and the Caribbean in the past couple of months. They were named Irma and Maria. Then in our part of the world there has been Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu (2015) and then Fiji was slammed by Cyclone Winstone in 2016. Both were labeled the most powerful cyclones to hit the Pacific. Just last night we learned that China is increasing its emissions into the atmosphere rather than reducing the amount of coal it burns.
Right at this moment, the leaders of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat which is made up of Australia, Cook Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa and Vanuatu are meeting in Rome.
Over recent days they have been in a high level summit meeting on the problems faced by countries in the Pacific Ocean area. They are also meeting with Food and Agriculture Organisation, which has its headquarter in Rome, to discuss food security in the region, nutrition, climate change, disaster risk reduction and resilient means of subsistence.
It is not surprising given the Pacific leaders are in Rome, that they sought an audience with Pope Francis given that one of his major writings since becoming Pope has been on “Caring for our Common Home,” in a book known as “Laudato Si, Latin for “Praise be to you, my Lord.”
Addressing the Pacific leaders Pope Francis said he shared their concern for the peoples of the region, especially those exposed to the extreme environmental and climate events that are becoming more frequent and intense.
Of concern too was the grave impact of rising sea levels and the disturbing and continuous deterioration to the barrier reef, a marine ecosystem of immense importance.
In this regard, the Pope remembered the disquieting question posted almost 30 years ago by the bishops of the Philippines: “Who turned the wonder world of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?”
“A number of causes have led to this environmental decay and, sadly many of them are due to short-sighted human activity connected with certain ways of exploiting natural and human resources, the impact of which ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.”
Like the Pharisees in Luke 14: 3 that I quoted earlier, you might say: “That is the Philippines.
We are concerned about the Cook Islands.”
Do we close our eyes to the article in CINews on November 7 where a marine scientist, Tom Hawkins, wrote: “To put it bluntly, I was shocked and saddened at the state of the marine environment there.” (Aitutaki).
He went on to say: “I had read that Aitutaki’s lagoon was pristine…yet it is not pristine. The coral in the lagoon is dying, partly due to declining water quality and largely to climate change-driven coral bleaching. The dead coral is being overgrown by seaweed/algae.”
Open your eyes next time you swim in the lagoon.
Pope Francis lamented to the Pacific leaders that almost 30 years had passed since the Filipino Bishops’ appeal.
“And yet it cannot be said that the situation of the oceans and marine ecosystems has really improved. We still face a number of problems regarding, for example, the management of fishing resources, activities in shallow and deep waters, the situation of coastal communities and of fishing families, and the pollution caused by the accumulation of plastics and micro plastics.”
So the question posed to the Pacific leaders by Pope Francis needs urgent action in my opinion.
What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?
How many years has it taken us to change our lifestyle regarding the use of plastic bags? Something like five? What should be next on our agenda and how long will it take to achieve something positive?
Yes, it is always the time to do the right thing!
Bishop Paul Donoghue.