Water Resource Challenges Call For Climate Change Advocacy

While talking heads in the U.S. media and political circles debate whether climate change is ΓÇ£realΓÇ¥, those who are suffering its most severe effects are facing severe water resource threats all around the world.  Island nations in the Pacific are losing ground ΓÇô literally ΓÇô and may vanish completely in the not too distant future.  Monsoons and droughts are becoming more extreme causing devastation to entire communities as they lose their homes, crops and lands.  Icepacks which have been relatively stable for millennia are rapidly melting.

While talking heads in the U.S. media and political circles debate whether climate change is “real”, those who are suffering its most severe effects are facing severe water resource threats all around the world.  Island nations in the Pacific are losing ground – literally – and may vanish completely in the not too distant future.  Monsoons and droughts are becoming more extreme causing devastation to entire communities as they lose their homes, crops and lands.  Icepacks which have been relatively stable for millennia are rapidly melting.

In Indonesia families routinely haul their water in plastic jugs from a pipe or stream located from 2 to 6 miles from their home.  It wasn’t always this way.  The rainy season used to be 6 months long, but in recent years rainy seasons have shortened to 2 or 3 months.  Some of the Indonesian Islands are made of porous rock types and do not absorb rainwater well.  Many areas have been denuded of forests, reducing further their ability to absorb and retain rainwater.  One of the consequences of reduced rainfall is a shortened growing season.  Less water translates into less food.  The people used to refer to the annual agricultural cycle as having a rainy season and a dry season, but now they have added the “hungry season” which refers to the couple of months at the end of the dry season when the food runs out before the rains return. 

Imagine subsistence farming in circumstances where you had to haul water – on foot – from 3 or 4 or 5 miles away.  How much water could your family get by on for drinking, cooking, and bathing?  How much would you need for livestock (most subsistence farmers in Indonesia have chickens and many have a few goats or cows)?  How much would you be willing to haul to try to extend the growing season, to try to reduce or eliminate your family’s “hungry season?”  It is usually the woman’s job to haul water, but if she is hauling 10 or 20 or 30 gallons of water at 5 gallons per trip for 4 kilometers, she may spend all day hauling water.  There would be no time for other income-generating activities – so the possibility of a supplemental income would be lost.  Sometimes children are needed to help haul water, which means they cannot go to school.  If you, as a subsistence farmer, had to choose between extending your growing season by having your children help haul water or sending your children to school, but having them be hungry for two months or more at the end of the year, what would you choose?

It is easy for politicians in the developed world to debate the reality of climate change when their families are not going hungry, their spouses do not have to sacrifice their careers and the ability of their children to attend school is not threatened.  As a nation we do not see the suffering that is not covered on the nightly news.  However, as a church, we see the people of Indonesia as our family.  We are engaged with them in a shared faith journey.  We witness the suffering as brothers and sisters and support their efforts to develop alternative income-generating opportunities so they are not as dependent on subsistence farming.  We pray with them. 

As citizens of this developed nation, however, don’t we have another obligation?  Can we find ways to hold our government representatives accountable when they fail to see what is happening and act responsibly?  Can we find ways to educate ourselves and our society about the impact of our addiction to fossil fuels (the scientific community is in wide agreement that the carbon dioxide released by the burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of climate change)?  Can we look courageously and critically at our personal habits to examine how we share in this addiction?  Can we faithfully work to help create a vision of another way of being in relationship with the earth and its peoples?  Can we begin to articulate this vision – not just in terms of what we might have to give up – but in terms of what we stand to gain?

Questions for study and reflection:

  1. List the direct and indirect ways in which you consume fossil fuels every day.  Consider how your list would compare to the list for a person in Nicaragua or the Congo.
  2. What are the various impacts of climate change?  See National Geographic’s September 2004 issue on this subject (http://www7.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/archives.html).
  3. What would be the “costs” to our society of significant cuts in fossil fuel use (not just the financial ones)?  Who would incur these costs?
  4. What do scientists predict will be the “costs” of not significantly reducing our use of fossil fuels (not just the financial ones)?  Who will incur these costs?
  5. Imagine that we had a fossil fuel shortage and we all HAD to reduce our fossil fuel consumption by 20-40%.  How might we do so? 
  6. How might this reduction in fossil fuel consumption affect the quality of your life?  Your happiness?  Your faith?
  7. What do you feel should be our society’s goal for reducing fossil fuel consumption by 2025 and how do you propose we get to that goal from where we stand today?
  8. How can you and your faith community begin to live in ways that reflect this vision?
Advocacy suggestions:

  1. Keep telling the president, your congressperson and your senators that it is time to act responsibly to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels.
  2. When companies or governments make responsible decisions or policies, let them know you are grateful!
  3. Advocate in your community for energy conservation measures at every level.
  4. Do not purchase anything made with rainforest woods (the destruction of the rain forests is eliminating one of the ways our planet naturally recycles carbon dioxide back into oxygen).
  5. Look for ways to reduce your direct and indirect consumption of fossil fuels.
  6. Challenge others in your church and community to see addressing climate change and reducing fossil fuel consumption as faithful stewardship of the planet as well as responsible behavior in the global community.

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