Friday, December 18, 2009

Change for the environment

Published in The Fiji Times - Friday, December 18, 2009

In a talanoa session at the Pacific Conference of Churches, a few weeks ago, the point was made that perhaps we need to look beyond the issue of climate change and start focusing our attention on ecological or environmental change.

Climate change is focused on the impact of carbon emissions: global warming, rising sea levels and temperatures, El Nino and La Nina. Ecological or environmental change shifts the focus to the effects of climate change: the destruction of whole eco-systems that are part of the web of life for all who live on this planet. This puts into perspective the important task of our representatives currently in Copenhagen who are lobbying for binding and lasting commitments to address climate change as well as the effect on Pacific Islanders. It also helps us understand why we should start facing the reality that life on this planet is changing beyond just the political, economic and social worlds.

As the temperature of the water changes by just a degree, whole species of marine life are wiped out, beginning a chain reaction that leads all the way up the food chain to the larger marine life as well as humans. The qoliqoli is affected. It becomes more difficult for the fisherman to catch his fish, leading him to perhaps having to go further out, fish for longer, or even look to other ways of feeding his family. As the sea-level rises, the land disappears. We will not only have displaced people from low-lying islands such as Kiribati and Tuvalu, but also those who live on the low-lying islands and those living along the coasts of the islands of our own country will also be displaced and forced to migrate further inland. Those living by rivers and delta areas, who are already susceptible to flash flooding from torrential rain, will find this a regular part of their lives.
Reflecting on the flooding earlier this year, the devastation of the tsunami in Samoa, American Samoa and Tonga, in the wake of Cyclone Mick this week and with the expectation of even more cyclones to come, one cannot help but feel that mother Earth is crying out to us, warning us that if we continue to treat her in such a manner, then we will reap what we sow, a very bitter fruit indeed.

In her article in Wednesday's Fiji Times (16/12), Matelita Ragogo described both the Pacific delegations hoped for outcomes as well as the areas in which the negotiations are struggling. In the article there is also a sense that we, of oceania but more so, of Fiji must not rely on the decisions and agreements, if any, from the Copenhagen climate change talks to be the only way in which climate change can be addressed.

What steps are we taking in Fiji to ensure the protection of our ecosystems, the delicate web of life to which we belong, and for the most, take for granted?

How can we call for the developed and industrialised nations to cut carbon emissions when our buses and taxis continue to belch out black smoke from their exhausts?

Will we be able to maintain the balance of our CO? emissions if we keep cutting down our forests or the trees and shrubs in our compound without replanting?

Many of us tend to think that having too many trees and plants in our yards are untidy, neglecting the important work that the process of life for trees, photosynthesis, does for us by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. I am not suggesting that we all go "bush" and let everything go wild, but let us try at least to put the future of the planet ahead of our beautification and development projects.

Perhaps every urban community, suburb and town or city needs to establish a small natural reserve where plants are free to grow. It is not too late for more communities to actively engage in the "Triple Rs" of reducing, re-using and recycling its waste. It is not too late for all of us to cut down our use of plastic bags while finding ways of recycling or responsibly disposing of them.

As we are about a week away from the day where Christians celebrate the "Greatest Gift of All," the birth of Jesus the Christ, God incarnated in humanity, let us think about the gifts we are giving.

At a time when many in our country are struggling to shelter, feed, clothe and educate their families without the complications of natural disasters; what can we who have in sufficiency or abundance give to those who lack?

And what can we, including those of us living in poverty, give to our planet that, despite the abusive way we treat it, continues to nurture us?

May the rest of your week be blessed with love, light, peace and the strength to overcome the challenges you face.
* This article is the opinion of Reverend James Bhagwan and does not necessarily represent the views of the Methodist Church in Fiji and Rotuma, any other organisation or institution Rev. is affiliated with or this newspaper.
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