Giving religious meaning to climate change on small islands | earth beat

The midst of a war that captures the world’s attention may not be the best time to think about climate change. But the The latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that one crisis doesn’t stop while we fix another.

The news from this sixth IPCC assessment, unsurprisingly, is not good.

Like the New York Times summed it up, “The dangers of climate change are growing so rapidly that they could soon overwhelm nature’s and humanity’s ability to adapt, creating a harrowing future in which floods, fires and famine displace millions of people, species are disappearing and the planet is irreversibly damaged.”

Nowhere does the future appear more heartbreaking than for the inhabitants of small islands, from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, which rising seas threaten to literally wipe off the map. But as imminent as the physical danger is, how locals assess what they face is often at odds with scientific understanding.

In one In the chapter on small islands, the IPCC report to its credit acknowledges that “tangible and intangible symbols that express collective meaning” are “often overlooked in adaptation policies and plans”.

Many of these communities happen to be made up largely of Bible-believing Christians, and what they believe matters because “external coping efforts in small island rural communities that exclude community priorities, ignore or underestimate IKLK (indigenous knowledge and local knowledge), and are based on Western/global secular worldviews, are often less successful.”

In other words, it is important to know where the affected communities come from, especially on the religious level.

Take the outer Fijian island of Ono. When Amanda Bertana, a sociologist at Southern Connecticut State University, traveled there to study relocation projects, she found a devout Christian population who believe rising sea levels are the result of God’s disapproval. towards their immoral behavior and, at the same time, that they will not be flooded into oblivion.

Why not? Because in the ninth chapter of the Bible’s Book of Genesis, God promises Noah after the waters recede: “Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of the flood.

For Bertana, this rejection of the age-old narrative of coastal degradation is “a form of emotional self-preservation” – a form, of course, that undermines efforts to move them safely. This comforting promise not to flood the Earth again has been widely embraced by islanders threatened by the level of the sea.

But Oxford University geographer Hannah Fair, who also works in the South Pacific, found alternative climate-related interpretations of the story of Noah.

Some Fijians see Noah as a model of disaster preparedness. Others, in a less orthodox interpretation, view Noah as a villain who used his wealth to protect himself and those who drowned as victims.

Meanwhile, on the Caribbean island of Trinidad, University of Texas anthropologist Brent Crosson found that the Afro-Christian denomination of Spiritual Baptists had embraced a biblical understanding of environmental destruction based on a (mis)reading of Psalm 24.

This psalm begins, in the King James Version, “The Earth belongs to the Lord.” But since the English creole spoken in Trinidad does not use possessive apostrophes, spiritual Baptists say: “The Earth is Lord”.

This led them to see the Earth as the body of God, suffering from the damage caused by human activity. This includes the activity of the oil companies, which, although providing Trinidad with significant wealth, are nevertheless considered vampires consuming the blood of the planet.

Writing in an upcoming collection of essays, Climate politics and the power of religionCrosson sees in this interpretation of Scripture an “ethic of hurt” that “forms the basis not only for empathy but also for new legal regimes that, despite many implementation challenges, define the Earth as a person with rights”.

Those who stalk religion and climate change tend to divide the world into Pope Francis-type progressives and white evangelical deniers. But there are more environmental theologies in heaven and on earth, dear reader, than their philosophies dream of.

Teresa H. Sadler