Climate change events discusses church’s role

Photo+by+Jon+Gorter

Photo by Jon Gorter

Doors at the Wealthy Street Theater opened wide last Monday as members of the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) welcomed the public to a candid, unpolitical conversation on climate change.

A diverse and knowledgeable panel of three members — University of Michigan doctoral candidate Cybelle T. Shattuck, East Africa World Renew Leader Davis Omanyo and owner of Trillium Haven Farm Michael VanderBrug — led the discussion, focusing on the difficult reality faced by people in Kenya and the Global South due to climate change.

“Those who are poor, whether they are in Argentina or Afghanistan, are going to be worse affected by climate change,” explained Peter Vander Meulen, coordinator for the Office of Social Justice, a ministry of the CRC. He went on to discuss how, without sufficient funds, the poor are less equipped to adapt to changes in climate, especially when those changes affect basic needs like the food and water supply of an area.

“Droughts and floods used to be steady, reoccurring about every five years,” stated Omanyo, a Kenyan citizen. “Now farmers are confused; they do not know when the droughts will come and the rain is unpredictable.”

Without consistent rains, deadly droughts can deplete crops essential for feeding the Kenyan population of over 44 million people.
Kenya and much of the global South relies heavily on subsistence farming, and the techniques they use have been passed down from generation to generation. They are experienced farmers and have dealt with regular droughts and pests like locusts before, but farmers have been sent back to the drawing boards to combat this new plague.

“People are already being incredibly creative and innovative in implementing [farming] systems that are trying to adapt to a changing climate,” said Kyle Meyaard-Schaap, the creation care coordinator for the CRC Office of Social Justice. Meyaard-Schaap recently visited Kenya. Through techniques like cover-cropping and conservation agriculture, Kenyans are combating the intense weather induced by climate change — but they still need all the support they can get.

In the United States, where food is more readily available and the effects of climate change are less visible, it can be all too easy to ignore the issue. Through World Renew, the CRC has been involved with caring for the poor globally for years; now, it has extended its reach to help those directly affected by climate change and is raising awareness back in the United States.

“A lot of people tend to think about climate change in very abstract terms, and because of that, we don’t always make the leap to people and how the impact that climate change has on our natural resources affects real people, particularly the poor,” said Schaap.

“If you can avoid the buzzwords, if you can avoid the ideology and the politics of it and just talk about how it’s affecting people and what we should do in response to that, then we can start moving forward in this conversation.”

“Lets talk about what we want to do and find some common ground,” answered Shattuck in response to a question about how we might work toward changing the climate conversation.

“We need to avoid political language,” she emphasized, “and this will break down some of the doubts and fears people have when discussing climate change.”
Schaap and others in the CRC hope to continue the climate conversation in more churches in the area. With video clips shot when Schaap visited Kenya, he, Vander Meulen and the Office for Social Justice hope to spread not just conversation but action as well.

“Caring for creation and loving the poor are synonymous,” said Vander Meulen. “What we are talking about is real, its not just a story.”

“We need to think about ourselves differently,” stated VanderBrug, “and out of that understanding of how we fit into the environment comes empathy for people; we are all apart of this same ecology.”