By Chris Meehan
Climate change may be of grave concern to many people, but that would have been hard to tell by the sparse size of the crowd that attended a faith-based rally Sunday in King’s Park Stadium in Durban, South Africa.
“It was disappointing really,” says Peter VanderMeulen, director of the Christian Reformed Church Office of Social Justice, who attended the rally.
Hopes had been that thousands of climate-change advocates from religious communities around the world would fill the stadium to hear Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others speak and to be entertained by a range of contemporary music artists. Instead, a few hundred people sat in scattered spots in the stadium.
Despite the low turnout at the kick-off event, VanderMeuelen says he still has hope that delegates to the 12-day United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which opened today in the port city of Durban, will address the issue. “Hopefully, we will see progress,” he says.
Also attending the rally were about 200 young people, including three young CRC journalists, who had traveled to Durban over the last several weeks from Nairobi, Kenya, in a caravan of safari buggies. Called the We Have Faith Caravan, the group stopped along the way to give concerts and to talk with people about weather-related issues.
“This has been such a valuable learning experience for every member of our team,” despite the lack of people at the rally and the failure of the world media to cover either the caravan or to show up to report on the UN talks, writes Ruth Perry, a CRC journalist who is on the trip.
Although many scientists agree that climate change is real, many others say that there is no solid, verifiable scientific proof for change and that this is an issue that members of the Christian church should leave alone.
But don’t tell that to Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
At the rally in Durban, Tutu branded climate change a “huge, huge enemy” that threatened the common home of humanity, imperiling rich and poor alike, reports the We Have Faith website.
“Communities of faith are taking the lead in mobilizing support for effective policy and immediate action,” he said.
Tutu made an impassioned plea, asking climate change skeptics to recall how God created the universe and asked man to watch over it with loving stewardship. But Adam, the first man, and Eve, the first woman, sinned, and were banished from the bountiful, life-giving Garden of Eden.
Tutu asked people, rich and poor alike, to see beyond their sinful, self-centered ways and to recognize the glory of and need to preserve creation.
“We have only one home. This is the only home we have. And whether you are rich or poor, this is your only home … you are members of one family, the human race.”
Tutu said he heard that several countries are refusing to sign the UN agreement to reduce emissions. He asked if these people have any idea that the one world that we all share is in peril.
God wanted us to live in a Garden and we should be able to do so again.
“Isn’t it wonderful? God says [that] the first human being lived in a garden. God wants us to live in a garden, not a desert,” said Tutu.
Besides Terry, the CRC journalists are Karen Meyer, a photographer, and Ryan Geleyns, the videographer. The three are being sponsored by the Christian Reformed Church’s Office of Social Justice and the Christian Reformed World Relief Committee.
“This is absolutely a wonderful event. It is a true journey of exploration and solidarity,” says VanderMeuelen.
Meyer, the photographer, has been able to post photos she has taken along the way, showing children dancing, women at work, landscapes in Kenya, and young people signing the climate-justice petitions.
Ryan Geleyns, the videographer, has written: “I hope to learn as much as I can in the short time I am in Africa. I look forward to challenging myself and allowing God to shape me through the diverse cultures experience and the amazing people I’m meeting.”
Chris Meehan, CRC Communications, Christian Reformed Church in North America