In December I participated in a Presbyterian Hunger Program Joining Hands reflection/action trip to Peru to learn about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation on this country which is the third most vulnerable country to climate change in the world. The trip was scheduled to coincide with the United Nations COP20 talks in Lima. We spent time with our Joining Hands partners in Peru, and learned how they are affected by and working to mitigate climate change and environmental degradation in their country.
We saw; we acted.
• A glacier that lost 50% of its mass in 25 years. This glacier provides water for farming communities and ultimately for Lima. The people see a water crisis in 10-15 years.
• Chinalco Mining, a Chinese company, introduced mountaintop removal, the effects of which are already evident in less than a year.
• Chinalco Mining wanted to place its processing facility where a town was located. They built a new town and negotiated the move with families one by one, instead of negotiating with the town. This has caused dissention in the town. The families who have moved do not receive title to their new homes.
• Doe Run Peru, an American company, operated a lead smelter in La Oroya. The lead levels in the blood of at least 98% of the children is above recommendations of the World Health Organization. These lead levels cause health problems and difficulty in school.
• Doe Run declared bankruptcy rather than perform an environmental cleanup. The environment has been laid waste in La Oroya. Doe Run sued Peru for $800 million. How? Under a clause in the trade agreement between Peru and the US that protects the rights of foreign investors.
• We prayed with our partners.
• We participated in the People’s Climate March
• We participated in a vigil at the Cathedral.
Click HERE to see the Climate of Conflict slide show.
I heard over and over again that climate change is our biggest and most important issue today. It was discouraging; I knew that when I got back to the US, climate change would not be considered our biggest and most important issue. I also realized that the Peruvians we talked with had a more holistic way of looking at justice issues. Climate change and the environment encompassed other issues: water, food, education, land grabs, unfair trade advantages. Here in the US we tend to look at justice issues in silos, and because we do, the environment generally has a lower priority on the list of issues we care about.
These insights have given me a new way to see the Creation stories. God created the earth, the sky and the waters first. If there is disruption in these first elements of creation, there will be disruption in all of the elements of creation that follow. We need to find ways to connect climate change and environmental degradation with the other justice issues we care about. It’s about reconciling with God and all of God’s creation.
What can we do to support the Joining Hands Network in Peru?
• Pray for our partners in Peru and all of those who work with them.
• Learn about and support the work of the mission co-workers who work with the network, Jenny Valle and Jed Hawkes Koball.
• Learn about and support the Joining Hands Program.
• Learn about the issues with the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and contact your representative.
I am grateful for having had this opportunity to find new ways to see and talk about scripture.
Prayer: O Lord God. You created the earth and stretched out the heavens. We cause disruption to your creation by our lifestyles and through the practices of our corporations. Help us to see new ways to reconcile with your creation and with you. Inspire and sustain us in this work of reconciliation. In Christ’s name, Amen.
Sue Smith is a member of First Presbyterian of Rumson, NJ. She is the Treasurer of Presbyterians for Earth Care and a GreenFaith Fellow. She is currently a student at New Brunswick Theological Seminary.