Saturday evening Reverend Tafue Lusama spoke at the Goshen Theatre, bringing a plea from his home country of Tuvalu for Americans to take action against climate change.
Both he and Sara Kaweesa of Uganda are embarking on a speaking tour with Restoring Eden, a Christian organization that advocates for the environment. Each speaker has firsthand accounts of how climate change is affecting their communities, ecosystems, families and churches.
Tuvalu is an island nation in the south Pacific with 12,000 inhabitants–it is the fourth smallest country in the world. Tuvalu has been one of the first countries to experience the destruction of climate change in very concrete ways: it is beginning to disappear.
Reverand Lusama described the physical effects of climate change that he has experienced. Coastal erosion is currently shrinking the tiny island and creating land disputes that are dividing communities. Trees that hold the shore in place are being uprooted by waves and swept out to sea. Once the trees are gone, said Lusama, there is nothing to keep the sand from following.
Tuvalu’s highest point is merely fifteen feet above sea level. Until recently, Tuvaluans were able to access underground freshwater for drinking and for agriculture. However, the ocean’s initial rise has caused saltwater to seep into the aquifers, killing their crops and trees and eliminating the primary source of drinking water.
Lusama named high tide as a daily reminder of the ever-encroaching sea. Houses that were built on dry land in recent years now flood at every high tide. According to Lusama, at this point the ocean is not receding. At the current rate Tuvaluans will have to evacuate the islands in less than twenty years, saying goodbye to the place they’ve called home for millennia.
The land is not the only thing at risk—Tuvaluan culture will inevitably die as a result of leaving their homeland where it developed.
Lusama pled for U.S. citizens to act immediately and support government policies that could help save Tuvalu and the other island nations that are in immediate danger. Global emissions of greenhouse gases need to fall about 40% by 2020 for Tuvaluans to avoid evacuation and cultural extinction.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is advocating reduction of 20% of emissions by 2050. This would not make a difference significant enough to save the island nation of Tuvalu. Lusama considers these lacking policy choices no different than genocide; in his opinion, it is simply using greenhouse gases to kill people and eliminate cultures.
Although Tuvalu is distant and much more vulnerable to the preliminary effects of climate change than the United States, it remains an indicator of the irreversible damage that will come if the world’s citizens and leaders don’t act now.
(SIDEBOX:) If you missed “Ankle Deep in Reality” last Saturday, you have another chance! Sara Kaweesa is coming back to campus to speak in Pat McFarlane’s Communicating Across Cultures class on Monday night from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. in NC 17. Everyone is welcome.