I’m aboard QF11 from Australia to JFK Airport New York via Los Angeles.
For the past few weeks I have worked with a tireless and committed group of people to gather high level faith signatures for an Interfaith Climate Change Statement.
Thankfully, amazingly, over 250 senior faith leaders across the world have added their names to this combined call for urgent action on climate change. I’m flying to New York for 50 hours on the ground to witness the formal handover of this joint statement to the current President of the United Nations General Assembly.
For now, I am in mid-air above the Pacific Ocean, pondering the gravity of the situation unfolding below me. Nuku’Alofa in Tonga, Rarotonga in the Cook Islands, Papeete in French Polynesia, Pago Pago in American Samoa… The names on the satellite map bring back childhood delight, curled up on a sofa eating an apple and reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki expedition and Willard Price’s Pacific Adventure.
However, the memories are now layered.
First learning about nuclear testing in French Polynesia and the radioactive legacy left to generations of Marshall Islanders; the shock of realizing the Rainbow Warrior was deliberately targeted and sunk in safe harbour. Being moved to tears at the COP15 climate talks in Copenhagen by Pacific Islander women dancing and singing as if nothing mattered more to them in the world than saving their islands from the rising sea and warming oceans. As if not only their lives, but also the dignity, honour and future meaning of their whole peoples depended on it.
Massive cyclones now sweep the Pacific Islands with an increasingly ferocity unknown to past generations, wreaking havoc and untold misery upon vulnerable communities whose own lifestyles have little direct impact on these global cycles of wind and warming currents.
Not to mention the shame I feel flying past Christmas Island, recognizing the indifference that led my country to incarcerate so many people on that tiny dot in the ocean so far from land; other human beings with the same desires for happiness and safety for their children, their parents.
Palms losing ground in the Solomon Islands
Our family spent a memorable fortnight in the Solomons, while my husband helped out at the RAMSI base medical hospital in Honiara. It was a privilege and an eye-opener, and humbling to see the skills of tiny village boys manoeuvring heavy log canoes through the waves breaking along the horseshoe reef. Now it’s my heart that breaks to read of this third major global coral bleaching event, occurring not just to our own beloved Great Barrier Reef, but also to reefs around the world. The corals turn white after expelling their colourful zooxanthellae under stress, a reversible situation only if the waters cool in time.
My sense, in mid-air in this surreal cabin comfort 11,265 metres above the sea where it is minus 46 degrees C outside and 4,906 kilometres from landing in Los Angeles, is that the world is facing a turning point. How we all fare through the changes yet to come may boil down to the simple need to take better care of each other.
Let’s hope the awakening moral conscience of global faith leaders strikes a resounding chord in hearts and minds of all, giving our political leaders the courage to seize the day and take the swift actions required on climate change.