Day two of the Moana: Water of Life conference featured more thought-provoking lectures from our speakers. Opening the presentations was Bishop Marc Andrus, from the Episcopal Diocese of California, who spoke of the ‘Ocean of Love: Science, Policy and Spirituality of the World Water Crisis’. 

In it he spoke about the anthropocene period, which relates to the current geological age during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment. That impact was reflected in the many points he discussed in his lecture – the decline of fish species in the seas, the floating 80,000 ton ‘plastic blob’ in the Pacific and its sister blob in the Atlantic. He said that humans have adopted an attitude of “making ourselves God in place of God” and that this needs to change.

As many of the previous day’s speakers had reflected, he also reiterated that all life on earth is interconnected and what impacts one will affect another. Climate change is already affecting our fellow man, and by 2050 up to a billion people could be displaced. 

The issue of the displacement of people was also echoed by Professor Elisabeth Holland from the University of the South Pacific. She cited research that estimates that sea levels may rise by 2-3 metres by 2100, which will cause widespread devastation. A much nearer deadline is 2030, only eleven years away. This is the date by which if sea levels continue to rise and even if only by a few centimetres, this will render some islands in the Pacific uninhabitable. And where are the people who live on these low-lying islands in the Pacific going to go? So far only Fiji has offered to take them.

In one of the three plenary sessions, Professor Edward Hanna from the University of Lincoln gave a presentation that explored the links between global warming, polar ice melt and local-scale extreme weather. He opened his address by giving examples of two very recent examples of extreme weather. In July 2019 the highest ever temperature – 38.5 degrees was recorded in the UK, and earlier in February a new ‘extreme’ for winter was noted with 21.2 degrees being observed. 

Professor Hanna shared with the audience a graph containing global annual average temperature data going back to 1850. This revealed a steady, upward trend with an acceleration over the last decade when the highest temperatures have been recorded. This global increase in temperatures is causing the ice sheet in Greenland to melt. Professor Hanna stated that in the next 50–100 years the resulting melting of the Greenland ice sheet will make a significant contribution to sea level rise in the range of tens of centimetres. 

Dr Emily Colgan from the Trinity Methodist Theological College generated a lively debate with her presentation on ‘Reading the Bible as Waters Rise: Ecological Interpretation of the Scripture’.

Her address discussed an article published in 1967 by a scientist named Lynn White, who argued that a causal relationship existed between Christianity and the contemporary ecological crisis. Among the accusations levelled against (Western) Christianity in his paper is the charge that it is ‘the most anthropocentric religion the world has ever seen’. Grounded in the creation story of Genesis 1, Christianity, argued White, gives privilege to humans as the pinnacle of creation, thereby diminishing the value of the other-than-human community.

Dr Colgan said: “I believe that the ecological crisis is a religious crisis. Alongside what scientists are telling us, there is a need as Christians for us to rediscover our place in the world. We need to rethink who we are in a theological sense. We are not going to act differently until we think differently. We are not superior to other-than-human communities, we are all interconnected and we need to make different moral and ethical choices that respect that.”

The last presentation of the conference was from Lynnaia Main, the Episcopal Church’s Representative to the United Nations (UN). Lynnaia spoke about how faith-based organisations work with the UN. For the conference she had carried out some new research, interviewing these groups on the successes and challenges they face. One such positive was that faith-based organisations have ethical and moral leadership and that the Anglican Communion has extensive reach and influence. A challenge was noted in terms of the marginal and limited scope of action and influence within the UN system.

The conference ended on the Sunday with a special Sung Eucharist at Lincoln Cathedral, which included the launch of the diocesan Environmental Policy. The service was attended by the Lord Lieutenant and with bishops and archbishops from Lincoln, Polynesia and the USA, as well as many other worshippers.

The delegates from Polynesia performed the Fijian Lord’s Prayer using dance and song in front of two specially created items that reflected the theme of the conference (see the film clip below). One was a moana-themed altar frontal and the other was an ice globe that symbolically melted as the worship progressed.

David Dadswell, Diocesan Secretary, has said: “It has been a thought provoking two days as we have listened to lectures from both the theological and scientific perspective on climate change. Although our speakers have different motivations, both are united in the unanimous belief that we need to take action to protect the planet. 

“Bishop David led a powerful service in the cathedral which reinforced the message of our partnership with our God in caring for our world and its inhabitants, and the striking message of Archbishop Fereimi’s sermon was simply that we need to act.

“A few of my fellow worshippers confessed to shedding a tear or two at the joyful words of the final hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith: ‘Renew the wastes of earth again, redeem, restore, repair; with us your children, still maintain your covenant of care’."