The conference on climate change being hosted by the Diocese of Lincoln and the University of Lincoln has heard how churches in Polynesia have reacted to extreme weather events and a scientist challenged the church to do more.  

The conference, with 165 delegates, is being seen as a unique conversation bringing together perspectives from science and faith from Polynesia, Aotearoa New Zealand and the United States. In the conference opening there was a message from the Archbishop of Canterbury who described the partnership of science and religious institutions as being able to make a profound difference through their global reach and expertise.

Delegates from Lincoln’s partner diocese of Polynesia opened the conference as they told how they have developed systems to respond to extreme weather events such as tropical cyclone Gita in 2018. Since 2012, they have experienced a tropical storm every two years with two of these being Category 5, the most severe hurricane on planet earth. Each of the delegates described what they had done from moving families and supplies to building up resources for future weather events. They were applauded for being instrumental in pushing their church to address climate disaster and to improve their resilience. The delegates described how they decided to not stand back but rather reached out. 

The Rt Revd Dr David Court, Acting Bishop of Lincoln says the delegates’ presentation brought home the reality of climate change in a powerful way. “We have heard from our colleagues in the Pacific about the devastation that the tropical cyclones have caused and how they then rebuild their lives and communities back again.  I believe that faith, when informed by good science, is incredibly powerful. Many people have spoken about the hope that they have in the church in that it can help to both educate and re-educate people to care for this most precious gift we have been given.” 

The Most Revd Fereimi Cama, the Bishop of Polynesia and Primate of Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia says: “It is a great honour to be here in the UK and to be part of this conference. It is like a dream come true. The conference is important as some of the challenges that we face in our part of the world are similar to those faced in Lincolnshire because of climate change.” 

The Episcopal Church of the United States is represented at the conference and the Bishop of California says action and belief in climate change do not correspond. The Rt Revd Marc Andrus says, “In the US the good news is that four out of five Americans believe in climate change. The bad news is that four out of five do not believe that they can do anything about it. They feel a ‘climate grief’ – a hopelessness and inertia because we know that we are going to have to make massive changes to our lives so let’s not start.

Bishop Andrus believes that the church, in its widest sense, can be a great advocate for climate change and he sees the conference as being part of that. The Episcopal Church has been part of developing an app for communities and individuals to assess and reduce their carbon footprint which is says is all about living harmoniously as part of God’s creation.

Professor Mark Macklin from the University of Lincoln suggested the church with its resources and power could possibly do more.

In a presentation entitled ‘The Rivers of Humankind’ he described how cycles of climate change have affected rivers and thus civilisations around the world going back thousands of years using data from tree rings, ice core records, bedrock rivers and many other sources of data. 

Professor Macklin says, “Everything in life is interconnected and my research shows how we have been living with our rivers, both great and small, over many, sometimes thousands of years. Civilisations have come and gone depending on whether they have had too much water in the form of flooding or too little, due to droughts.” Professor Macklin says there has always been weather extreme but we can expect worse to come. He says what is different now is that areas that have been historically prone to flooding have been used for housing which coupled with our changes to rivers and the environment more widely have exacerbated the problems caused by flooding. 

“We are running out of time and we do have to adapt. We have lost our connection to our water systems. I see the role of organised institutional religion as key in promoting education about the environment and also in promoting public engagement with the climate and planetary crises.” 

The conference concludes on Sunday with worship in Lincoln Cathedral as another way through which to consider climate change.

Here is a selection of photos from the day.

Some of the Polynesian delegates in traditional dress in the audience.

Bishop Marc Andrus, Dr Sheila Andrus and Lynnaia Main

Professor Mark Macklin, University of Lincoln