EPPN LENTEN SERIES: Good Neighbors, Good Stewards
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” –Luke 10:29
This Lent, I traveled to Haiti to investigate the impacts of climate change on Haiti’s agricultural sector. My colleagues and I traversed the snaking highways of central and southern Haiti, cutting through rugged peaks, lush fields, and rural towns. We witnessed the destruction of Hurricane Matthew on Haitian communities even as we observed Haiti’s stunning natural beauty. This resilient island state revealed no easy answers, and left me with more questions than before I arrived.
Climate change’s impact on the Haitian landscape is palpable. Stronger, more frequent storms wreak havoc on the community infrastructure and farmland of Les Cayes (Haiti’s southernmost tip), and prolonged droughts jeopardize the productivity of Haiti’s Central Plateau. From national parks to rolling farmland, climate change affects every sector of Haiti, and consequentially, the welfare of every Haitian citizen.
Our first day on the road, we traveled southward to Parc Macaya, a national park and one of Haiti’s few remaining forested regions. The destructive winds of Hurricane Matthew transformed this once-thriving rainforest into a landscape of rotting underbrush and felled timber. Formerly verdant mountain peaks are now brown and scarred, yet conservationists are hopeful that if humans do not live within the park’s boundaries, the ecology of Parc Macaya can be restored. Unfortunately, Haitians depend upon harvested wood from the park to survive, and without a viable alternative income, local Haitians will continue entering the park to collect timber to feed their families. Poverty inherently exacerbates environmental degradation in Parc Macaya, and an effective response to this conservation dilemma must also account for human need.
Good environmental stewardship calls for good neighbor-ship, and Jesus shows us that our neighbors are not only the people whom we see and interact with at work or in our homes. Our neighbors are also the people whom we don’t see, those living in the shadows, or on the streets, or on a foreign island devastated by climate change. How can we fully live into Jesus’ expansive definition of good neighbor-ship?
Perhaps government advocacy is a worthy place to start. We can advocate for foreign assistance that supports communities adapting to climate change, urging our government officials to use these funds to empower ecologically sustainable economic opportunities. We can also advocate for bipartisan legislation that reduces U.S.-greenhouse gas emissions, directly countering climate change and lessening the brutal environmental impacts faced by our Haitian neighbors and so many other citizens of small-island developing states.
In these politically-charged times, it is difficult to find a common path forward to address climate change. Still, if we frame this issue in terms of neighborly need: food security, agricultural productivity, and economic sufficiency, we may find common ground for forward movement. The behemoth of climate change offers no easy answers, and to effectively address this challenge, we need all our neighbors at the strategy table.