Climate change is not a problem to worry about in the future, a Presbyterian environmental activist said Tuesday; it’s a challenge for today.

Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by Presbyterians for Earth Care at the 222nd General Assembly (2016) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Gary Payton said: “Recently I had a life-changing experience. It made my perspectives significantly different. Until then, I had framed the issue of climate change in terms of my grandchildren.”

Last November, Payton and Rebecca Barnes, the PC(USA) associate for Environmental Ministries, attended the United Nations Conference Framework Convention on Climate Change in Paris, which changed their views on the dimensions and urgency of the problem.

In their address, titled “Paris: Rising Waters, Rising Hope,” they spoke about ways Presbyterians can join others all around the world to make a difference – now.

What matters now is climate justice, Barnes said: Who is responsible for the problem, and who is bearing the brunt of it?

The worst emitters are not the ones who are suffering the ill-effects, she said.

“This is a justice issue because those who are the most vulnerable are not those who are the worst offenders.”

The effects of climate change are all around us, she said, from Typhoon Haiyan, the strongest typhoon on record, which devastated the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia, to drought laying waste to nations in Africa. And the effects are dire.

“In Paris, the constant chant was ‘1.5 to survive.’ That means that we have to hold the increase in global temperatures to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. The chanters were those whose countries will be under water,” said Barnes.

It will all come down to what projects are adopted, and how they are enforced, said Payton. “Great devastation is being wrought by the excesses of the fossil-fuel companies and our own consumption. We have more work to do; let us be about it together.”

 Awards presented during the luncheon included:

  • The William Gibson Eco-Justice Award was presented to Patricia K. Tull for her eco-justice work. She is the program director for Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light and author of Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis.
  • The inaugural Emerging Earth Care Leader Award was presented to Vickie Machado. Her acceptance speech, read by a colleague on her behalf, thanked the group for honoring her work as an environmental activist and community organizer.
  • The Restoring Creation Award was presented to the Alliance for International Reforestation (AIR), whose mission is “to implement sustainable farming methods for poor farmers  in Central America in order to protect water sources, reduce hunger and malnutrition while protecting the gift of creation.” AIR’s team has planted more than 4.2 million trees in Guatemala and Nicaragua; trained 3,000 families  in sustainable farming; built more than 800 high-efficiency stoves; and started dozens of micro-businesses.