I’ve tried to capture stories over these last two weeks that explain why I came to Paris to the global climate summit called COP-21. I’ve joined with countless Christians from all over the world, sharing our stories and hopes, praying for our fears, and proclaiming the lordship of God over a groaning world. This morning, I sang and prayed with Christians from Singapore and India, and their presence drew my thoughts to the people of Asia who have come to Paris desperate for solutions to the climatic upheaval besetting their world.
It’s clear why the countries of Asia are desperate for an agreement on climate pollution. The principal water source for countries from China to Pakistan is the frozen Tibetan Plateau — the “Third Pole” — and it’s melting fast in our warming world.
Vanishing glaciers raise urgent concerns beyond Tibet and China. The 46,000 glaciers of the Third Pole region sustain 1.5 billion people in 10 countries — its waters flowing to places as distant as the tropical Mekong Delta of Vietnam, the hills of eastern Myanmar and the southern plains of Bangladesh. Scattered across nearly two million square miles, these glaciers are receding at an ever-quickening pace, producing a rise in levels of rivers and lakes in the short term and threatening Asia’s water supply in the long run.
I have written extensively in these pages about the plight of Pakistan’s 160 million souls, overwhelmingly reliant on the flow of one single source of life: the Indus River. Pakistan’s Indus – like India’s Ganges, Vietnam’s Mekong, China’s Yellow and Bangladesh’s Brahmaputra – is fed by Himalayan glaciers, which today are receding at an alarming pace, adding to floods that have displaced millions in the Sindhi breadbasket region and destroying its farms and crops. The World Bank warns that in coming decades, the mighty Indus – crippled by its dwindling glaciers – could become a seasonal stream, leaving Pakistan completely dry in the crucial summer growing season.
Worse yet, the Indus flows into Pakistan from Indian-controlled Kashmir. India and Pakistan, both armed with nuclear weapons and wounded by profound sectarian conflicts, could be left to debate whose thirst will be quenched by the Indus, and who will wither and starve. If you’re looking for the apocalypse, this may be the place to start.
Today’s Himalayan melting calls for compassionate and wise action. Deadly floods routinely beset the region, as the people of Chennai in south India are experiencing even today, as they bury more than 300 flood victims. But do we dare to imagine a world when 1-2 billion of God’s people have no water to grow food?
So Christians are in Paris to pray and act for a world where our Asian brothers and sisters can live peaceable and quiet lives in their own homes. Here we see clearly the blessing of Jesus pronounced at the final judgment: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink….”
Drink, and food. For the billions sustained by the waters of the Tibetan Plateau, these precious gifts now hang in the balance. That’s why I’m here in Paris, praying and acting for the success of COP-21.