Our changing planet
Chris McDonnell CT
Writing back in August, 2017 Pope Francis asked that we “Listen to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor, who suffer most because of the unbalanced ecology.”
Laudato Si’ might be reasonably compared with the famous encyclical issued by John XXIII in the early Sixties at the height of the Cold War, Pacem in Terris – Peace on Earth. That document broke with tradition in that it was addressed to all men of good will rather than only to Catholic Christians, the issue was so important. Recognising that, a copy was placed in the United Nations Library in NYC. In a similar manner Laudato Si’ is addressed to a worldwide audience for it discusses issues that affect all of us.
The very survival of life on Earth is a matter of urgent concern, whatever our nationality, ethnicity or religious faith. Our generation is the first to recognise this danger and may well be the last to have the opportunity to do something about it.
From the Kyoto protocol, through the Dhoha Agreement to the Paris Accord, nations have tried to reach out to manage the problems associated with Climate change. It is not sufficient that a few nations agree, all must come to the table. This November the COP26 UN climate conference was to have been held in Glasgow-that has now been postponed till next year due to the pandemic necessity. But the urgency hasn’t gone away.
The atmosphere that encloses our planet doesn’t respect the national boundaries we draw on our maps. The air we breathe we share with our neighbours, for good or ill. But it comes at a cost. Our industrial processes produce the byproduct of greenhouse gases that are a major contribution to global warming.
Now is the time of re-setting. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single family. There was a song sung in the 60s by the Spinners, a Liverpool folk group that echoed then the same theme. It is worth reflecting on the lyrics in the light of the present day:
The family of Man keeps growing
The family of Man keeps sowing
The seeds of a new life every day.
I belong to a family, the biggest on the earth
Ten thousand every day are coming to birth
Our name isn’t Davis, Hall, Groves, or Jones
It’s a name every man should be proud he owns.
I’ve got a sister in Melbourne, a brother in Paris
The whole wide world is dad and mum to me
Wherever you go you’ll find my kin
Whatever the creed or the colour of the skin.
The miner in the Rhondda, the coolie in Peking
The men across the ocean who plough, reap and spin
They’ve got a life and others to share it
So let’s bridge the oceans and declare.
From the North Pole ice to the snow at the other
There is not a man I wouldn’t call brother
But there isn’t much time, I’ve had my fill
Of the men of war who intend to kill.
Some people say the world’s a horrible place
But it’s just as good or bad as the human race
Dirt and misery or health and joy
Man can build or can destroy.
It is indeed a salutary warning from many years back of circumstances that it is now our lot to manage.
The images of change abound, with Arctic temperatures steadily rising releasing hydrocarbon gas from the permafrost and huge ice flows breaking off from the Antarctic ice field. In Laudato Si’, Francis challenged us with these words: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” The ice melt and the consequent rise in sea levels is a direct challenge to the inhabited land of this planet. And not just a threat to small islands; the coastal regions of continents are at risk from inundation.
The increased frequency of hurricanes and torrential rainstorms add to our problems. One of the commitments made by President-elect Biden to the electorate was that the US government would rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement signed by many nations in 2015. In a recent interview for Channel 4 News and the Guardian, the Dalai Lama warned of ecological destruction affecting all our lives and the very future of our small planet. He appealed to world leaders to take urgent action against climate change, warning of ecological destruction affecting the lives of billions and ruining the planet, including his birth country, Tibet. There is an ecological balance in this our home that we have disturbed. Correction is needed before it is too late. Serious though it is, the COVID contagion will likely be managed in time through the efforts of medical science. The consequences of global warming could be terminal.
The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. It also encouraged the wealthier nations to help the poorer nations meet this target, the family of man in action.
We have to recognise the inescapable fact that industrialisation has brought huge benefits to our human society, benefits which poorer countries wish to share. The crisis that we now face demands that we seek other means of achieving that goal. Renewable energy sources are being developed, a greener world is a possibility.
In an interview with environmental editor of the Guardian published in early November, Greta Thunberg called politicians “hypocrites and international climate summits as empty words and greenwash. She said that until humanity admits it has failed to tackle the climate crisis and begins treating it as an emergency like the coronavirus pandemic, society will be unable to stop global heating…Leaders are happy to set targets for decades ahead, but flinch when immediate action is needed”.
Our time span to achieve this goal is short. Francis has clearly told us that “…the exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty”.
It is not without significance that the current exploration of our solar system has enabled us to see in graphic detail the red arid dust and rock-strewn surface of Mars and the consequence of climate change that could be our destiny.
The huge fires that have swept through parts of Australia and California in recent months are a foretaste of global warming. The courageous struggle of fire crews became an insignificant gesture in the fight to contain the conflagration. Many lives were lost and thousands of homes destroyed. The prophet Isaiah wrote: “I will lay waste mountains an hills and dry up all their herbage. I will turn the rivers into islands and dry up the pools”. Year by year record temperatures are being registered worldwide.
There is a mood of uncertainty in the air as we come face to face with a world we have damaged. Younger generations, our children and grand children are inheriting the fruits of our irresponsibility, the self-inflicted damage we have caused. Francis has clearly told us: “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” Further, “We need unity to protect creation. We need to reject a magical conception of the market which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.”
Our selfishness has a consequence for others. The greed of a few can be the cause of hurt for many.
This weekend we mark the 57th anniversary of the assassination of John F Kennedy, the 35th president of the United States. He was the first Catholic to hold that office. Now the 46th President, also a Catholic, follows in his footsteps with an immense task facing him. He deserves support both within his country and from the international community beyond its borders.