The Cry of the Earth

In 2009, in the run-up to the Copenhagen Summit on Climate change, the Irish Bishops’ Conference published the pastoral reflection The Cry of the Earth with the aim of stimulating and resourcing dialogue and reflection on the critical questions posed by the challenge of climate change. The reflection was inspired by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, published earlier that year. Caritas in Veritate emphasised that the ‘environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.’
As more and more people are becoming aware of the unjust impact of climate change on some of the most vulnerable communities in our world, The Irish Bishops decided to update the The Cry of the Earth in October 2014. They have provided supporting resources for dialogue at parish level and renamed the document – The Cry of the Earth: A Call to Action for Climate Justice.
The first part of this pastoral reflection lays out the science behind climate change. It includes analysis from the 5th Assessment Report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Data from the Environmental Protection Agency of Ireland is also used. The overwhelming consensus among climate scientists is that greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced dramatically if we are to avoid the worst consequence of climate change.
The second part of this reflection sees our natural environment as ‘a wondrous work of the Creator containing a “grammar” which sets forth … Criteria for its wise use, not its reckless exploitation’ (n. 48). It offers such reflections on sacred scripture, key ethical principles and themes from Catholic Social Doctrine. They inspire and guide our vocation as stewards of God’s creation. While scientific knowledge is constantly evolving, the principles that inform our approach, as Christians, to these developments remain steadfast, rooted in our faith.
The new data on climate change which the bishops used was taken from the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was published in three volumes during 2013. Some 800 of the world’s top climate scientists were involved as authors and some 140,000 comments were considered from thousands of other experts. Representatives of the Irish government signed off on the report as they have on every IPCC Assessment Report since 1990. The main conclusions include increased risks as follows:
* Risk of death, injury, ill-health, or disrupted livelihoods in low-lying coastal zones and small island developing states and other small islands, due to storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rise.
* Risk of severe ill-health and disrupted livelihoods for large urban populations due to inland flooding in some regions.
*Systemic risks due to extreme weather events leading to breakdown of infrastructure networks and critical services such as electricity, water supply, health and emergency services.
*Risk of mortality and morbidity during periods of extreme heat, particularly for vulnerable urban populations and those working outdoors in urban or rural areas.
* Risk of food insecurity and the breakdown of food systems linked to warming, drought, flooding, and precipitation variability and extremes, particularly for poorer populations in urban and rural settings.
* Risk of loss of rural livelihoods and income due to insufficient access to drinking and irrigation water and reduced agricultural productivity, particularly for farmers and pastoralists with minimal capital in semi-arid regions.
* Risk of loss of marine and coastal ecosystems, biodiveristy and the ecosystem goods, fundtions and services they provide for coastal livelihoods, especially for fishing communities in the tropics and the Arctic. With climate change, sea levels are expected to rise both because of thermal expansion in the oceans and the melting of glaciers in Greenland and the western Antarctic. A rise of one degree would make life impossible for millions of people living in the delta area of Bangladesh and in the low-lying islands in the Indian and Pacific oceans.
*Risk of loss of terrestrial and inland water ecosystems, biodiversity, and ecosystems goods, functions and services they provide for livihoods.
The bishops point out that these dire consequences are based on a 2 degree Celsius rise in average global temperature. If, as some fear, the average global temperature rise reaches 4 degrees Celsius there will be enormous damage to the life support systems of planet earth. The bishops emphasise that the longer the world delays in moving to a low-carbon world, the more difficult the task becomes of avoiding dangerous climate change.
Fr. Sean McDonagh.

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  1. Peter Shore says:

    Carbon reduction attempts in our corner of the world are pointless, counter-productive, and dangerous. Pointless, because increases in carbon emissions are overwhelmingly occurring in the developing countries of the Asia-Pacific region, and can be attributed largely to increasing coal use. In fact, almost all new coal use is happening there, while traditional bogeymen like the USA lead the world in emission reductions by switching to natural gas.
    Nothing we do — in Europe, and certainly in Ireland — is going to change the figures. Small time efforts are counter-productive because they damage our economy for no gain. In any case the current harsh economic realities are doing more to depress carbon emissions than anything else, and you’ll find few politicians wishing for more cuts.
    We need to look at approaches to impact mitigation — new building should be in the right places and avoiding those areas we will eventually have to abandon; appropriate crop and water usage choices need to be made. We need to ensure adequate energy availability for heating and cooling to avoid dangers to health. We need to invest in economically viable renewable energy resources and in serious R&D, and stop funding boondoggles.
    The European emissions trading fiasco needs to stop — it has done nothing other than create yet another unneeded financial derivative with its own booms and busts. Above all we need to increasingly exploit nuclear energy if we are serious about worldwide carbon emission reductions.

  2. This Catholic has never yet heard a Mass homily relating to this issue, and meanwhile the major fixation of the magisterium remains the ‘pelvic issues’ – while the Irish church is regularly assembled only for Eucharist, never for discussion and deliberation.
    There must surely also be a connection between environmental concerns and Catholic social teaching – another closed book.
    Where the market entices the individual into ceaseless desire for products of technology designed for obsolescence – surely at that point the Gospel is relevant? And surely the redefinition of covetousness as mimetic desire explains that relevance? Will I ever hear a homily on this – or find notes that could relate to it on the ACP site?

  3. Lloyd Allan MacPherson says:

    Sean, @ 2, sadly you may never hear this yet the points you make ring so true. The youth of this current generation has prayed more than any generation before them. They pray that someone out there is going to “flip the switch” so to speak. We gave them industrialization then globalization, then dirty electronics then dangled the clean tech in front of their faces like carrots. I often hear of a “secularized” society that has little or no ethics and how this was a “choice” that society made at some point. I don’t see it that way. This is a constant struggle between opposing parties. In societies where there is little focus on human rights, a secularized version of reality can easily take root. Where human rights are championed, it is much more difficult for this to happen. Priests who can stand up for their own rights and defy the masses are more likely to lead this charge but the numbers dwindle at the most important time which is now because the tipping point is upon us. This is the battle between good and evil and it’s a terrible sign when the religion whose influence upon the western world has never been greater (financially and its connectedness online) seems to have placed itself as a meek spectator in the corner awaiting a savior. Good luck with that.

  4. You may be glad to know that The Cry of the Earth will be discussed at the Armagh Clergy Conference next week.
    Personally I find it to be a wonderful production.

  5. Donal Dorr says:

    The third and fourth paragraphs of the comment of Peter Shore (first comment above) make sense but I find his first two paragraphs outrageous and very misleading on several counts. For instance: (1) USA and Canada are leading the way in fracking to get gas, and the extraction of oil from tar sands; both of these activites are causing huge damage to the environment. (2) We in the West who have derived a lot of our wealth from more than 150 years of exploiting the earth have a duty to hold back and also to compensate countries who came later to this kind of so-called “development”. (3) There is not only a strong moral obligation, but also a practical obligation for us in Europe, including Ireland, to lead the way in making firm ecological commitments in the present negotiations, even at some cost to ourselves. If we do not do so, we can be quite sure that China, India, etc. will not take effective action and the ecological crisis will quickly spin out of control.

  6. The Bishop’s pastoral letter, CRY OF THE EARTH, is a clear, compelling, and action-directed assessment of the threat of global warming. Unfortunately, however, this letter fails to address associated problems that threaten life on our Mother Earth. Here are three:
    #1 According to the United Nations, one in every five humans depends on fish as the primary source of protein. (United Nations, 2004) On the other hand, marine ecologists fear that the biggest single threat to marine ecosystems today is overfishing. Our appetite for fish is exceeding the oceans’ ecological limits with devastating impacts on marine ecosystems. The cod fisheries off Newfoundland, Canada, collapsed in 1992, leading to the loss of some 40,000 jobs in the industry. The cod stocks in the North Sea and Baltic Sea are now heading the same way and are close to complete collapse. As population grows, the pressure for more and more effective fishing increases, and no government can, in conscience, limit the growth of industrial fishing so that SUSTAINABILITY can again be achieved. For this crime, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .
    #2 The story for oil shows exactly the same phenomena. Recently developing countries like India and China are legitimately moving toward increased industrialization to feed, clothe, and house their teeming populations. Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2010 World Energy Outlook estimated that conventional crude oil production has peaked and is depleting at 6.8% per year. So no government is currently rationing oil products; rather, every nation is trying to out-produce everyone else so that their people can enjoy the luxurious lifestyle that manufactured goods promise. But who is speaking for those who will be living when our industrialized landscape has to begin shutting down due to oil depletion? For this crime, our children’s children will suffer. . . .
    #3 CRY OF THE EARTH says not a single word about “responsible family planning.” The world population at the time when Humanae Vitae was first published was 3.5 billion. Today’s world population is 7.2 billion. This is more than double. Let’s face it. Our Mother Earth CANNOT SUSTAIN another fifty years of reckless human population growth.
    Meanwhile, the Vatican aggressively uses its seat in the United Nations to oppose contraceptive distribution in the developing countries. The USA bishops, for their part, have promoted the launching of no less than 43 court cases objecting to the inclusion of free contraceptives under Obamacare. In Ireland, until recently, contraceptives could only be dispensed by a pharmacist on the presentation of a valid medical prescription from a practising doctor. For the irresponsible blindness of the Vatican relative to Catholic family planning, we and our children’s children will suffer. . . .
    When will the moral and ecological illusions of Humanae Vitae finally be publicly analyzed and exposed?

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