So, who’s ready for some bad news? How about nobody? After slogging through a pandemic for a year and a
half, are we ready to face another crisis, especially one that is ultimately more serious than the pandemic? Well,
ready or not here it is. A United Nations science panel released its findings on climate change earlier this month.
The UN says that “climate change is the defining issue of our time and we are at a defining moment. . . .The evidence is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean, and land. . . . Human induced climate change is already affecting many weather and climate extremes in every region across the globe . . . in heatwaves, heavy precipitation, droughts, and tropical cyclones.” The report warns of worsening climate change if the burning of coal, oil and natural gas continue at their present levels.
Greenhouse gases, which occur naturally and which help warm the earth, “after more than a century and a half of industrialization, deforestation, and large-scale agriculture . . . have risen to record levels not seen in three million years.” The last seven Julys have been the hottest seven Julys on record, almost two degrees warmer than the twentieth century average, and the last time the globe had a July cooler than the twentieth century average was in 1976. The UN says we must act and act quickly.But taking substantive action means overcoming some serious obstacles—and some of these are the same ones that have made addressing the pandemic so challenging.
In the first place, while a large majority of experts believe that human activity is warming our planet, a very vocal minority holds that the climate cycle will reverse itself, and that a cooling of the earth will come on its own, with
or without humans changing their lifestyle, that much of the talk about climate change is being spread by politicians, journalists, and pastors who have no scientific background. For example, Greenpeace co-founder Dr. Patrick
Moore says there is no scientific evidence that “human emissions of carbon dioxide are the dominant cause of the
minor warming of the earth’s atmosphere.” Secondly, addressing climate change will require sacrifice, and Americans are rarely asked to sacrifice anything. Even churches rarely use the “S word” anymore. Someone once remarked that Jimmy Carter was the last President to tell us we had “to eat our peas” and he was not reelected. Finally, there are a lot of people who simply do not trust anything that comes out of the United Nations.
Pope Francis jumped head first into issue of climate change with his groundbreaking 2015 encyclical, Laudato
Si’. He sides with those who attribute climate change to human activity, but places it into a larger context: our
throw-away culture and our lack of concern for the poor. When the climate changes, those least able to adapt and
those who suffer the most are the poor. As a result, the Pope says, care for our common home is a moral obligation.
To care for the poor means to be pro-active in caring for the earth. Our own Fr. John Pawlikowski, who serves on a
Vatican Commission and on an Archdiocesan Commission for the implementation of Laudato Si, will speak to us
about the Pope’s encyclical next weekend (September 4-5) at the 5:00 p.m. Saturday Mass and the 10:30 Sunday
Mass. September 1, by the way, marks the beginning of the Ecumenical Season of Creation, a month for Christians
to pay special attention to the needs of the earth.
For those of us who agree with the Pope, there are small signs of hope. Not too long ago, before the pandemic,
the city imposed a seven-cent tax on non-reusable plastic bags. While ostensibly the goal was to reduce the use of
plastics, the belief was that the city would make a lot a money from people who would keep using the small thin
plastic bags rather than buy reusable bags. To almost everyone’s surprise, people switched to reusable bags quite
quickly. A small financial incentive and a clear explanation about why change was important made a difference.
The kind of change that the Pope is talking about would go well beyond recycling. It would mean changing our diets, our habits of consumption, our forms of transportation, and some of our national policies. The Catholic Climate
Covenant, a network of Catholic religious congregations and organizations, is sponsoring a petition that calls on
President Biden and the U.S. Congress to support science-based climate policies that drastically reduce greenhouse
gas emissions and prioritize poor, vulnerable, and marginal people. If you would like to sign that petition, go to the