TUESDAYS WITH TERESA: Our Care for Our Earth

“Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome, naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me…in so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25: 31-46)

I am aware that many of you will be reading this message just two days before the commencement of COP (the Conference of Parties), the international climate summit, convened by the United Nations, which will take place in Dubai. I believe that Pope Francis will be attending. This message is also in the context of the weekend’s harbour blockade by over 1000 people who are concerned about climate change.

You may be aware that at the beginning of October, Pope Francis released an exhortation, Laudate Deum, a sequel to Laudato Si’. He speaks to all people of goodwill on the climate crisis. He says that this is a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life. Pope Francis is clear that our care for one another and our care for earth are intimately bound together. The effects of climate change are borne by the most vulnerable people.

The following data from Laudate Deum makes for difficult reading:

It is no longer possible to doubt the human – “anthropic” – origin of climate change. Let us see why. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which causes global warming, was stable until the nineteenth century, below 300 parts per million in volume. But in the middle of that century, in conjunction with industrial development, emissions began to increase. In the past fifty years, this increase has accelerated significantly, as the Mauna Loa observatory, which has taken daily measurements of carbon dioxide since 1958, has confirmed. While I was writing Laudato Si’, they hit a historic high – 400 parts per million – until arriving at 423 parts per million in June 2023. More than 42% of total net emissions since the year 1850 were produced after 1990. (n.11)

This information aligns with the essence of the Newcastle Climate Action Summit which I attended on Saturday 18 November along with about 90 other people. Several speakers outlined their concerns and strategies for reducing CO2 emissions, particularly in the areas of industrial, commercial, transport, residential and waste.

For several decades now, representatives of more than 190 countries have met periodically to address the issues of climate change. Not all COP conferences have been successful, however COP3 in Kyoto (1997) set the goal of reducing overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5% with respect to 1990 by 2012. This was not achieved.

COP21 in Paris (2015) represented another significant moment, since it generated an agreement that involved everyone. The objective of this agreement is to keep the increase of average global temperatures to under 2° C with respect to preindustrial levels, and with the aim of decreasing them to 1.5° C.

If we are confident in the capacity of human beings to transcend their petty interests and to think in bigger terms, we can keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring. This Conference can represent a change of direction, showing that everything done since 1992 was in fact serious and worth the effort, or else it will be a great disappointment and jeopardize whatever good has been achieved thus far. (Laudate Deum n.54)

I have no doubt that without these agreements the situation we are facing around global emissions would be worse. Yet the necessary transition towards clean energy sources such as wind and solar energy, and the abandonment of fossil fuels, is not progressing at the necessary speed.

We know that everything is connected and precious, and that we have a responsibility to our common home, and the legacy we will leave behind, once we pass from this world. We are part of this natural world and therefore part of the solution. I found the following words from Laudate Deum to be concerning:

“Our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience... We stand naked and exposed in the face of our ever-increasing power, lacking the wherewithal to control it. We have certain superficial mechanisms, but we cannot claim to have a sound ethics, a culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint”. It is not strange that so great a power in such hands is capable of destroying life, while the mentality proper to the technocratic paradigm blinds us and does not permit us to see this extremely grave problem of present-day humanity. (n.24)

I believe part of our task as Christians and as Catholics is to invite people into a trinitarian spirituality, a spirituality of connectedness. I believe that our being part of the Hunter Community Alliance is the mutual partnership between the church and civil society groups who are trying to work for the common good and respect the dignity of each person. “Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.” (Laudato Si’ n.179)

Given that there are 1.4 billion Catholics in the world (18% of the population), and 2.6 billion Christians, who profess a belief in a Triune God, surely we can influence our global need to respond to the many complex issues we are facing – poverty, violence, war, climate change, greed, hunger, racism, ……..as shared with us in Laudate Deum:

Our world has become so multipolar and at the same time so complex that a different framework for effective cooperation is required. It is not enough to think only of balances of power but also of the need to provide a response to new problems and to react with global mechanisms to the environmental, public health, cultural and social challenges, especially in order to consolidate respect for the most elementary human rights, social rights and the protection of our common home. It is a matter of establishing global and effective rules that can permit “providing for” this global safeguarding. (n.42)

Pope Francis goes on to say:

I cannot fail in this regard to remind the Catholic faithful of the motivations born of their faith. I encourage my brothers and sisters of other religions to do the same, since we know that authentic faith not only gives strength to the human heart, but also transforms life, transfigures our goals and sheds light on our relationship to others and with creation as a whole. (n.61)

What is our sphere of influence and what is God calling you/me to do and be? We are left in no doubt, from Sunday’s Gospel reading that the only criterion or condition for entry into the kingdom of heaven is care for our sisters and brothers, for our created world, especially for those who are sidelined, forgotten or often overlooked.

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Teresa Brierley

Teresa Brierley is Director Pastoral Ministries of the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle.