A global movement continues with a petition

March 23, 2015

Crossposted from CatholicEcology.net, by Bill Patenaude.

Building off our successful, ongoing Lenten fast—with people from individual nations fasting every day in Lent— today we take a more active approach to getting things done: we issued a petition on our new website to offer a voice to many who wish to be heard.

At first glance, the petition seems blunt in asking world leaders to attempt to meet a specific goal:

Climate change affects everyone, but especially the poor and most vulnerable people. Impelled by our Catholic faith, we call on you to drastically cut carbon emissions to keep the global temperature rise below the dangerous threshold of 1.5°C, and to aid the world’s poorest in coping with climate change impacts.

The GCCM (of which I am a founding member) adopted the benchmark of 1.5°C because it is an accepted convention being offered by scientists and others around the world. That degree-and-a-half of thermal energy is the amount of warming presumed to be about as high as you want to go before global systems begin to shift even more dramatically than people around the world are already observing.

World leaders can’t tweak every variable that affects global temperatures, but they can help build a world with fewer greenhouse gases discharged from the lifestyle choices of so many (like me). And whether or not you take stock in the accepted science of climate change, isn’t reducing emissions of anything a good thing?

Of course, lots of people accept the science of climate change. They do so not because they are climatologists but because they are fishermen, farmers, bird watchers, gardeners, and other vocations that require them to keep track of nature’s cycles. These people are noticing changes. And what they’re noticing is consistent with what happens when the atmosphere holds more thermal energy—even if the change is a bit chaotic, as one would expect from a complex system like a planet.

Then, of course, there are places like the Philippines that have been repeatedly pummeled by severe storms. And there are places that have seen increased precipitation intensities, and others with less.

All this (and more) has prompted the need to be heard and to do something and to demand that our leaders act. This need is growing because so many people feel that they have no way to contribute solutions to a big and frightening problem.

Jeff Korgen of GreenFaith is one of my colleagues at the GCCM. When I asked him why he was involved in the climate issue, he offered a response that moved me.

“When I was 9 years old,” he told me, “my father, a physical oceanographer, invited me into his study for a brief lecture on what he called ‘The Greenhouse Effect.’ The remarkable thing is that I still remember a lot of it.”

Jeff’s dad explained how Earth’s atmosphere traps heat, which has its benefits but can be overdone. His dad told him that “we were beginning to change the composition of gasses so that more heat was being trapped. He told me my generation would be the one responsible for solving the problem by the year 2000.”

Of course, that year came and went and not a lot was being done about climate change.

“Here we are in 2015, and I fear for people in the Indian state of Kerala, where the Apostle Thomas brought Christianity to Asia, and salt water intrusion is beginning to threaten the ability of that part of India to produce enough food for its inhabitants.”

Jeff also worries about Cape Cod on the East Coast of the United States, a spot he visits often and that has provided him some of his fondest memories. “It’s a coastal town … that does not fare well during hurricanes.”

Worrying about people far away as much as we fear the loss of our own, beloved corners of creation is a big reason why so many are seeking a voice. But what people wish to express is not just worry.

As the new GCCM website concludes in its opening storyline, there is hope. That hope, we know, comes from Christ.

“I have hope that people of faith can make a difference on climate change because faith is the reason for the only political miracles of my lifetime,” Jeff added. He specifically noted the peaceful transition of power in South Africa, the Jubilee debt forgiveness of the world’s 40 poorest countries, and the post-genocide forgiveness in Rwanda.

“These miracles occurred because Christians, including many Catholics, chose a different path, rewrote the script of destruction they were handed. We can do the same with climate change.”

And so as we continue our travels further into the twenty-first century, Catholics will increasingly influence how the world looks at and cares for creation. People like Jeff and many others who will sign the GCCM petition will do so as a way to add their voice to the ecological, social, and spiritual concerns expressed by Pope Francis, his predecessors, and bishops, clerics, religious, and laity across the globe.

The song sung by these voices is simply that of the Gospel—it is a petition that exhorts us to protect the world by coming to know our Creator. And from that relationship, we then grow in faith seeking understanding about what He expects of us, what He offers to us, and how we should sacrificially love Him, His creation, and our neighbors next door and around the globe.

The Global Catholic Climate Movement petition can be found here.