Moving from a spiritualized approach to the action that is called for and that Jesus models for us

May 5, 2017

When Jesus was undertaking his ministry in Galilee and was confronted by the needs around him, his response was not developing liturgical forms and celebrations for use in synagogues, and he didn’t tell people “we’ll pray for you! Good luck!”  He looked the change that was needed in the face and with compassion, he directly changed the situation causing suffering.  He went right to the illness and those who needed help, and he healed, even when he was tired it was inconvenient, or the job looked impossible.  He asked us to have the faith of a mustard seed and walk in his path.

As Jesus’ hands and feet in the world today, we need to hear the cries around us and reach out and provide healing and answers too.  Too often we focus on our own healing or keeping our spirits up (how we might minister to ourselves and ours), and we think about the well-being and extension of our organizations.

Jesus wasn’t so concerned about these things.  Rather, he maintained his vision and conviction that no one could or should be sacrificed.  He kept actively healing and reaching out with the work that would change and restore, even when he was tired.  No one was just too inconvenient or impractical to reach or try to save (think of how fast the oceans are rising and the temptation to think that targets above 1.5 C average global warming over the industrial age are okay).

Now, thank God!, this very concrete work is continued in Mission 2020.  Christiana Figueres told us about Mission 2020 at the Vatican conference on “Clean Energy for Our Common Home” in January.  The heads of Catholic continental bishops’ conferences realized this need in 2015 and put out a statement in October of that year that said: “Put an end to the fossil fuel era, phasing out fossil fuel emissions and providing affordable, reliable and safe renewable energy access for all.”  Cristiana made a definitive call to metanoia and to turn around now!  “This is a moral responsibility that we all share,” she said. “That moral responsibility, how are we going to ensure that it is achieved before it is too late for the most vulnerable? We need to align our moral compass … we need to be clear that fossil fuels kill.”  Now, a Mission 2020 has been developed and we are thinking about what a Catholic Mission 2020 plan would be and an Interfaith Mission 2020.

Mark Campanale added that fossil fuel companies “need to wind down or be wound down in an orderly fashion.” Cardinal Ribat eloquently conveyed the loss, desperation and helplessness of those on Pacific islands who are facing rising seas on all sides and need us to take up the charge to switch to renewables globally, to prevent climate change and protect all life.  Pope Francis reminded us in his TED talk recently that everyone of these people is irreplaceable in the eyes of God and that tenderness also means “to listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth.”  Jochen Wermuth, of Wermuth Asset Managers provided some more detail around a statement that Veerabhadran Ramanathan, a climate scientist at the University of California-San Diego and member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, made a year ago, that if if the top 1 billion people in the world each paid $150, those funds would cover the electricity needs of those who lack it (1 to 1.2 billion) or have intermittent energy (about 800 million).

It became apparent that we need to turn off the spigot to avoid surpassing what our atmosphere and oceans can absorb. Roughly 20 percent of carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for 1,000 years, so what we put in the atmosphere now will remain there for generations to come. And every year we wait makes the year-on-year reductions sharper, deeper and more difficult — but it doesn’t have to be that way.  Cardinal Turkson called attention to paragraph 165 of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” in which the pope stated “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”Rev. Grape of the Church of Sweden reminded us: “Our action must be driven by our belief that another world is possible … We must have a vision, that is fed and nurtured by faith communities, transforming to a low-carbon society as an earth community, beyond borders.” He continued: “Justice and equity are part of the spiritual vision that faith communities can bring, along with hope. Hope is a first step in walking the path of transformation. Hope has two beautiful daughters: anger and courage. Courage to start the transformation is so needed.”Figueres, who recently launched the Mission 2020 project focusing on global development in response to climate change, said that “Laudato Si’ must be put starkly into numbers. We must bend the curve [of fossil fuel emissions and carbon in the atmosphere] by 2020.” She pointed out that “temperatures are on a rapid upward curve,” with average global temperatures now having broken the roof on records the past three years.  Figueres focused her remarks through the church’s and Francis’ mission to assist refugees. The number of refugees and displaced people eclipsed 60 million for the first time in 2015, the highest point since the agency began record-keeping. Figueres estimated as many as 100 million to 300 million people displaced in some way if the world doesn’t address climate change.  Further, she said, we’ll be “condemning the 1 billion still in extreme poverty to perpetual, extreme poverty. The impacts of climate change will grow exponentially both in intensity and in frequency, and that requires investing very scarce resources into rebuilding very basic, scarce infrastructure that then won’t get to devote that to health, education and well-being.” By directing investments away from fossil fuels and toward renewables would also allow those poorest people energy access while also improving health, increasing food security and creating new jobs.

In closing, Figueres said, “We must achieve the bending of emissions — work together, act together, decide together, show that the arc of compassion, the arc of solidarity, the arc of love is not broken. We have to keep our own moral call awake.”  Asked often what keeps her up at night, she said there are seven little pairs of brown eyes, which she understands now represent seven generations in the future. “They are asking, ‘What did you do? What did you decide and what action did you take to prevent disaster?’ We must answer: ‘We collectively did not what we thought was possible but what was necessary.’”

Marie Venner is chair of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board subcommittee on Climate Change, Energy, and Sustainability and former co-chair of the Risk and Resilience Planning and Analysis subcommittee. She is also on the Steering Committee of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.