Divine Word Missionaries
Peace, Justice and Integrity Of Creation
The impact climate change has on life
Introduction: This booklet aims to give you clear information on the issue of Climate Change and Global Warming as well as some tools to address the issue at your local, regional and national levels. Our hope is that this booklet will help you to better understand the complexity of the issues, and the need for action to save our planet.
We include some scriptural and theological resources for use in work groups and communities and some Resources for your ongoing education and formation. This booklet is not the total answer on Climate Change and Global Warming, but sometimes just knowing where to look for information is a step on the way to addressing the issue.
This booklet will attempt to answer the following questions:
What is climate change and global warming?
The chemical composition of the atmosphere is changing through the build up of greenhouse gases--primarily carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. The heat trapping property of these gases is undisputed.
Energy from the sun drives the earth's weather and climate, and heats the earth's surface; in turn, the earth radiates energy back into space. Atmospheric greenhouse gases (water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases) trap some of the outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Without this natural "greenhouse effect", temperatures would be much lower than they are now, and life as known today would not be possible. Instead, thanks to greenhouse gases, the earth's average temperature is a more hospitable 60F/15C.
However, problems may arise when the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases inceases. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide have increased nearly 30%, methane concentrations have more than doubled, and nitrous oxide concentrations have risen by about 15%. These increases have enhanced the heat trapping capability of the earth's atmosphere. Why are greenhouse gases concentrations increasing? Scientists generally believe that the combustion of fossil fuels and other human activities are the primary reason for the increased concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Most of the studies on climate change agree that we now face an unavoidable increase in the global temperature and that climate change has probably already started. In December 1997 and more recently in December 2000, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a body of over 2000 international scientists, give us an idea of the present reality:
What causes global warming?
Global warming happens when the concentration of certain gases, known as greenhouse gases (GHG) increases in the atmosphere because of human and industrial activity, especially CO2, and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). The main GHG is carbon dioxide, which is mostly produced as a bi-product of the use of coal, petroleum and gas as well as by deforestation and forest fires. Nitrous oxide is produced by vehicle and industrial emissions, while methane emissions are caused both by industrial and agricultural activities. Chlorofluorocarbons CFCs are highly damaging to the ozone layer as well as being a GHG with a very high global warming potential, but are now being phased out under the Montreal Protocol. Carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, methane, nitrous oxide are polluting gases that are accumulating in the atmosphere and trapping more heat from the sun. While oceans and vegetation capture vast amounts of CO2, their capacity to act as 'sinks' is now exceeded by emissions. This means that every year, the cumulative total amount of GHGs that remain in the atmosphere increases thus accelerating global warming.
In the past 100 years the world’s energy consumption increased spectacularly. At least 70% of the energy is consumed in the developed countries; and 78% of that energy comes from fossil fuels. This creates an imbalance that leaves some regions impoverished and others reaping huge benefits. Meanwhile, the level of funding for renewable energies (solar, wind, biomass, hydro, in particular mini and micro-hydro) which could play a big role in reducing fossil fuel use, in both developed and developing countries, remains extremely low, in comparison to aid funds and investments allocated to fossil fuels and nuclear energy.
Deforestation which reduces the absorption of carbons by trees, is responsible for 20% of the increase of carbon emissions, and alters the local micro-climate and hydrological cycle, thus affecting soil fertility.
The avoidance of highly damaging climate change requires action to stabilise the present level of GHGs in the atmosphere as soon as possible, which would involve a reduction in GHG emissions by at least 50%, according to the IPCC. If nothing is done the following list shows some of the devastating impacts we can expect:
Questions for Reflection:
What does our faith tradition say?
To be credible, an effective theology needs to be grounded on scientific knowledge about the immense and complex journey of the universe.
St. Bonaventure following the experience of St. Francis elaborated a theology of the Sacramentality of Creation, that is, the footprints of Christ in the created world. The world is inhabited by the Sacred. All created things are a sign and a revelation of the Creator who leaves an imprint everywhere. To purposely destroy any aspect of creation is to deface the image of Christ present in all of creation. Christ suffers not only when people are denied their rights and exploited but when seas, rivers and forests are desecrated. When creation is perceived as sacramental, manifesting and leading us to God, our relationship with others is also challenged to move from one of dominance and power to one of reverence and respect.
Why should religious be concerned and involved in ecological issues?
The earth has a huge capacity to absorb pain, but it cannot continue to do so indefinitely without placing the future survival of humanity in jeopardy. We are in a position to do something.
A land mark Papal document devoted exclusively to the environment and development issues entitled, Peace with God the Creator, Peace with all Creation ( January 1, 1990) challenges that “Christians, in particular realize that their duty towards nature and creation are an essential part of their faith” (no. 15)
God’s ownership of the world urges us to consider not only social justice, that is, just relations between people, but also ecological justice, meaning just relations between human beings, other creatures and with the earth itself. Creation is now understood as a community of beings interconnected with each other and with the triune God. Ecological integrity is an essential part of all faith traditions and is an important issue around which dialogue, collaboration and mutual understanding can be promoted.
Churches and inter-religious groups on climate change are already very involved. In the prevailing ecumenical atmosphere, we should reach out to other Christians, as well as non-Christians working on this issue.
This is the challenge for today:
Our task as religious women and men, is to contemplate the beauty and presence of God in all things. Such contemplation could lead us to metanoia, conversion of heart, which is a good place for all of us to begin to respond to the crisis which our planet, our home, God’s creation, faces in the beginning of a new millennium.
How we respond will depend on where we live. For those who live in societies and countries characterized by consumerism and materialistic values, ways to live in harmony with creation will differ from those who live in societies and countries where the basic essentials to live a dignified human life hardly exist.
Questions for Reflection:
Towards a Christian Environmental Ethic
Important elements of an ethic of solidarity include:
Any suitable environmental ethic will integrate strategies for economic development with those of ecological balance.
Recognising the other as an independent and valued entity I must modify my behaviour so as to manifest respect for this other. The reduction of all non-human creation to a status as being of instrumental value only has lead to massive environmental degradation. The vision of scripiture, St Francis, Hildegard of Bingen and many other mystics suggests that creation has an independent moral dimension, loved into existence by God.
The wellbeing of the oceans, forests, the atmosphere, animals, fisheries and plant species is now a concern beyond just nation states and their governments. Environmental issues oblige us to redefine the common good in global terms. When we consume our resources faster than they can be replaced, or exhaust non-renewable resources without concern for the needs of future generations we are robbing their capital. Leonardo Boff talks about humanity as the conscience of the earth. This sort of reflection goes a long way in helping us re-evaluate the inter-connectedness of all creation. While the human person has a unique place and role in the overall plan of god for the universe, a person cannot exist for long without healthy relationships with his/her surroundings. The human person needs creation to survive, while creation does not need the human person.
It is necessary today to develop structures capable of protecting the global environment. This means developing and supporting international institutions such as the United Nations and international agreements like the Kyoto Protocol.
What can we do NOW?
Real ecological integrity will only be achieved with concerted effort on behalf of all.
The “environmental crisis” is essentially a crisis of values. We need a shift in attitude to see the world differently. Apart from changes we can make to our lifestyle on a daily basis, it is important that we work for policy changes at national and international levels. This involves a call to ecological conversion, (cf, Pope John Paul II, 17 January 2001) to deepen our understanding of climate change and ecological issues. Education is needed to alert people not only to the circumstances which threaten the planet, but also to the mystery which underlines its very existence.
So what, can religious do? Here are some ideas:
Personally and Communally, we can…practice the three “R’s”!
For Reflection and Prayer
After you have read this simple booklet we suggest that you gather in community or with friends for reflection and communal prayer
Arrange a simple center for your prayer….a bowl of water, candle, some earth
Call to prayer:
"Care for the environment is ultimately a call to respect all of creation and to assure that human activity, while transforming the earth, does not destroy the dynamic balance which exists among all living things that depend on land, air and water for their very existence. The environmental issue has become central to social, economic and political thought precisely because of the growing degradation, which often strikes in a particularly severe way the poorer sectors of society. The risk of climate change and the growing number of natural disasters call into question the present course of modern society. The ever-growing gap between rich and poor cannot leave anyone indifferent, nor can the over-use of the resources of the earth and accelerating species loss.” Cardinal Francois Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan, Pres. Pontifical Council forJustice and Peace.
Pray together Psalm. 148 (vs. 1-10)
Moment of silence to reflect on the following questions:
Call to Action:
What concrete actions will you take to respond to your concern about global warming?
For information and to gain a deeper understanding of the issues, and what you can do:
A selection of web sites and other resources (many are multi-lingual)
Resources in different languages
Scripture and Church Documents
Church Documents on Ecology
World Peace Day Message of John Paul II (1January 1990): Peace with God the Creator, peace with all Creation
Observance Dates on Ecology and Environment