Ecological protection fits well with core Catholic values

December 15, 2009
Irish Times

RITE & REASON: THE LIKELIHOOD of a climate change deal at Copenhagen is, unfortunately, receding mainly because neither the US nor China is willing to make the required cuts. While President Barack Obama has agreed to attend, the US offer to reduce carbon emissions by 17 per cent on 2005 figures by 2020 is derisory, writes Fr Sean McDonagh.  

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao promised China would reduce its carbon intensity by 45 per cent by 2020. All that this means is that China’s carbon emission will not grow as fast as the economy.

Unless the US and China agree to cut emissions significantly, the goal of keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees will not be achieved. Achim Steiner, of the UN Environment Programme, has said the costs to humanity and the planet of failing to reach an agreement at Copenhagen would be “extremely high”. In a letter to The Times, 11-year-old Joseph Baverstock-Poppy put it more graphically and poignantly: “I am 11 years old and when I am 31 my house will probably be flooded and the quality of my life ruined . . . Politicians must achieve something in Copenhagen that works and helps my generation – the future. We all need to do something now before it is too late.”

UN secretary general Ban-Ki moon has pleaded with religious leaders to lobby governments to set high targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions; to contribute generously to the Adaptation Fund that was set up to help poor countries adapt to environmental changes; and to make clean technology available to poor nations.

In this light, the publication of The Cry of the Earth , the Irish bishops’ pastoral reflection on climate change, is timely. It calls on the Government to support a treaty which includes a 25-40 per cent cut in greenhouse gas emissions and the provision of money for the Adaptation Fund.

The reflections in The Cry of the Earth are grounded in solid Catholic theology. While many believers are familiar with the call to good stewardship of creation in the Bible, and especially in Genesis 2:15, many would not be aware of the rich theology of creation in Catholic belief.

In The Cry of the Earth , the bishops focus on creation as the work of the Trinity. In the Incarnation, Christians believe God entered into the material world in the person of Jesus. In preaching about the coming of the Kingdom of God, Jesus envisaged a world where peace, justice and harmony would reign. The bishops insist human wellbeing must not be achieved at the expense of plundering ecosystems. Furthermore, in the resurrection of Christ, all matter is transformed and taken up into the life of the Trinity. This is the wellspring of Christian hope in the face of the ecological crisis. But while hope is a gift, it also calls for committed action.

The bishops propose: 1. setting up groups to study the document; 2. calling Catholics to support Trócaire’s Climate Change Campaign; 3. an environmental audit of Catholic parishes; 4. joining with Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (; 5. enrolling Catholic parishes in eco-congregations (; and 6. promoting “Creation Time”. This will involve devoting the four or five Sundays each year before the feast of St Francis to celebrating the Earth as a sacred planet filled with God’s vibrant presence.

Such collaborative ministry has the potential to revitalise the Catholic Church in Ireland.

Fr Seán McDonagh is a Columban priest, author and environmental activist