By Bishop William Crean, Bishop of Cloyne and Chair of Trócaire
One of the hallmarks of Pope Francis’s Papacy has been his ability to cross religious boundaries.
Whether commenting on inequality or meeting with groups often excluded from society, his words and actions have resonated meaningfully with believers and non-believers alike.
Pope Francis has focused much attention on issues that are universal to us all and has sought to inspire and offer leadership.
Environmental care is one such universal issue. His recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, which addressed environmental degradation and the dangers of climate change, was addressed “to every person living on this planet”.
This was a very deliberate move to highlight the fact that the issues covered in the encyclical – in essence, how human greed threatens to destroy the planet on which we live – are fundamental to us all.
The Earth is our shared inheritance. Protecting the Earth is not the duty of any one group. Environmentalism is no longer an issue for environmentalists – it is the rallying cry for anybody who cares about justice, equality and the long-term prospects of life on this planet.
The Christian faith tells us that the Earth was created for the benefit of everyone and that our duty is to pass it to the next generation in good health. We are caretakers of the Earth.
Christian concern over environmental degradation is therefore twofold: firstly, it is evident that the Earth’s condition is worsening and that we are failing future generations; secondly, this degradation is benefitting a minority of people and punishing the great majority, thus the fruits of our planet are not being used equally.
How can we, as Christians, respond to this challenge? Pope Francis challenges us, first and foremost, to examine our own lives, to live differently so that our planet is not harmed and to ensure that any ecological solution is based on social justice which takes into account the rights of the poor and underprivileged. He also urges us to engage politically with the decisions that affect us all to make our voices heard.
On November 30th, political leaders from around the world will gather in Paris to debate a response to a climate crisis that is already impacting on tens of millions of people across Africa, Asia and Latin America who are suffering food shortages due to drought, with many more vulnerable to extreme weather in the form of typhoons, storms and flooding. Rising temperatures are playing havoc with our climate, affecting people all over the world.
Pope Francis draws our attention to the irreparable impact of unrestrained climate change in many developing countries, where people are both more vulnerable to weather extremes and less able to cope with them. There is now agreement amongst all but a tiny minority that this is real, man-made and urgent. We now need political will to take action that will limit global temperature increases.
We need a political breakthrough in Paris next week to begin addressing this injustice. It is essential that the negotiations result in an enforceable agreement that protects our common home and all its inhabitants. An agreement must put the common good ahead of narrow short-term national interests. After all, in the end, the common good is in the interest of everyone.
Rooted in ethics and morals, this agreement should be based on a vision of the world that recognises the need to live in harmony with nature and human solidarity to guarantee the fulfillment of human rights for all.
We must decarbonise our society by mid-century in order to protect vulnerable people, including future generations whether they are at risk of flooding in Cork or hunger in Malawi.
This is not an easy task but it is an urgent one. It will involve developing new models of development and lifestyles that are climate compatible. Central to this is putting to an end the fossil fuel era. We must phase out our reliance on oil and coal, and we must do this by the middle of this century.
We have a moral obligation to rise to this challenge. We must ensure that future generations do not pay a terrible price for our failure to protect this planet.
Ireland must play its role in ensuring the Paris Summit produces a legally-binding global agreement, with ambitious mitigation commitments and actions from all countries recognising their common, but differentiated, responsibilities and respective capabilities, based on equity principles, historical responsibilities, and the right to sustainable development.
On Sunday, November 29th, on the eve of the Paris Summit, people will gather in Belfast, Cork and Dublin to make their voices – and the voices of those without a voice in this important debate - heard on this issue.
They will come from a wide range of organisations, backgrounds and beliefs, but they will stand together to say that this is a rallying cry we all must answer.
We must reject the language of ‘us’ and ‘them’. We are one human family. This is our one shared home and we are all responsible for keeping it safe.
A shorter version of this article was published in the Rite and Reason column in the Irish Times on Tuesday 24 November 2015.