Father Colin Tan, SJ
St Augustine of Hippo once said: “Hope has two beautiful daughters; their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are, and Courage to see that they do not remain as they are.”
The most difficult thing to change in life is change itself. Human life – like most things – be they relationships, investments, art, Religious life or family thrives best when there is stability and certainty. To say that the world is going through a consequential period of uncertainty and change is to understate the obvious global climate crisis we are in. But often, we fall into inertia and ineptitude and life goes on as if nothing catastrophic has happened.
We have read reports of countries experiencing record-breaking temperatures last year from Europe, United States to Australia and even Singapore. Global temperatures have risen by 1.1 degrees over the pre-industrial records, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO).
Gavin Schmidt, a director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, advocates systemic change in everyone who is concerned about the fate of our world.
“If everyone who already cared about climate change, reduced their carbon emissions to zero, it doesn’t actually change very much,” he said, adding that “making your home energy efficient is nothing compared to laws that would require all buildings to be greener.”
This does not mean that we do nothing. I can be angry with those who are responsible and do nothing. But I can choose to take the next step to have the courage to do something.
But what can I do to make a difference? Perhaps, there are three areas of change (the 3 Cs) that we can look at based on the principles of the Laudato Si encyclical, issued in 2015 by Pope Francis.
The first “C’ is choice. We can choose to be a Green Warrior. God calls everyone to respond to His plan and mission to build this world according to His vision that He has created. Indeed, we know that God calls us to respond at momentous tipping points in our salvation history to be His good warriors to battle evil. Each one of us has to respond to this invitation to be a Green Warrior to protect God’s creation. The choice we make can change the course of events in our lives.
The second “C” is conversion of lifestyle. Firstly, I examine my lifestyle and see how I am contributing to the wastage of resources and use of energy each day from the time I get up till I sleep. How many plastic cups, containers, spoons, bags do I use and throw away? This is where we have to make a conscious choice to do what it takes to reduce, to re-use, to re-cycle and to re-think how I can help not to pollute the environment. Perhaps, we can do the Ecological Consciousness Examen in this regard to be more aware and attend to the cry of Mother Earth. In the sacred space of “Laudato Si”, there is no room for selfishness or indifference. One cannot try to care for the rest of nature “if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings” (Laudato Si, #91).
The third “C” is connection with the global community. My sense of belonging to the human race is that I am called to respect life and not exploit other human beings and creation. Unfortunately, many of our decisions, particularly about production and consumption, have an inevitable effect on the environment. The shoes, clothes, fashionable bags that I wear and use, have a long process of extraction, production and pollution in terms of the raw materials, the colourings, the fabric, the chemicals and waste products produced. Indeed by the time it has reached me at the consumer end of the production, it would have done a lot of harm to our environment already.
Pope Francis has rightly linked this “magical conception of the market,” which privileges profit over the impact on the poor, with the abuse of the environment (Laudato Si, #190). Needless to say, the blind pursuit of money that sets aside the interests of the marginalised and leads to the ruination of the planet are connected.
Do I indeed have the courage to see that the climate crisis and environmental disruption and destruction do not have to remain as they are? To say “Yes,” is to believe that I have the responsibility and power to effect change and to change now to care for our common home and not just be paralysed by anger.
How can we as a Church community respond to this calling? Can all Catholic Churches start a green movement where there is none? What steps can we take to better value the gifts of the earth – land, water, bio-diversity and reject the throwaway culture that is causing our home, to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
Pope Francis encourages “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, showing care for other living beings, using public transport, planting trees, or any number of other practices”, as concrete ways to fulfil our Christian responsibility and to preserve the bounty and beauty of our world for generations to come.
Let us have the courage to create a culture of care and conservation of the beautiful world that God has entrusted to us.
Fr Colin is the parish priest of the Church of Saint Ignatius.