Talk by Archbishop Dermot Farrell at PARISHES CARING FOR CREATION, the Archdiocese of Dublin’s Laudato Si’ conference
Crowne Plaza Hotel, Blanchardstown, Friday, November 24, 2023
The fight against climate change is moving at a snail’s pace on a global scale.
Eight years after the Paris Climate Agreement to keep the order of temperature increases below 1.5°C has been honoured in the breach rather than the observance.
The last G20 summit in India showed how difficult it is for emerging countries to consider changing their growth model. Laudato Si’ and Laudate Deum illustrate the possibilities of adding a moral voice to a compelling global crisis.
COP28 will be held in early December in Dubai, the heart of a region whose economic model depends on hydrocarbon production. Despite the increasingly obvious effects of rising global temperatures, most political leaders and multinational corporations seem to be going about their business without changing their priorities. Will the strategists taking part in the Conference be capable of considering the common good and the future of their children, more than short term interests of certain countries or businesses? (see Laudate Deum par 60). There is an urgent need both for dialogue between politics and economics (LS, 189), and action because ‘the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point’ (Laudate Deum, 2). As Pope Francis states: Our politicians must act in accord with the dignity of the human person and our inter-connectedness with the natural world – we are part of nature and can look from within nature (see LD, 25).
Isn’t the inertia of the political system also ours? Because of the lack of passion on the part of the majority of our citizens, politicians will not act with boldness to propose solutions to deal with the issues confronting our common home. Today, I lament the lack of idealism among the Irish. Unlike us, Pope Francis knows how to dream in way that transcends expediency, efficiency and profit. For us, the stakes have never been higher.
We put forward countless reasons for not firmly committing ourselves to a rapid transformation. The task seems too vast; the direction to follow, too vague; the costs, too daunting; the solutions, too contradictory. Unfortunately, politics does not always provide clarity or direction.
It is important that the voice of the Catholic Church and the prophetic message of the encyclical Laudato Si’ and the Apostolic Exhortation, Laudate Deum—which renews and extends Laudato Si’—are heard in regard to our planet, our common home. As Christians, we can ask: what is the role of faith as we face the climate crisis? Catholic teaching on care for creation is quite clear, predating the papacy of either Francis or Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI advocated for the care of creation: “The Church has a responsibility toward creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect humanity from self-destruction” (Caritas in veritate, 51). Laudato Si’ was the first time a pope had devoted an entire encyclical to the relationship between Christian faith and environmental ethics.
Laudato Si’ comes from a man who has no interest in it except the common good. This upset many people who wanted Pope Francis to be partisan. We often ask, what is in it for me? The pen is mightier than the sword. Pope Francis has the freedom and the idealism to challenge us in a spirit-filled encyclical that has borne great fruit.
If one focuses on the climate and the environment, it raises serious concerns. We see wide-ranging pollution: water, air, land, melting glaciers, shrinking polar ice caps, rising sea levels, the disappearance of many animal species compromising the food chain. These phenomena are in varying degrees connected with the increase of certain types of diseases, with particular economic repercussions such as those affecting agriculture and fishing, with the scarcity of raw materials, with the rising cost of energy, with the problems of finding and distributing food for a population that is now approaching seven billion.
Moreover, the great human movements from the eastern and southern areas of the world toward Europe and North America give rise to problems associated with the difficult clash of cultures, ethnic groups and religions that are not used to coexisting. As far as Europe is concerned, its values, cultural and demographic crises are well known.
The cry of the poor and the cry of the earth go hand in hand. A core truth in this regard is that there will be no solution to the climate crisis without facing up to our obligations to our vulnerable and marginalised sisters and brothers whom the West has left behind. The ‘inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace’ (Laudato Si’, 10) is the true foundation of the way out of this crisis, which is in fact the way to life. Our future – and the future of the planet – depends on facing up to our responsibility both globally and locally.
As believers we have to ask: where will we find the resources for our commitment to the created world? How will we sustain our action for the benefit of the earth and the living things that inhabit it? As we know, the calls to take climate change seriously has placed the emphasis primarily on motives of fear, guilt and threat. This is less than helpful, since our faith is founded on the One who came to take fear away: “perfect love drives out fear”, as is says in the First Letter of St John (4:18). Since this world in all its beauty, complexity and tragedy is a gift of God, would it not be better to support positively a personal commitment to change and inclusion, and which sees the interrelatedness of all.
The Abstraction of Figures
In their abstraction, figures do not speak: “200,000 tons of plastic dumped every year in the Mediterranean, what does it mean?” One out of every five glasses of water we drink comes from the “evapotranspiration” of the great trees of the Amazon. The oceans have risen by 10 cm in the last ten years. Reports alone with not mitigate the climate crisis.
The Climate is a Human and Social Problem
What is important today is something else: The challenge is to get everyone back into contact with living beings. This crisis comes from people and effects people’s lives. In the words of Laudate Deum, “let us finally admit that it is a human and social problem on any number of levels. For this reason, it calls for the involvement on the part of all” (par 58). There is no shortage of solutions. What we lack is the political will to address the crisis. Moreover, climate change has failed to penetrate the moral imagination of Catholics. As Francis says; “Let us stop thinking, then, of human beings as autonomous, omnipotent and limitless, and begin to think of ourselves differently, in a humbler but more fruitful way” (LD par 68) We need a culture of care.
- a sense of gratitude and wonder for the gift of creation
- a sensitivity towards and a commitment to the vulnerable
- Active investment in people and the environment
- A sense of finitude and limit
Something more is needed. “Without vision, the people perish” said one of the prophets of Israel over 2,500 years ago. A change of heart and values are also required to motivate behavioural change. Bringing about change within the climate emergency is a slow process and requires not only short-term solutions but long-term planning and vision. We owe this to the generation coming after us.
Rediscovery of a Bond of Empathy
The current crisis calls us to rediscover a bond of empathy with other living species, plants and animals, in the space and time of the “landscape,” extended to the entire planet. It is easy to fall into “negative attitudes such as indifference, resignation and denial … that certainly do not foster a process in which sincere and productive dialogue, solidarity and creativity are so necessary for the construction of the present and future of our planet.”
“The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creatures outside’” (LS 233). If “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” as Hopkins writes, it is so “in ten thousand places.” What the poet sings of is the grace of this kingfisher, of this dragonfly, of this stone that rings in the well. The astonishment at the diversity of species is prolonged by the “conversion” to the particularity of the beings in each species, the living being first of all, this living being, offered to arouse my gratitude.
If there is to be an ecological transition, there is a need for the entire planet to abandon fossil fuels and transform lifestyles to make them compatible with ecological constraints.
Developing a sustainable economy is part of the change of mentality that must take place in order to save the planet from environmental destruction. Pope Francis expresses the hope that this energy transition meets three conditions: be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. In order to begin a new process of energy transition, away from fossil fuels, Pope Francis advocates “that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all’ (LD, 59).”
The unity of the planet and our connection to the earth.
There is a need to revive our empathy with the living things of this Earth. Only such empathy can reinvigorate our ecological commitment, giving it, so to speak, sap and breath. This conversion, involving ecology, is also religious.
For those who live by faith in the Creator God, our response must include a properly spiritual dimension. God’s work of creation cannot be merely the backdrop for a human stage; it is the environment in which God has placed us, living among the living. To Job, God posed the question, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” (Job 38:4). To people today, he asks, “Where are you in the Land of the Living?”
Manifestations of the divine–the changing of the seasons, the succession of day and night, the variations of light and meteorological weather–open our eyes: endangering the diversity of species also means compromising our access to God, whose mystery is revealed “in ten thousand places.” To encounter him in the “Land of the Living” is to decide in favour of the earth and the living beings. God the Creator will reveal himself in them.
If temperature increases of the order of +3°, or more, in such a world, almost all of the tropics would become uninhabitable because of peak heat and humidity, which would mean hundreds of millions of climate refugees and countless deaths. Clearly, such a scenario is not an option. However, if we want to move as little as possible beyond the +2°C global average temperature increase ceiling agreed to by the United Nations in 2015, we must also reduce our ecological footprint. In 1970, a human being “consumed” an average of 7.7 tons of matter per year; today he or she consumes 12.2 tons: a U.S. citizen 27 tons; a Chadian 2. Now, some simple calculating suggests that the ecological footprint of a human being compatible with limited warming at +2°C should be about 6 tons per person per year. We must therefore be very thrifty, not only in fossil hydrocarbons, but also in metals and, more generally, in materials. We need to move away from programmed obsolescence encouraged in quarters; instead move to easy to repair, easy to recycle, with as few electronic components as possible.
The preferential option for the poor
Becoming sensitive to the “cry of the poor” puts us in a position to listen to the cry of “sister earth” (LS 1). Francis insists on the relationship between caring for the environment and caring for the poor (cf. LS 49), and he returns to it again and more insistently in the post-synodal exhortation Querida Amazonia (QA 52), as well as in the catechesis “Healing the World” of August and September 2020. The connection between the poor and the environment makes it possible to highlight how the future of all humanity is intimately linked to that of the environment, so that protecting the interests of the weakest coincides with safeguarding creation. As Pope Francis proclaims repeatedly in Laudato Si’ and Lautate Deum, “everything is connected” (LS 16; 91; 117; 138; 240). “No one is saved alone. (LD 19).