“In a higher world it may be otherwise, but, here below, to live is to change and to be perfect, is to have changed often.” St. John Henry Newman (1801-1890)
“The way we treat the environment is a reflection on how we treat other people.” Pope Paul VI (1897-1978)
In part one of my article on global climate change, I spoke about the humongous effects of global climate change on the environment. Now, I reflect on some reasons for hope in the future.
Most of my comments deal with the ideas espoused by Pope Francis I in his letter to the entire world titled “Laudato Si” (“Praise be”), the first two words of The Canticle of the Sun written by St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226).
Global climate change looms large as the greatest threat to the survival of planet Earth. Some commentators, like my friend, Carl Gagliano, feel that global climate change will inexorably take over and devastate the Earth, despite our best efforts to minimize its damage. I take a more hopeful tack. In many passages of the Hebrew Scriptures, Adonai (or God) said, in effect, to Israel, his chosen people, “I am and will be with you.” Just as the earth experienced a terrible flood during the time of Noah, I would argue that God won’t allow such devastation to happen again. However, humanity must work in unison to ameliorate the damage caused by global climate change. Each of us must have what Pope Francis calls an “ecological conversion.”
In the words of Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, ecological conversion involves replacing “consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing,” thus focusing on what God’s world needs, rather than what I as an individual desire. (See Lecture at the Monastery of Utstein, Norway, June 23, 2003). Each of us must fess up to the small ecological damage we have caused in various ways, such as, failing to recycle paper, using herbicides, throwing away food by filling our plates too high, taking 20-minute showers, and the like. As individuals and as a community we must drastically change our lifestyles, our eating habits, and our models of consumption and production.
As members of the human race, we are one people living together in a common home — planet Earth. We’re all sisters and brothers since “we have God as our common Father.” (Laudato Si p. 147). In a thoroughly interdependent and globalized world, solutions to counter global climate change cannot be made by one country alone. Rather, the countries of the world must transcend their differences and formulate a global action plan to oppose a common enemy, namely, global warming. In this connection, I fear that the fires now raging in California may be harbingers of a planetary fire age. How many disasters must we have before the world realizes that it needs to come together to fight global climate change?
Instead of putting trillions of dollars into an arms race, (including building more nuclear bombs that would devastate the planet) by the U.S., Russia, and other countries, wouldn’t it make more sense to put the money into helping poor countries and our own in taking steps to lessen the effects of global climate change?
Here are some reasons why we should have hope for the future of our planet:
(1) Today’s youth feels let down by today’s world leaders. The Swedish activist, Greta Thunberg, excoriated world leaders at the United Nations for their passivity in dealing with climate change in September. She accused them of caring more about money than people around the world suffering on account of climate change. She stated to the world’s leaders, “You are failing us but young people are starting to understand your betrayal.” At the World Economic Forum, Greta minced no words in telling world leaders, “I don’t want you to be hopeful, I want you to panic,” in the face of climate change. Finally, as she marched in New York City at the Global Climate Strike, Greta told the crowd, “This is an emergency. Our house is on fire.”
(2) Pope Francis notes that the ecological crisis should be seen as a call for humanity to undergo a spiritual and ecological conversion. A spiritual conversion can push a person to live simply, motivating us to see God in others, without regard to their ethnicity, religion, political inclination, and the like. Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament exhort us to live simply and to appreciate small things like an infant’s smile. I hold the view that a person is rich in proportion to what they can do without. To have a fulfilling life, one must have inner peace that comes from living a life of prayer, meditation and reflection. As Buddhism teaches, we need to live in the moment, because past is past and cannot be retrieved, and the future has not yet come.
(3) Black Rock Inc., one of the biggest money managers, presses companies to consider how climate change affects their businesses. In recent years, sustainable investing funds have over 9 trillion dollars in assets under management. A big investment company like Blue Harbour Group suggest that companies focus on environmental issues such as global climate change. It’s a hopeful sign for the future when Wall Street starts doing the right thing to save our planet, yet more work needs to be done.
Limitations of space make it impossible to address all of these issues about hope for the future in one article. Finally, I would say if you want to start a revolution in taking action against climate change, begin with yourself.
Richard Penaskovic is an emeritus professor at Auburn University, who taught religious studies for 30 years.