A Perspective of Faith
Former Coordinator, Social Action Office
written for The
Catholic Leader, Brisbane Archdiocese, 10 June
In his Apostolic
Letter at the close of the Jubilee Year 2000, Pope John Paul
II asked this question:
And how can
we remain indifferent to the prospect of an ecological
crisis which is making vast areas of our planet uninhabitable
and hostile to humanity?
This question came
ten years after his World Day of Peace Message in 1990 in which
he made an important statement about the present ecological
crisis is a moral issue ... respect for life and for the
dignity of the human person extends also to the rest of
And, as recently
as January 2001, at a General Audience at the Vatican, the
Pope reflected that:
If we scan the
regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity
has disappointed God's expectations. Man, especially in
our time, has without hesitation devastated wooded plains
and valleys, polluted waters, disfigured the earth's habitat,
made the air unbreathable, disturbed the hydrogeological
and atmospheric systems, turned luxuriant areas into deserts
and undertaken forms of unrestrained industrialization,
degrading the "flowerbed" - to use an image from
Dante Alighieri (Paradiso, XXII, 151) - which is the earth,
our dwelling place.
We must therefore
encourage and support the "ecological conversion" which
in recent years has made humanity more sensitive to the
catastrophe to which it has been heading. Man is no longer
the Creator's "steward", but an autonomous despot,
who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop
at the edge of the abyss.
It may come as a
surprise to many that the Pope would speak about encouraging
and supporting an "ecological conversion". As recently
as this year, he has called us to reflect upon how we, as human
beings, are fulfilling God's expectations that we be good stewards
of the planet Earth, extending the respect for human life to
all creation. The Pope's most recent words have a quality of
urgency about them that challenges us to be active in turning
back from the abyss of ecological disaster.
One significant issue
facing the Earth community at this time is that of the threat
posed by the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases are a natural and vital part of keeping the
Earth warm. They form a natural blanket of gases around the
Earth's troposphere which keeps the Earth's temperatures at
the levels needed to sustain the complex web of life on the
planet. In recent times, industrialisation and increased living
standards in developed countries have contributed to what are
called "antropogenic" (human-made) greenhouse gases.
These are in addition to what is needed naturally to keep the
Earth warm. This human intervention is creating an imbalance
because these greenhouse gases are being created faster than
they can be absorbed and removed by natural processes, notably
photosynthesis and ocean surfaces. This is predicted to lead
to accelerated global warming and, with that, interference
with the global climate system.
Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), representing 2,500 scientists
from around the world, has predicted potentially disastrous
impacts - increased droughts and floods, risks to human health,
threat to bio-diversity, inundation of small island states
and other low lying countries, the melting of snow fields.
While some may benefit, the predicted negative impacts are
In 1992 at the Earth
Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the governments of the world took
the first joint step towards making a global response to stabilising
greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level
which would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference in
the global climate system. 154 nations signed the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Rio and agreed to
meet again to set specific targets. In 1997 the Kyoto Protocol
agreed to legally binding emission cuts for industrialised
nations. The rules for reducing the emissions were not resolved
and were left to another time and place. So far, two meetings
have failed to agree on global rules to implement the Kyoto
Protocol. In July this year in Bonn another attempt will be
made to secure the Kyoto Protocol and make it strong and credible.
Of course the big
setback to all this came in April with the withdrawal of the
US from global climate change negotiations. The US is the biggest
greenhouse polluter in the world and the significance of this
withdrawal cannot be underestimated. However, others have decided
to proceed with the Bonn meeting and move on without the US
- at least in the short term. This is a highly charged political
issue and it is outside the scope of this short article to
delve into this. This website includes a Briefing
Note on these issues and also provides links with other
sites that take up issues surrounding greenhouse politics and
greenhouse science - see http://sao.clriq.org.au/eco.html.
Where is Australia
in all this? To date we have been allied with the US Umbrella
Group and have not demonstrated a strong commitment to strategic
action to make the economy less carbon reliant. In the lead-up
to the Bonn meeting, we are urging the Federal Government to:
- ratify the Protocol
by 2002 and work to ensure that it is a strong and credible
- take an independent
position apart from the US and work to reverse the current
- develop a long-term
strategic approach to greenhouse gas emissions;
- develop a sense
of solidarity with the nations and peoples most likely to
be impacted negatively by changes to the global climate system.
Pope John Paul II
has spoken about and supported the need for an "ecological
conversion". One central part of this conversion is to
engage politically with some of the critical issues that are
taking us and other species to "the edge of the abyss".
This is not easy and there are no short-cuts to the solutions.
The point is to assume this task as a dimension of faith and
to pray and work with others to turn the crisis around. Let
us not disappoint God's expectations of us.
Please contact Sister
Pauline Coll sgs at the Social Action Office for more information
- phone (07) 3891 5866 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
31 May 2001
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