Concerned people, scientists and Church join forces against climate change

Over 300,000 people rallied in New York on Sept 21, ahead of a United Nations climate change summit two days later. Dozens of other cities around the world held solidarity marches urging world leaders to do more to arrest climate change.

Sep 25, 2014

Anil Netto

By Anil Netto
Over 300,000 people rallied in New York on Sept 21, ahead of a United Nations climate change summit two days later. Dozens of other cities around the world held solidarity marches urging world leaders to do more to arrest climate change.

Christians were among the many grassroots groups that participated in the march in New York City, with some groups using the symbol of a specially constructed giant ark on a float to make their point — a reminder of God’s covenant to Noah after a great flood.

But it is not a one-sided covenant; we too have to do our part and treat Nature reverently and see it as a sacred gift from God, not something to be raped, abused and exploited in the name of ‘economic growth’ for the sake of growth.

We have to do something — and do it fast.

But while we reuse, reduce and recycle, we also need to get our analysis right. Otherwise the solutions we come up with might not be the most effective ones.

Could the very problem be our economic model which promotes unlimited economic growth and removes fossil fuels from below the ground and then transmits it into the air? Shouldn’t we be promoting economic justice rather than be fooled by impressive GDP growth rates that require us to constantly deplete natural resources, extract minerals from the ground, chop our forests and hills and pollute the air, rivers and sea?

What do we mean by economic growth? Are we talking solely in material terms —such as expanding our industrial sector, our ports, the number of cars on the road? Why are we obsessed with that form of growth?

What about expanding the capacity of our people to think through improvements in education? What about empowering our people to care for one another by improving our public health care system as well as by looking into natural health — teaching people about natural nutrition and steps to prevent illness. What about major improvements in public transport across the nation? What about expanding creativity by promoting the arts and by teaching music, especially to those who wouldn’t be able to afford expensive music lessons?

So the key question is, how do we benchmark our achievements: by a narrow definition of economic growth (which ignores environmental devastation) or by a more inclusive and holistic view of the economy, which sees human activity as an integral part of the biosphere?

Perhaps the answer lies deeper, in our economic model itself. Author Naomi Klein says we have to “break the taboo” of not speaking of capitalism — which some believe to be a ‘religion’ that cannot be questioned — in the same breath as climate change.
“I put the connection between capitalism and climate change up front because the fact that the life support systems of the planet are being destabilised is telling us that there is something fundamentally wrong with our economic system,” said Klein.

“What our economy needs to function in a capitalist system is continuous growth and continuous depletion of resources, including finite resources. What our planet needs in order to avoid catastrophic warming and other dangerous tipping points is for humans to contract our use of material resources.”

If we don’t question the underlying assumptions behind the global economic model and how it contributes towards climate change, we will forever be coming up with piecemeal solutions that don’t tackle the central issue of how it is driving climate change.

We have often heard it said that change begins with me and my own decisions, my carbon footprint, whether or not I use the air-conditioning excessively or drive a car instead of using public transport.

Of course, personal choices can make a big difference, and we are responsible for the choices we make.

But, if we are not careful, such a mindset could also let off the government and large corporations.

The government has a major role to play in ensuring that the environmental impact assessments for large corporate projects are truly independent and not prepared by consultants who are paid by the developers or corporations themselves. They also have to rein in the large corporations that are plundering the planet, unlocking the carbon under the ground and releasing it into the air. The government should also be looking at renewable energy — not nuclear energy — and more importantly, reassessing the central assumptions behind our economic model to ensure they are sustainable.

Meanwhile, sections of the global scientific community have found a new and unlikely ally, the Church, under the stewardship of the Bishop of Rome, Francis, who takes his name after the 13th century patron of the environment known for his simple lifestyle in harmony with Nature. The modern-day Francis is finalising a major new encyclical on the environment. (Francis has come a long way from Assisi to Rome!)

The world’s leading journal of original scientific research and commentary, Science, in an editorial, noted that “prompted by a joint workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences on sustainability in May 2014, the Vatican has articulated some of its strongest environmental statements to date.”

The Church, it said, has the “moral leadership” and the global organisational structures to influence “all of us to take personal responsibility and redirect our relationship with nature to ensure the future habitability and sustainability of this planet.”

“The problems that motivate the Vatican are no different from those that concern the scientific community: depletion of non-renewable resources, loss of ecosystem services, and risks from changing climate.”

It is time for us to join in the action to stop climate change for the common good of all who inhabit this planet.

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