THE Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific group working under the auspices of the
United Nations, published its report on climate change in early August. It makes for grim reading.
The average global temperature is rising and this is having a catastrophic effect on our climate. The report is unequivocal that global warming and the effect this has on climate is caused by human actions. Natural causes such as volcanic eruptions and solar activity precipitated insignificant temperature rises (a mere .05C above the average over the last 150 years).
Human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels like coal, gas and oil to provide energy for industry and transport has resulted in an increase in average global temperature of 1.1 degree (Celsius). We are warned that action is needed to eliminate greenhouse gases before 2050 or face dire consequences if we fail to do so. We cannot allow global temperature to rise beyond a further 1.5C.
The effects of this warming in the atmosphere and on land and oceans have been evident for all to see. Media coverage throughout the summer has reported on the heavy rainfall in Germany, Holland and Belgium which caused riverbanks to burst, resulting in widespread flooding in towns and motorway and road closures. The death toll was significant with over 160 fatalities recorded.
Reports of wildfires in California, Greece, Turkey and Siberia have been a dominant feature of news items on our television screens over the summer. They are fuelled by high winds, low humidity and extremely dry conditions. In California alone, 10 wildfires have been reported resulting in the destruction of hundreds of thousands of acres of woodlands, forced evacuations of thousands of households and many deaths.
Wildfires in Greece have devasted more than 110,000 hectares. The fires “followed closely after one of the worst heatwaves in the country since the 1980s, which dried up scarce moisture and left forests primed to burn.” The Greek Prime Minister declared the fire outbreak to be “a disaster of unprecedented proportions.” It is incontrovertible that the wildfires are the result of climate change.
Eco-theologian Sean McDonagh, reflecting on the IPCC report, alerts us to the threat posed by the melting of glaciers in the Artic regions. This will cause sea levels to rise which in turn will cause flooding in coastal cities. It will also lead to the disappearance of islands in the Pacific Ocean over the next 50 years.
It is of course the developing world which suffers most from the fatal consequences of climate change. According to The Global Humanitarian Forum, climate change is responsible for over 300,000 deaths and affects over 300m people annually. It is estimated that the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 by 2030.
Our parish has developed a partnership with a parish in Kenya which is based in the village of Ishiara, located about 200 kilometres north of Nairobi. We have witnessed the devastating impact of climate change in this area.
The annual rainfall has decreased by over 20 percent since the 1970s. Rain has become less predictable and more erratic. Without steady and predictable rainfall, crops fail and people are threatened with starvation. If they cannot grow food, the people cannot feed themselves.
Our parishioners have responded by constructing a sand dam which will provide a regular supply of water throughout the year for many families.
We are currently engaged in a project to supply water pans to families which will enable them to harvest water. The parish partnership project is documented on our parish website.
However, anxiety about climate change can very easily lead to despair and feeling that any new action taken will be inconsequential as it is a global crisis.
The international fossil fuel industry has dictated energy policies in so many countries particularly the United States. We can feel so powerless in the face of such opposition when we reflect on the magnitude of the crisis. But maybe by working together we can effect some change.
Christians – Catholic Christians – in particular, have the parish structure. Recently, Sean McDonagh, writing for the Association of Catholic Priests, has called on every parish to set up a climate change committee and to work with other Christian Churches to address this critical issue of our time.
He believes that “such a context of support at local and national level will make it possible for people to implement the radical changes in our lifestyle which are demanded by the IPCC report.” He warns that the time to achieve this is very short.
Actions such as physically decarbonising a parish or school, or generating electricity from solar energy on the roofs of churches can have a positive impact and also raise awareness of the seriousness of the crisis.
Parishes will feel supported by Pope Francis who, in his outstanding encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, has given prophetic leadership on this vital issue, insisting that all Christians have responsibility to care for our common home. Climate change is now a central feature of Catholic social teaching.
Parish groups could collaborate to lobby local TDs and Councillors to ensure that the targets set out in the Climate Action and Low Carbon Development Bill are being met; – for example, to achieve by 2050 the transition to a climate neutral economy and by 2030, to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
We owe it to future generations to bequeath a sustainable, climate-resilient, environment, no longer threatened by extinction because of human greed.
We must believe that our actions can bear fruit, and that we can ensure that the catastrophic consequences of climate change can be avoided by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adopting a more environmental-friendly lifestyle.