How well are we Caring for Our Common Home?
by Brother Peter Roddy. November 2018

Over the past few months we have been hearing many stories in the media around climate change and the concerns for the future unless we take some drastic action NOW.   We are being reminded that we are the first generation to fully understand climate change and the last generation to be able to do something about it. Of course this is of particular relevance to us as Franciscans because our father St. Francis of Assisi is the first among environmentalists.  Francis saw all as sacred and treated all of creation as sacred.

As I sit down to write this piece at the end of November, in the background I hear a woman on the radio complaining of having spent over €6,500 for a trip with her grandchildren to Lapland but now there is no snow! She is wondering if she is eligible for refund! Clearly a first world problem, but no snow in Lapland in yet another indication of the impact of climate change on our planet.  The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC just concluded (October 2018) reminds us there is no hiding or denying it anymore. We are, through our carbon-emitting actions, changing and damaging our Earth. We have, according to this report, just 12 years left to limit the catastrophe by keeping the average global post-industrial temperature increase to 1.5C. But to achieve this would require existing commitments to be “increased around fivefold”. (UNEP emissions gap report 2018)  Even half a degree beyond this level will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. We have plundered our planet almost to the point of no return and to get things back on track we must take drastic measures.

We are not just becoming aware of this crises in 2018. It was this that prompted Pope Francis in June 2015 to release Laudato Si’his encyclical on “care for our common home” or how we as humans are in relationship with our environment. He is addressing “every person living on this planet” and appealing directly to everyone, “to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (LS 3).

“LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – All praise be you, my Lord – the words of the much loved Canticle of Creatures of Francis of Assisi.  Pope Francis chose this title because he sees St. Francis as the “example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically” (LS 10). Francis of Assisi speaks of everything as Brother and Sister with whom we share all of creation.   “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”. In LS 77 Pope Francis writes: “even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection”  ….. and “The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God” (LS 84) Can you get any more Franciscan than that?  As Christians, especially, we come out of a belief (Genesis 1) that our needs (and wants) as humans are at the centre of everything and that all creation is there to be exploited for our own profit and gain. We live in a world where individual desires collide with the collective good.

In Laudato Si’ Pope Francis says: “ In God’s loving plan, every creature has its own value and significance” (LS 76) We are now being challenged to see all of nature as a gift of the Creator that should be protected and respected because of its own intrinsic value and not simply so that it used and exploited by us humans. Pope Francis is aware of the disconnect that exists in our world and that care for one another and creation includes understanding that “everything is connected” and that environmental issues are inseparable from social and economic concerns. “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. …….. It is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society”. (LS  91)

As our Brothers in East Africa witness first hand – it is the people who have done least to cause climate change that are being the worst affected. All of the countries in that region and throughout much of our so called ‘third world’ are disproportionately impacted by Climate Change. As a result of excessive use of natural resources by wealthy nations, the poorest experience pollution, drought and hunger.

We in Ireland have nothing to cheer about in this regard. Our Taoiseach (Prime Minister), speaking in the European Parliament early this year referred to Ireland as being “a laggard” in relation to climate change. Our country has been singled out as the worst performing country in Europe for taking concrete action to tackle climate change and continues to seek exemption from meeting targets. (Irish Media Reports)  On average, we are individually responsible for 17.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. The figure for Zambia is one tonne and for Malawi it’s 0.7 tonnes!  We have much to do here.

Laudato Si contains something for everyone. As mentioned at the outset, it appeals directly to each of us: “to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (LS3). The choices we all make as individuals affect the levels of pollution in the air we breathe which have an impact on people’s health and life expectancy. What are some of the practical things we can do?

  • Reduce, reuse, recycle … (which bin is fuller – the one for recycling or the one destined for landfill?)
  • Don’t buy into the ‘single-use’ mentality (coffee cups, plastic bags ..)
  • Turn off appliances you aren’t using at the wall
  • Walk more, cycle, or use public transport (and fly less!)
  • Buy locally sourced and seasonal food, (without all the plastic wrapping)
  • Turn the thermostat down a notch or two
  • Examine your own carbon footprint – (Lots of calculators on the WWW for this) – you might be in for a surprise!
  • And the most challenging – Listen to the cries of the earth and the cries of the poor that you hear, see and read about daily and consider what one thing you can do in response! “There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions.”— (LS 211)

“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children” (Wendell Berry?)  What will you say to your children and your grandchildren (grandnieces/nephews..) when they ask what you did in the war against climate change?

May we be inspired to work harder and more creatively in bringing the Good News of the Gospel to all of creation through the inspiration of Laudato Si’.