In the frame of the WYD held in Rio de Janeiro last July, Duarte Costa, scientist from the University of Exeter in the UK, expert in climate change, wrote about this important issue, highlighting the idea of a necessary culture change to face the consequences of the climate change.
In the last decade, the interest in building a greater understanding of climate change and in finding ways to respond to it has dramatically increased beyond the scientific community. The environmental severity and socio-political significance of this problem are important reasons behind the growing relevance of the climate agenda. Nonetheless, the uncertainty intrinsically associated with both the nature of the phenomenon and with the limitations in computational power, that has made the climate change topic a highly debatable one across communities and countries. But in all this group of discussions are necessarily another one, the discussion of evangelization and culture change as a response and solution for our current human and natural problems.
Despite, we do not know exactly causes of the climate change, if this is result of greenhouse gas emissions from human sources or whether if it is a matter of natural variability of the system, I think that is important to distinguish climate change and climate variability. While climate variability is the normal oscillation of the system components and is responsible for different variability mechanisms at timescales ranging from years to centuries, climate change is the change in climate variability. In other words, while climate variability is responsible for the succession of weather conditions and its seasons and extreme events; climate change is the underpinning shift in the paradigm where the system finds its balance.
The threat of climate change is precisely the fact that in the process of finding a new balance the climate system will drive most of the planet’s environmental systems to a less manageable and resourceful life support for human prosperity.
The core consequences of climate change for Latin America could be materialized in socio-ecological impacts ranging from loss of glaciers in Andes, mangroves, coral reefs, biodiversity, deforestation and sea-level rise in coastal areas and change in frequency of extreme events. These environmental changes, far from solely disturbing the environmental equilibrium of nature and causing the loss of valuable resources, they necessarily have fundamental implications for human lifestyles and development, as humanity is intrinsically dependent on the environment. This evidence of a changing environment led by a changing climate that affects the optimal balance for human prosperity, should also contribute to demonstrate that the human race is an intrinsic part of the created natural world, thereby affecting and being affected by it.
The Church, God’s assembly celebrating and witnessing His love, is also the place and the agent to contribute not only in helping the afflicted and affected by climate change but also in promoting this conscience that God created the Earth for humankind as well as men and women for the Earth too. We are intrinsically related with our planet by God’s willed creation and thus our collective and individual actions can naturally have an influence in the created world, whether if at the local, regional or global scale.
Climate change is from its utmost root a unique environmental challenge, inasmuch as it is an Earth-scale problem with a human origin which has critical consequences for human prosperity, albeit the two – cause and consequence – having very different geographic and socioeconomic features. One other particularity of the phenomenon is that it is not simply a result of bad governance distant from most individuals’ lives, but rather it is dependent on our daily lifestyles, especially in our ways of producing and consuming goods and services. In fact, at the centre of such problem ais the difference in lifestyles and options between individuals, communities and countries.
The Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI explains in his encyclical letter Caritas in Veritate how the rise of our current environmental problems is actually resulting from a deeper cultural problem whereby the human being and its actions are disconnected from the natural environment and not seen as an integral part of the created world:
Truly, when the human being is set in its environment, fully understanding its role and, through faith its purpose and relation with the rest of Creation, he and she are more capable to protect and care for the environment, in whose balance its prosperity depends upon. The very recent encyclical letter of Pope Francis (with Pope Benedict’s collaboration) provides a good insight into how faith, can be a light in this need of caring for the natural created world.
The solution proposed for such a problem of global charity and justice is the transformation of the current global culture in bringing the Truth and the Love that only God can provide (Caritas in Veritate c.52) to help mankind understand their place in creation. Ultimately, if the world lives and loves God more closely, elevating thereby the full dignity of human life, it is a natural and subsequent result that the ecological life-support which we depend upon will too be elevated, cared for and bequeathed in good conditions to future generations.
The question that Catholics are now facing is: If the world provoked a change in the climate as a result of an unsustainable, unjust and inequitable way of life, what can we do now as Catholics to change this?