The Earth is our common home.Laudato Si, 1
On May 24, 2015, Pope Francis released his encyclical “Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home” in which he exhorted the Catholic faithful to come together to solve the ecological crisis that the planet faces today. Today’s lifestyle, characterized by what he calls obsessive consumerism, is leading to the destruction and degradation of our environment is not only harming the home we all share, but also having especially devastating consequences for the poorest among us.
He writes, “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming…” he adds, “They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.” (Laudato Si, 15)
“Laudato Si’, which is now part of the Church’s social teaching, is particularly relevant to us faithful here in the Philippines, since we are not only Asia’s largest Catholic community, but we are also one of the countries most dramatically affected by the environmental changes he so eloquently speaks about in this encyclical.
We can never forget the devastation caused by Super Typhoon Yolanda to Leyte and other parts of the country in 2013. The Pope himself saw this when he visited us in 2015.Three years have passed and we have still not seen our leaders take the kind of collective action that the Holy Father has called upon us to do. And so, as members of the flock, we are taking it upon ourselves to begin the meaningful actions that we hope and pray can fulfill the calling of our Pope and translate our faith into genuine action.
We thank everyone who has taken individual steps to reduce their carbon footprint and be more responsible consumers of the Earth’s resources. Those who in their own daily activities minimize the use of plastics, who walk or bike instead of driving or commuting, who conserve water, who reduce the consumption of red meat or produce less food waste, who minimize the use of electricity.
We also thank communities who take collective action, such as organizing cleanup drives for our coasts, rivers and lakes, purchase products made of recycled material, and encourage the use of renewable energy.
But if we are honest with ourselves, we must admit that these efforts simply aren’t enough. According to NASA, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere is the highest in 650,000 years. The average global temperature is nearly 2 degrees higher than it was since 1880, with oceans alone seeing an increase of 0.3 degrees. And sea levels have risen by 178 millimeters in the past 100 years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a special report regarding how to achieve the 1.5-degree target and steps towards sustainable development. The IPCC reports that should greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide be emitted at current rates, global warming will reach 1.5°C by mid-century. It also assessed that national pledges to reduce emissions under the Paris Agreement are not enough to prevent worsening impacts by 2100. This gives countries only 20-30 years to adjust their mitigation and adaptation strategies to climate change.
The IPCC report shows that the path to sustainable development built on clean energy and adaptive resilience already exists. It is a road with necessary changes on an unprecedented scale to respond to climate change that we have never experienced before. The Philippines needs to immediately take that road before time runs out.
What does this mean for us?
It will be more difficult and more expensive to farm our food. Seafood that we take for granted today will become more scarce. Storms will be stronger and more harmful to our towns and cities. Coastal areas will flood more frequently and eventually become uninhabitable. The extinction of plant and animal species will accelerate even more.
These are all very real problems that our children and grandchildren will have to live with if we don’t act now. And as Laudato Si laments, it is the poorest of our children and grandchildren who will suffer the most. Yet for the most part, society continues as if these problems don’t matter. Some of us even continue to deny climate change despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that it is real and is now upon us.
Recognizing the urgency of the problem and the requirements of our faith, we are calling on our Catholic institutions—our parishes, our dioceses, our religious orders, our schools, our Catholic communities—to come together and make our voices heard in the most powerful way we can today:
We urge you to stop allowing your financial resources to be used to support these harmful activities. Tell the appointed stewards of your financial resources to withhold deposits, investments, and loans to institutions that are engaged in or enable the growth of businesses and ventures that harm the environment.
In particular we refer to:
- Manufacturing companies that habitually violate environmental regulations;
- Waste to energy businesses and projects;
- Companies engaged in irresponsible mining activities;
- Companies who build and operate coal fired power plants;
- Banks and financial institutions that provide funding for the abovementioned ventures.
This call is not without precedent. In other parts of the world, companies have responded to the demands of their stakeholders by refusing to support environmentally irresponsible business activities. Here in the Philippines, where our Catholic faith is so strong and where we are so vulnerable to the ravages of an angry planet, we can do no less. With the blessing and support of our Holy Father Pope Francis, we will be watching.