On Wednesday, while the UN discussed reducing emissions and adapting to climate change at this year’s COP20 negotiations in Lima, Peru, a group of Catholic bishops issued a statement calling for world governments to “put an end to the fossil fuel era.”
In polite but passionate prose, the bishops not only lay out the urgency for “phasing out fossil fuel emissions and phasing in 100 percent renewables,” they also point to the current “financial and economic order…which has failed to put the human being and the common good at the heart of the economy.”
That common good is the essence of their plea, a recognition that poorer nations are the most greatly affected by climate change and that the “systemic failures” of the current capitalist system are exacerbating its impact.
“We express an answer to what is considered God’s appeal to take action on the urgent and damaging situation of global climate warming,” they write. The letter’s signatories hail from all inhabited continents but North America.
According to the latest report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, man-made emissions from industrial processes, automobiles and other sources are having an indisputable effect on global climate. Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane are trapping the sun’s heat in the atmosphere, leading to warming on both the planet’s surface and in its oceans. If the global temperature rises above two degrees Celsius by the end of this century, the results will be disastrous for global food stores, water availability and national security.
The Catholic bishops know whereof they speak, as one of their requests is that governments work to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees C, “in order to protect frontline communities suffering from the impacts of climate change, such as those in the Pacific Islands and in the coastal regions.”
Kiribati is one such nation on the frontline. Its fresh water is routinely fouled by encroaching sea water and its government has already purchased land on another island for when the Pacific reclaims the small atoll in 30 years.
That 30-year deadline is almost a certainty if greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rates. As the globe warms, Arctic and Antarctic ice melts and the seas rise. And the G20 still spend $775 billion in subsidizing the use and production of fossil fuels.
This latest statement from the Catholic bishops is part of an increasingly passionate trend in Catholic thought. In May, Pope Francis called for a unified acceptance of climate change and an end to the “globalization of indifference” and the “economy of exclusion” that allows it. “If we destroy Creation,” his holiness said, “Creation will destroy us.”
In July, the World Council of Churches, which is not affiliated with the Catholic church, also threw its support behind the clean energy movement, promising that it would divest itself from fossil fuels.