Climate Change: Church Should Help Build ‘Ethical’ Perspective on Global Warming

STORM WARNING. A girl reviews the devastated waterfront of Guiuan, Philippines, on Nov. 19. Did global warming contribute to the ferocity of Typhoon Haiyan?

Climate change represents an “ethical challenge to civilization,” said the Vatican’s lead representative to a U.N. conference reviewing the phenomenon’s worldwide impact. Archbishop Celestino Migliore said that the Vatican would help “form consciences and ethical perspectives” on climate change in line with Catholic social teaching and encourage “fairness, impartiality and mutual responsibility,” when it came to action to address the environmental threat.

As survivors in the Philippines continued to dig out from under the destruction of Typhoon Haiyan, Archbishop Migliore spoke at a conference hosted by Caritas Poland and Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, Poland. The event coincided with the Intergovernmental Conference of Parties of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, which also met in the Polish capital in mid-November. The conference brought together Catholic leaders, politicians, climate scientists and civil society groups, who called on governments to reduce their reliance on coal, oil and other fossil resources. The Warsaw Conference of Parties, meeting from Nov. 11 to 22, was called to review progress since the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gas emissions.


“The crisis situation humanity currently faces has an economic, consumerist, environmental and social character but is also fundamentally moral,” Archbishop Migliore told the ecumenical conference. “If we accept that every person and community has the same right to use the atmosphere, then they also have the same duty to protect [it]. The scale of emissions must be proportionate to the size of population, emissions per capita and the level of [gross domestic product],” the archbishop said.

The World Health Organization estimates that climate change is already causing an additional 140,000 deaths annually. The World Bank reported on Nov. 18 that the costs of “more extreme weather related to a warming planet” were expected to grow, with developing countries “bearing the brunt” from floods, storms and droughts. The report said that annual economic losses had risen from $50 billion in the 1980s to almost $200 billion in the last decade, while the world had lost 2.5 million people because of climate-related natural disasters.

Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said the panel’s evidence had been accepted by all governments and 97 percent of world scientists, adding that “clear evidence” suggested that Typhoon Haiyan, which wrecked the central Philippines on Nov. 8, was linked to climate change. Van Ypersele is professor of climatology and environmental sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain and advises bishops in Europe and Asia.

Representatives of Catholic development organizations arrived in Warsaw to lobby for action on climate change, and many also urged greater involvement by their own church. Some Catholic organizations have been active on the issue for years. In Peru, Catholic groups have promoted mitigation and adaptation strategies, as well as education and awareness on climate change, efforts that can arouse the ire of powerful mining, oil and forestry interests.

Fabian Simeon, an investigator with Forum Solidaridad Peru, thinks the Catholic Church should do more to offer protection to those who take a stand. “We’re running out of time,” said Simeon, whose country will host the U.N. Conference of Parties in 2014. “Although some priests and bishops are helping struggle for climate justice, their work faces strong resistance and often places them in danger.”

Outlining his hopes, the Rev. Frederick D’Souza, Caritas India’s executive director, said he believed championing “climate justice” should be viewed as a new expression of the Catholic Church’s option for the poor and should gain new impetus from Pope Francis’ advocacy of “modest lifestyles.”

“Churches must present a compassionate face to the world, showing how the poor are being further marginalized by climate change,” he said. “The Bible tells us we are stewards of the resources God has given us and must not allow them to be expropriated and misused.”

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Leonard Villa
4 years 9 months ago
Global warming is hardly a scientific fact. At best it is controversial. It has become an "ideological fact" for many and now there is an attempt to make it part of the social teachings of Faith with notions of "climate justice." Why don't we just wait until the evidence is in? To use weather disasters to promote climate change ideology is irresponsible and wrong.
Jim Eckland
4 years 9 months ago
Leonard, Very well said !! It's sad what direction this magazine is taking !!!


The latest from america

Brotherhood must not be used as a cloak for privilege and secrecy.
Matthew Wooters, S.J. September 24, 2018
Napoleon’s consolidation of power in France in 1801 involved the recognition of the pope as the “ordinary and immediate pastor” of the universal church—a key component in the impending agreement between the Vatican and China.
Jeffrey von ArxSeptember 24, 2018
"Young Latinos are engaged. They are open to giving of themselves,” Archbishop José Gomez said. “We need to be more conscious of ministries for young Catholics.”
J.D. Long-GarcíaSeptember 24, 2018
 A young woman holds the Latvian flag as Pope Francis celebrates Mass Sept. 24 at the Shrine of the Mother of God in Aglona, Latvia. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)
It was an important message for the 2.2 million people of Latvia, where today 37 percent of the population are Russian.
Gerard O’ConnellSeptember 24, 2018