How Catholics spearheaded efforts to combat climate change in 2018

Barren trees stand in the critically low Theewaterskloof Dam in late January in Villiersdorp, South Africa. (CNS photo/Nic Bothma, EPA) 

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- Catholic organizations called for greater personal responsibility in tackling climate change and stepped up their advocacy in opposing the rollback of U.S. environmental regulations during the last year.

Their efforts held up Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical, "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home," which focuses on understanding how integrated human life is with all life on earth and the need to be responsible stewards of the planet's resources.

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A key effort came from the Catholic Climate Covenant, which introduced the Catholic Climate Declaration in April. Nearly 800 declaration signers said they remain committed to the Paris climate accord despite President Donald Trump's plan to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement.

In inviting Catholic entities to sign the declaration, Bishop Richard E. Pates, who heads the Diocese of Des Moines, Iowa, and is episcopal liaison for the effort, said the document serves as a "distinct Catholic expression" of the broader We Are Still In effort.

We Are Still In finds tribal leaders, government officials and organizations committing to address climate issues and following the Paris agreement despite the planned U.S. withdrawal.

The Trump administration has further vexed Catholic organizations through its two-year campaign to roll back environmental regulations. Their concern: The rollbacks are focused on helping industry boost profits at the expense of human health and safety and the environment.

Trump has said that his push to overturn some environmental and other regulations is motivated by concern the regulations have gone "overboard," costing coal workers their jobs and hindering use of the country's national resources. Some GOP congressional leaders as well as business leaders support the move.

Organizations such as the Washington-based Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach have conducted webinars and developed educational materials about the consequences that experts project will stem from the rollbacks.

Through mid-November, at least 49 policies related to the environment have been enacted or proposed since Trump took office, according to Harvard Law School's Environmental Regulation Rollback Tracker.

Such efforts on behalf of the environment illustrate the widespread support in the faith community for action to protect natural resources and to address climate change that emerged with new energy in 2018.

The prayerful determination of a Pennsylvania religious order to block the use of a natural gas pipeline that was built through its land was part of the groundswell for environmental action.

After months of legal challenges, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ asked the U.S. Supreme Court in October to decide whether their religious freedom rights were violated by the construction and pending use of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline. In a court filing, attorney Dwight Yoder, representing the congregation, argued that the sisters' rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were disregarded by a federal appeals court.

The Adorers' legal appeal came a month before a major scientific report compiled by 13 federal agencies warned that dire health and economic consequences are ahead if carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels are not reduced. Scientific research has pointed to the emissions as a primary cause of climate change.

Reacting to the report, several Catholic environmental experts told Catholic News Service the conclusions point to the need to put aside the desires of an individual or a single country in favor of steps that protect the common good.

The pope in July called on world governments to uphold commitments agreed upon in the Paris accord.

In a step to confront the economic strength of fossil fuel companies, the Global Catholic Climate Movement announced twice during the year that Catholic institutions would divest from such firms.

Caritas Internationalis, the church's worldwide network of humanitarian aid agencies, the Irish Catholic bishops' conference and several religious congregations were among the organizations saying they would divest from oil and natural gas firms.

Tomas Insua, executive director of the Global Catholic Climate Movement, said Pope Francis has supported ethical investment. He cited the pope's June address to executives of fossil fuel corporations and financial firms in which he urged them to embrace a new kind of leadership that believes in building the whole human family while protecting the environment and to use alternatives to carbon-based fuels to mitigate the effects of global warming.

In total, 122 Catholic entities have divested since 2016.

In other ways, Pope Francis continued to stress the importance of the protecting God's creation, calling care and protection of Earth's water resources "an urgent imperative" and access to safe drinkable water a "basic and universal human right" in his message Sept. 1, the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.

His concerns for the environment were reflected in several statements and prayers at key times throughout the year.

The pope's 2015 encyclical also was the focus of church activities worldwide in with parish programs and country-wide conferences, including a World Youth Day gathering in Ghana, where Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development, discussed the document.

The pope in July called on world governments to uphold commitments agreed upon in the Paris accord in an address to an international conference of indigenous and young activists, scientific experts, religious leaders at the Vatican. The conference was called to assess the impact of the encyclical and to discuss the best ways to act in promoting "integral ecology."

While the U.S. moved ahead with its plan to withdraw from the Paris agreement, representatives from around the world gathered in Katowice, Poland, Dec. 2-14 to offer plans to meet their pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Catholic groups in particular promised to bring the church's voice to the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -- known as COP24. The groups, including the 17 Catholic development agencies from Europe and North America that make up CIDSE, said growing interest in the Catholic Church as a moral leader and globally recognized authority will raise the profile of any statements member agencies make.

Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican secretary of state, and Cardinal Turkson led a delegation from the Holy See to the meeting.

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J Cosgrove
8 months 3 weeks ago

The world is getting greener but the photo above is of a desert like empty reservoir because of poor water management. The dam is now about 30% full due to rain their last winter but will probably decrease again. South Africa refused the world's experts on water management, Israel, because of political reasons. http://bit.ly/2F0w6Yr

Irony - The Climate meeting took place in Poland. All they had to do was go to Gdansk to see heaps of coal piled hundreds of feet high. Or to Germany to see a major polluter in Europe.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 3 weeks ago

Coal or not, Germany is 38% renewables, twice what we are. How does greener translate into better? Corn and kudzu are both green but only one is edible? You make it sound as if it's all crops on arable land? Why should I be happy if the arctic grows more lichen when American states are being dried out or flooded, neither of which is good for crops. Not making the transition to renewables will cost us more in the long run than any short term benefit from renewables.

J Cosgrove
8 months 3 weeks ago

Only 13% of total energy in Germany is renewable. You are neglecting large portions of energy consumption, such as transportation, heating and cooling.

The world is getting greener and it has nothing to do with lichen in polar regions. Why even mention that? Droughts and floods have not increased. The photo at the top is misleading.

There have been tremendous increases in food supply in the last 40 years.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

Cooling? Germans don't usually do air conditioning though that may change due to the thing you say isn't happening. Whatever Germans do with renewables, they're doing more than we are. Anyway, Republicans like renewables as much as Democrats, except for the elitist city types. If this perovskite thing works out, King Coal's overthrow will accelerate.

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for admitting that your information was false and agreeing with my information.

We stayed in an air conditioned hotel in Berlin when I was there.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

Germany is doing more than we are. If course, there is air conditioning. But mostly, no.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

Germany is doing more than we are. If course, there is air conditioning. But mostly, no.

Phillip Stone
8 months 3 weeks ago

Well, here we go again.
We are not appointed to run the universe, or the solar system for that matter, we have a small role something to do with naming the animals.

Since before the Incarnation, the earth has been supplying human beings with a variety of climates suitable for the life appointed to the offspring of Adam and Eve, that is bringing forth children while having unavoidable suffering and having to work quite hard to have food, shelter and clothing.

There is no climate crisis due to the tiny amount of extra carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by our use of fossil fuels, forest clearing and managing huge numbers of domestic animals for food.
The properly adjusted temperature measuring devices on the face of the earth and in satellites in the sky both agree, there has been no extra global warning for the last 20 years. Published figures. Authenticated. True.

1. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, it is essential plant food.
2. Carbon dioxide is currently at an almost record low for aeons of history.
3. Changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere come after, NOT BEFORE, changes in ocean temperature.
4. Warming and cooling of the planet is a normal part of the history of the planet and it is governed by cycles of the sun, the orbit of the earth, magnetic fields and cosmic rays.
5. Destruction of the world economy by banning or drastically limiting use of fossil fuel will kill an enormous number of people.

Therefore, knowing the above, Christians are guilty of grave sin by believing and acting on the false prophecies of fake scientist and politicians.
Do not financially support any organisation or institution wasting donor money and doing evil at the same time.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 3 weeks ago

Trace gases whose molecules have asymmetrical charge distributions are why this planet is not a frozen wasteland from pole to pole. Changing the proportion of those gases impacts surface temperature and the dynamics of the planetary climate system. THAT is the science, not your repetition of endlessly repeated but disproven falsehoods. You obviously don't know or care about any of the science but only your ideological outlook. There is no economic ruin in switching to renewables, only a more robust, distributed system. And plenty of jobs to be had doing it. Raymond Pierrehumbert, Halley Professor of Physics at Oxford and one of the world's foremost climatologists, has called our response to the climate crisis humanity's IQ test. We'll see. People are comfortable in their civilized cocoons and take it for granted as if it were nature itself. When there's a power outage and people ask me when things are going back to normal, I tell them this IS normal.

Tim Donovan
8 months 3 weeks ago

I occasionally contribute modest sums to the Catholic Climate Covenant. This is a group which supports reasonable efforts to protect the environment by having government officials, industry leaders, and individuals work together to address the degradation of nature in ways appropriate to their station in life.
According to NASA, "97% of climate scientists agree that climate -warming trends over the past century are very likely are very likely due to human activities, and most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position." MASS did note that " the party's climate has changed throughout history...most of these climate changes are attributed to very small variations in the earth's orbit that change the amount of solar energy our planet receives. " However, NASA went on to assert that "the current warming trend is of particular significance because of its extremely likely (greater than 95% probability) to be the result of human activity since the mid-20th century and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented over decades to millennia." The Catholic Climate Covenant then quotes Pope Benedict and St. Pope Francis as having serious concerns about the effects we human beings have on the environment . I disdain using political terms to describe religious matters; I believe that political TechCrunch as "liberal" or "conservative" are properly used to describe the views of politicians . However, for lack of a better term, both Pope-emeritus Benedict XVI and St. Pope John Paul who were known for their orthodoxy in terms of moral teachings when holding the papal office spoke out regarding our responsibility to be good stewards of creation. St. Pope John Paul stated in his 1990 World Day of Peace message, "the gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related 'greenhouse effect ' has now reached crisis proportions...I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue."
The Catholic Climate Covenant strongly supports Church teaching reading the immortality of abortion, contraception, and sterilization. Several years ago I read Laudato Si (Praise Be to You), Pope Francis ' encyclical on the environment. He clearly affirmed, "Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is incompatible with the justification of abortion."
I might point out that while I'm a former long-time registered Democrat, who still agreed with many positions espoused by the typical Democrat, that for about 5 years I've been a registered Republican. (For about 2 years I was a registered Independent, since neither party fully represented my views). However, I became a Republican primarily because of the party's stand regarding the violence of legal abortion. I'm disappointed that the administration of President Trump (for whom I reluctantly voted) has withdrawn our nation's support for the Paris Climate Agreement. I'm Also not pleased that under President Trump, various protections for our environment have been done away with. I believe that while God made human beings in His image and likeness, and that human beings are the pinnacle of creation, that as,the Author of Life, that God is very much concerned about all of life in our world. Finally, in my view we have a responsibility to be good stewards of the earth, not only for our good but for the good of future generations.

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

The 97% document is fake news. There is such a document but its claims are false. That NASA would endorse such a claim is scandalous. http://bit.ly/2s6d9Ml

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

One assertion after another. Are you saying CO2 isn't a greenhouse gas, that it hasn't been increased by human activity from 276ppm to 405ppm? What is your alternative scientific theory? As with all climate deniers, you have none.

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

Thank you for agreeing that the 97% claim is bogus. My question to you, is why you have not denounced this bogus argument. It makes your position look fraudulent when you don't.

Stanley Kopacz
8 months 2 weeks ago

Where did you find I agree with you about the 97% figure? There would be a significant number of "dissidents" if there were a counter-theory to back it up or cogent paths of inquiry. There is no evidence if this. The 97% thing doesn't sway me anyway. It's the science in theory and measurement. What makes your position fraudulent is the lack of even a coherent physical theory to counter it. Read climate scientists. You'll learn something. Read climate deniers, you'll know less physics. Deniers aren't pursuing knowledge. They do what lawyers do. Manufacture doubt.
But anyway, what tenets of climate science are you denying? Perhaps you could tell me what tenets of climate science you deny. Perhaps you have a counter explanation of why the earth is not a frozen wasteland. Joseph Fourier of Fourier Series game started figuring it out in 1826. Can you start there with your counter theory? If you read Pierrehumbert's concise explication of the theory in Physics Today, you can tell me where he went wrong. But tell me in scientific terms.

J Cosgrove
8 months 2 weeks ago

You have never said anything that refutes anything I have said. You constantly make up straw men and then try to shoot down something that was not said. Not a good strategy.

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