A CBCP Pastoral Exhortation on Climate Change
A Challenge from the Past. In 1988 our predecessors in the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) issued the landmark letter “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” The statement lamented the destruction of our forests, the ravaging of our soil and the pollution of our seas. It also decried the manner in which this environmental degradation has been justified in the name of industrial progress.[i] Now, more than a quarter century after that forceful exhortation, we are prompted to ask the same question in more global, universal terms. “What is happening to our beautiful world?” We ask the question, calling to mind the same, largely unaddressed concerns raised by our bishops in 1988. But now we are forced to view all these concerns through the prism of global warming and climate change. Drawing from the lessons of Scripture and the teachings of the Church, we discern anew how we as Catholics and as Filipinos are called to address the challenges posed by global warming and climate change for our country and the whole world.
A Warmer, Wetter World. For some time now, climate change and global warming have been contentious ideas. Certain quarters argue that they are simply part of the natural cycles of nature. Others maintain that these are global realities being aggravated by human irresponsibility. In recent years, however, there has been a growing consensus within the scientific community and even among industrialized nations (most notably the United States) that climate change and global warming are man-made realities that have to be addressed urgently.
This consensus can be summarized in several important points.
First, there has been a definite pattern of rising global temperatures since the dawn of the industrial age. Next, these rising temperatures are being caused, or at least accelerated, by carbon emissions and other pollutants–collectively known as “greenhouse gases”–from industry.
Third, these rising global temperatures have an adverse effect on nature, on sea water levels, and possibly on weather patterns. It has been pointed out, for instance, that a two degree centigrade rise of global temperatures from pre-industrial levels will submerge many island countries and coastal cities. The four degree centigrade rise in global temperatures predicted by the year 2100 will simply be disastrous for all.[ii]
Blame for the inexorable warming of our world and the rising of our seas falls squarely on the industrialized powers and their fossil fuel driven economies, a number of whom are not complying with international agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol. The unabated burning of oil and coal has resulted in record amounts of carbon dumped into the atmosphere, leading to the destruction of the ozone layer and the rise in global temperatures. Methane emissions from factory farms further exacerbate this problem. However, the economic powers are not solely responsible for this. All of us as Catholic Christians are called to care for our earth, especially in this time of grave danger for her and for all of us.
Called to Care for Creation. From the very beginning God ordained that all creation be at the service of humanity. At the conclusion of His creative work, God enjoined humanity to have “dominion” over creation. This is not to be construed, however, as blanket permission for the wanton destruction of the environment. In the same creation account we are told that “God looked at everything he had made, and found it very good” (Genesis 1: 26-31). The intrinsic goodness of the earth represents a sacred trust for us to care for and use wisely the goodness God has gifted to us. Israel recognized this sacred trust and praised God with the immortal words “Send forth your spirit, they are created and you renew the face of the earth” (Psalm 104: 30). By caring and using the gifts of creation, we participate in the renewal of the earth.
We as Christians are called to this renewal in a privileged manner, cognizant that Jesus Christ himself is “the first born of all creation” in whom “were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible ….” (Colossians 1: 15-6).
St. Paul tells us that “all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now” (Romans 8: 22-3) as it awaits, together with us, the salvation won for us by Christ our Savior. Thus we are called to utilize creation as a means towards this salvation, to which all the universe is moving forward.
Fr. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin describes this idea beautifully as the “Omega Point,” where creation and human consciousness evolve towards perfection, in unity with Christ.[iii]
The crucial role of created nature not only for human flourishing but for our own salvation has been emphasized by our Holy Pontiffs. Pope John Paul II has emphasized that “It is the Creator’s will that man should treat nature not as a ruthless exploiter but as an intelligent and responsible administrator.”[iv]
Pope Benedict XVI links this responsibility to the environment with our larger obligations to the human community: “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”[v]
Most forcefully, Pope Francis identifies care for the environment with our Christian vocation when he exhorts, “Let us protect Christ in our lives, so that we can protect others, so that we can protect creation!”[vi]
Reflecting on our Response. Clearly then it is incumbent upon us Filipino Catholics to care for the environment, and most urgently, to address the problems of global warming and climate change. This process begins on the personal level, where all of us
should examine what we have done to contribute to these problems. Rampant consumerism compels industry to produce more and more goods, which end up polluting the atmosphere.
In what ways have we been excessive in our own consumption patterns, buying superfluous items, or patronizing goods that are harmful to the environment? Do we carefully observe regulations that are meant to protect nature, such as waste segregation,
reducing harmful emissions from vehicles, and the use of biodegradable products? Global warming and climate change are world-wide problems, but addressing them begins with each person undertaking an “environmental examination of conscience” to reduce our “individual carbon footprint.”
Having examined ourselves and our relation to the environment, we are then obligated to ensure that our response is not just on the individual, but also on the community level. Unfortunately, we Filipinos are content to say “not in my backyard!” We keep our home and surroundings clean, even if it means dumping our waste in our neighborhood. In our parishes, basic ecclesial communities, Church based groups, as well as in our work and civic organizations, we are called to explore ways to protect our environment as well as to propagate this environmental awareness. When necessary we should lobby our government for legislation and advocate causes that will help curb environmental degradation caused by the excesses of industry.
Finally, even as we do our best as individuals and communities to curb climate change, we must realize it is already upon us. In government and civic circles the prevailing paradigm is one of “Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Reduction and Management” (CCA-DRRM). With climate change, our risk to disasters increases as the probability of extreme events increases.
As Filipino Catholics, we ask ourselves, how do we help build this inherent awareness of our risk to disasters and to the impacts of climate change? Do we talk about disasters and prepare for them accordingly in our families and communities? Integral to this would be knowing the hazards that we face, knowing our environment, knowing our community, and working with our government and civil society organizations to prepare for the future.
Conclusion: a Challenge for the Present and Future. More than twenty five years ago our elders in the CBCP warned in no uncertain terms that for our environment “It is already late in the day and so much damage has been done.”[vii] Similarly, scientists have dubbed our epoch the “Anthropocene,” an age where our human interventions are having profound and possibly irreversible effects on our world. The task of addressing global warming and climate change is thus an urgent one.
It begins with a deep gratitude for the created gifts God has given us, and a renewed commitment to the sacred trust of caring for these gifts. We are called to respond with care and creativity as individuals and communities, as nations and as one human family. We face these immense challenges trusting in our loving and merciful God, who once proclaimed: “If then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7: 14).
We pray that we may have the hope and faith of our Blessed Mother, who praised God in all His creation: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1: 46).
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, October 4, 2014, Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi
(SGD)+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan
[i] Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. ”What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?” 29 January 1988.
[ii] Hare, Bill. “Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4 ̊C World Must Be Avoided.” FABC Papers no. 140. October 2013, pp. 8-10.
[iii] Teilhard de Chardin, Pierre. The Phenomenon of Man. New York: Harper Collins, 2008.
[iv] Pope John Paul II. “Ecclesia in Asia: Post-synodal Apostolic Exhortation.” 6 November 1999
[v] Pope Benedict XVI. “Caritas in Veritate.” 29 June 2009.
[vi] Pope Francis. “Message to the Diplomatic Corps.” 14 January 2014.
[vii] CBCP. “What is Happening to Our Beautiful Land?”