Climate Change: “The Defining Challenge of Our Age”

The CND Sisters and Associates are engaged in work concerning the encroaching climate crisis that is linked to climate change.  Through our individual and communal actions, and through the work of the JPIC Office, we are examining our carbon footprints and taking steps to reduce our impact, engaging in dialogue with governments at local, national and international levels, and engaging in public witness in support of the various rounds of international negotiations known as the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The evidence is in – and it is inescapable. The planet is warming, and the cause is human activity. The repercussions are enormous, but the negative damage will not be equally shared. Rather, those who have contributed least to global warming are most likely to pay the heavier price for it.

In early 2007, the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (established under the auspices of the United Nations and winners, with Al Gore of the Nobel Peace Prize 2007) concluded that, “Global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750 and now far exceed pre-industrial values determined from ice cores spanning many thousands of years. The global increases in carbon dioxide concentration are primarily due to fossil fuel use and land change use, while those of methane and nitrous oxide are primarily due to agriculture.” (IPCC WGI Fourth Assessment Report, February, 2007)

What will this mean? According to the IPCC, we can expect “changes in Arctic temperatures and ice, widespread changes in precipitation amounts, ocean salinity, wind patterns and aspects of extreme weather including droughts, heavy precipitation, heat waves and the intensity of tropical cyclones.”

By November 2007, the 3,000 scientists of the IPCC concluded in their Synthesis Report that there is “unequivocal” evidence that human-induced global warming is the cause of these serious climate changes. In releasing the report, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: “Slowing – and reversing – these threats is the defining challenge of our age.”

At the end of October 2007, the United Nation’s Environmental Program released its Global Environmental Outlook, which reported that, “A best estimate for this century’s rise (in global average temperatures) is expected to be between a further 1.8ºC and 4ºC. Some scientists believe a 2ºC increase in the global mean temperature above pre-industrial levels is a threshold beyond which the threat of major and irreversible damage becomes more plausible.”

Twenty years ago, the Bruntland Commission (“Our Common Future”) remarked that “the world does not face separate crises – the “environmental crisis,” “development crisis,”and “energy crisis” are all one”.

Surely it is time to act. But how?

The Office of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation draws inspiration from the triad suggested by the Canadian bishops in their 2003 pastoral letter on the Christian ecological imperative. There, the bishops encourage Christians to equally consider contemplative responses, ascetic responses, and prophetic responses to the ecological crisis. We can all work to change the way we pray and celebrate God’s presence, make more appropriate lifestyle choices, and advocate for change by governments, business, and other societal leaders.

Through our participation in the Roundtables on the Integrity of Creation of the Canadian Religious Conference, we have already begun to act. Canada’s religious orders have written to the federal government to demand much stronger action in terms of keeping our air clean and adopting the Kyoto Accord on climate change.

In addition,  the Roundtable members encouraged all their members, associates and collaborators to support the RE-ENERGIZE campaign undertaken by the Ecumenical organization, KAIROS. By re-examining our addiction to fossil fuel use, we can limit our production of greenhouse gases and encourage necessary change in government policies, as well. This campaign provides for individual, community, as well as government advocacy action.

Without forceful leadership from government, creating certainty in terms of new ground rules, industry cannot be expected to fully and rapidly adapt to scenarios that the future is imposing upon the Earth Community.

But it is not only the government who holds the responsibility for change.  In 2003 a report by the World Watch Institute declared that we must address climate change as individuals, societies, corporations and governments.  In particular the report recognized the significant force that religion could become in joining with other social forces to mitigate ecological ruin. Our religious institutions must also play new roles. The JPIC ministry accepts the growing challenge to embark upon contemplative, ascetic and prophetic change in our communities.