“You may be the only Jesus that your neighbour will ever see.” – Mother Angelica
At the time when this essay is written, the world has just lost one inspiring personality of a Catholic Franciscan nun, Mother Angelica. She was best known for her innovation in broadcasting her teachings internationally through the cable television and radio network. One of her words that stroke me personally the most is the very word I put at the beginning of this essay, which is: “you may be the only Jesus that your neighbour will ever see.” Through this word, she reminded us that regardless of our spirituality, as long as it does not reflected in the way we live, it will not bring any fruit to our neighbour. Thus, we need to perceive religiosity more as how we put our belief into action, rather than merely preach about it.
Religion still, and in fact, becoming more relevant in this increasingly secular modern world. As the world has significantly changed from the time when the religions are founded, it faced a new dynamic of problems that might have not been addressed explicitly in any of the holy book. These challenges particularly rose due to the growth of technology, which leads to various contemporary issues such as abortion, cloning, genetic modification, and so on. This essay will focus on one of the most prominent and existential issue that is currently faced by the human and other creatures all over the Earth: the climate change.
This essay will focus on my own religion, which is Roman Catholic. We will begin by exposing the significant threat of climate change to the world existence, particularly on the perspective of scientific findings and socio-economic impacts. The following section will give the overview of the Catholic perspective on the issue of climate change as well as its recommendation on how it may contribute in addressing the issue of climate change. This essay will conclude that being religious in this secular modern world means practising what we believe in seeking to answer today’s problem, particularly to the most urgent ones.
Although there are some groups of scientists supported by vested interests that are focusing their research in negating the climate change, due to the Precautionary Principle and the limited space of this essay, we will only focus on exposing the scientific findings on the climate change existence. Lord Nicholas Stern – famous for Stern Review Report on the Economics of Climate Change, the first of climate change study that focus on its economic externality – mentioned the four unique challenges of climate change science for policy (Stern, 2007), which are: 1) global, 2) long-term, 3) potentially catastrophic and irreversible impacts, and 4) uncertain. Firstly, he explained climate change as global in terms of the source, impacts, as well as the solutions. As every country is moving toward economic and infrastructure development; there are none that do not contribute any GHG emission. As the GHGs are well mixed in the atmosphere regardless where it was emitted, there are also no boundaries on its impact and thus, it is calculated as global externality. Consequently, solving this issue will also require a global collective action from the entire world citizen.
Secondly, the warming effect of the GHGs that already release to the atmosphere cannot be undone and will last until decades to millennia. His research shows that even if we could maintain the concentration of GHGs to be remained at today’s levels, warming would continue for the next three decades or so. Thus, albeit taking action today will not result in any immediate demonstrable effect, delaying it will highly risk to a larger consequences and require longer commitments.
Thirdly, the impact could be so severe to our natural environment – directly, such as the changing weather pattern, sea level rising, drought, flood, desertification, extreme weather, tornado, and so on, as well as indirectly to the biodiversity and ecosystem services. Some of these changes could be irreversible and we may prepare ourselves for a tipping points and abrupt changes.
Fourthly, although current researches have given us a good understanding of the drivers of climate change, there is still significant uncertainty in predicting and quantifying the future changes. The uncertainties are even bigger as we look further into the future.
The scale of current threat of climate change experienced differently by the world citizen depending on their geographical location, some has had to face an existential threat from it. People living in the island countries such as Kiribati, Marshall Island, and numbers of other countries in Micronesia and Pacific Ocean threaten the most due to the increasing of sea level that starting to submerged part of their countries (Leem, 2015). Mountain countries like Nepal was also not skipped from the climate change. They suffer water shortages due to temperature, decreases in precipitation, along with the increasing water use. They also suffer serious and recurrent floods during 2002 to 2004 (IPCC, 2007). Developed European countries are also not flee from the climate change. In 2013, unusual heat-waves stroke Western Europe countries, causing hundreds of deaths in France, UK, and Athens (Dailymail, 2013).
The latest IPCC 5th Assessment Report (2014) has some important finding that will lead us to the rest of this essay. First, it said that the warming of climate system is unequivocal. Second, it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming. Third, human influence has been detected in the warming of the atmosphere and ocean. In other word, as the main causes of the climate change, it is imperative for us to innovate and change the way we live. However, although people have been convinced that the climate change is real; change does not come in a blink. In his lecture, Dietz (2015) one of the insight withdrawn from behavioural economics is that “people are motivated to do the right thing.” This is where religion plays a significant role in mitigating the climate change.
In discussing about the religion role to the climate change issue, it is important for us to examine where these religion stands on this issue and what does it says to their believers. The Roman Catholic, as also the other Abrahamic religion, which are Muslim, Christian, and Judaism, believes that human are created in accordance to God’s image and we bear the entrusted to manage the other creatures in a responsible manner (Holy Bible, Genesis 1: 27- 30).
In addressing social and political economy issue, the Holy See – as the centre of Catholicism in the world – divides the issues into two (Barrera, 2001), which are the First-order Principles for the pre-eminence of human dignity and integral human development, from which other Second- order Principles are derived. One of the Second- order principles is Gift of the Earth. The Gift of the Earth consists of two main principles, which are stewardship and universal access. The principle of stewardship defines as “the obligation of caring properly for the goods of the earth and of using them for the ends for which they were created: to meet human needs and to reveal the glory of God” (Barrera, 2001: 279). In doing so, human are given the gifts of reason and free will, and thus, are expected to hold accountable for managing the environment. The principle of universal access also needs to be considered while managing the environment, where there should be no one excluded from enjoying the fruits of nature. Both principles are particularly relevant in the context of economy where human’s greed lead to unsustainable exploitation of the nature and monopoly of the capital.
The Catholic’s view environment also strongly felt by Saint Francis of Assisi through his famous prayer named “Canticle of Sun.” In it, he praised and gave thanks to God for all his creation of nature. He is also attributed as the Patron Saint for Poverty, Animals, and the Environment.
Aspired by his dedication to the nature and concerned by the current environmental deterioration, the current Catholic Pope – who also took Francis as his papal name – released the ground-breaking encyclical letter all the Catholic in the world known as Laudato Si: On the Care of Our Common Home last May (2015). There, he reminds the world of the severe implications of the climate change. He stresses the human roots of the ecological crisis, from the side effect of technology, the globalisation of technocratic paradigm, and the crisis of modern anthropocentrism. He underlines the problem of consumerism, importance of access to safe drinkable water as a basic and universal human right, the role of gender, and particularly highlights that population control does not address the problems, saying that “since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion” (Francis, 2015: 120).
Further, the Laudato Si also provides some tangible recommendation on what is required to be done by the believers and beyond. It calls for an integral ecology between environment, economic, and social, the new lifestyle, the role of cultural ecology, the principle of the common good, as well as justice between the rich and the poor and inter- generations. At the level of policy, it also urges better dialogue in the international community, new national and local policies, transparency in decision making, political and economy in dialogue for human fulfilment, as well as religions in dialogue with science.
The Pope’s initiative is applaud by many. Lord Nicholas Stern immediately gave a positive response saying that it “fills the leadership gap left by the world’s politicians” (Tablet, 2015). In another opportunity, he also mentioned that it was perfectly timed’ for the COP 21 that was held just a few months after (Stern, 2015).
Being religious in this increasingly secular modern world requires us to not only trust and obey in our own doing, but also to bring fruits to the world. It means that we need to contemplate our beliefs to the context of contemporary problems and be a light to be the solution, particularly to the pressing issues like the climate change. Taking no action and satisfy with just praying is another modern form of hypocrites, just like those mentioned in the Holy Bible that love to stand and pray out loud in the synagogues and at the street corners, but steal from the poor. The least we can do as believers is not to be another problem of it. This essay could be better with further research, particularly on the correlation between believes and practicing the environmental protection.