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Catholic Social Teaching 101: Climate Change

Pope Francis on Creation

Already, climate change is harming vulnerable people throughout the U.S. and around the world. American citizens in Louisiana and Alaska are being displaced by rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers and thermal expansion. Families in Zimbabwe are being devastated by crushing drought amidst some of the hottest years on record. Globally, the World Health Organization warns that “between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress.” Both at home and abroad, climate change unjustly and disproportionately harms poor and marginalized people who contribute least to the problem.  

Recently, the topic of Climate Change has been a contentious issue for the current administration culminating in President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement and stop all future payments to the Green Climate Fund. 

The decision was deeply disappointing for member organizations of the Catholic Climate Covenant---a partnership of Catholic organizations, including Catholic Charities USA, that helps US Catholics respond to the Church's call to care for creation and care for the poor. Catholic Charities USA will continue to work with these partner organizations to advocate for creation and the poor in Washington. In the meantime, instead of bemoaning decisions that we cannot control, there are specific concrete actions that each of us can take to care for creation. Keep reading to learn more . . . 

Catholic Social Teaching

Caring for creation and caring for the poor have been part of the Catholic story since the beginning, but in recent years St John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and especially Pope Francis have added a sense of urgency to their call for Catholics to act on climate change. The US Bishops have been calling for action since 1981. 

Catholic teaching insists that climate change is a grave moral issue that threatens our commitments: to protect human life, health, dignity, and security; to exercise a preferential option for the poor; to promote the common good of which the climate is part; to live in solidarity with future generations; to realize peace; and to care for God’s good gift of creation. 

What Can Be Done

In November, Catholic Charities USA joined leaders of 161 Catholic colleges and universities, religious congregations, national organizations, and health care providers, serving people and communities in every state of the nation issued a letter to the Trump Administration and Congress, asking them to:    

  • Support the Senate's request to provide $10m to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); 
  • Participate meaningfully in the deliberations of the UNFCCC; and 
  • Honor our nation's commitment to the Green Climate Fund.   

In the letter, the Catholic leaders affirm the Church’s longstanding commitment to care for creation and our poor and vulnerable neighbors, and reiterate the U.S. bishops’ call to act upon the widely-accepted understanding of climate change science.

But what about you and I?

How do we do our part to care for creation and the poor? The Catholic Climate Covenant suggests several ways that we can make a difference right now:

  • Be energy efficient. During the summer months, close your curtains to block heat from the sun. During the winter, open your curtains during the day to allow the sun to warm your home. These simple steps can significantly reduce the need for air conditioning and heating, which are likely the most energy-intensive aspects of your home.
  • Calculate your carbon footprint. Understanding which activities are carbon-intensive allows you to know where you can take action. The EPA has a free carbon footprint calculator you can use.
  • Adjust the thermostat. Turning down your air conditioning or heating when you leave the house will further shrink your carbon footprint. A change of just 5 degrees is a good start.
  • Adjust your driving routine. By combining multiple errands into one trip, you reduce the amount of fossil fuel you use.
  • Go meatless on Fridays. Livestock production accounts for 4% of Americans’ greenhouse gas, according to the EPA. By going meatless one day per week, you’ll both honor Catholic teaching and better care for Creation.
  • Recycle More. Recycling reduces your carbon footprint both because landfills emit greenhouse gases through decomposition, and because manufacturing from scratch is carbon-intensive. Find where and how to recycle almost anything in your area at search.earth911.com.
  • Use less water. Water processing accounts for approximately 3% of energy use in the United States, according to the EPA. Saving water means saving energy. Post a “please conserve water” sign at sinks and showers, install low-flow spigots, or select the “eco” setting on laundry machines and dishwashers.
  • Petition policy makers. Your elected officials have the power to take action on climate change. Write policy makers to tell them that you stand for the stewardship of creation.
  • Write to your local newspaper. Writing a letter to the editor has effects beyond your local community. Legislators assign their staffs to read letters to the editor as an important barometer of constituents’ interests. For tip sheets and templates, write to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Form a study or action group at church. We are all strengthened when we act together as a community. Consider forming a Creation Care Team, and visit CatholicClimateCovenant.org for more information.
  • Start a "Wash and Dry" team in your workplace. Instead of using paper and plastic dinnerware, go to your local thrift store and buy reusable wares. Wash and dry the wares after each event. Your office will reduce its paper and plastic waste.
  • Turn off your office. Put your office appliances (computers, printers, etc.) on a power strip and turn it off at night.
  • Get involved on campus. Colleges and universities offer many activities and scholastic opportunities for those who care about the environment and are interested inn going green. For starters, check out this Guide to Sustainability in College and in Life, and this Crash Course in Going Green at College

If you feel disappointment and/or incredulousness about the policy decisions and actions that you cannot control, take a moment to reevaluate what you can do. Little actions, like those above, can make a big difference, too!

 
 
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