Editorial | Climate agreement or not, we are called to act

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Don't be discouraged.

President Donald J. Trump's announcement June 1 that the United States will not honor the Paris agreement on climate doesn't change on our obligation to take care of the earth.

The United States and China, the two largest carbon emitters, and 195 other nations signed the agreement that was ratified in November 2016. The Paris agreement establishes that nations must reduce their carbon dioxide emissions in order to keep global temperatures well-below a 2-degree Celsius increase in relation to pre-industrial levels.

The U.S. Catholic bishops have voiced support for prudent action and dialogue on climate change since a statement in 2001: "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good." In a letter to Congress in 2015, the bishops, along with the presidents of Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services, encouraged the United States to sign the Paris agreement. Since then, they have reiterated their support on several occasions.

Pope Francis and the Holy See also have consistently voiced support for the Paris agreement.

But the pope has gone much further than that.

In his encyclical on ecology and care for God's creation, "Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home," Pope Francis issues a moral and spiritual challenge to a profound interior conversion to renew our relationships with God, one another and the created world. He asks us to care for God's creation, entrusted to us as a gift. We have the responsibility to care for and protect it and all people, who are part of creation.

Pope Francis called for a change in lifestyle and consumption. We can make those changes as individuals, families and communities. We're called to solidarity, with a shared responsibility for others. Wealthy countries have a responsibility to reduce consumption of nonrenewable resources and should help poorer nations develop in sustainable ways.

Many are already following the pope's lead in choosing to use less fossil fuels, for example, by doing an energy audit, installing solar panels or using more efficient lighting, appliances, vehicles or even taking public transportation, walking or riding a bike rather than driving. We recycle, compost, use washable dinnerware in cafeterias or at home, choose organic products, plant trees and more.

Some of us, including parish groups from the archdiocese, take trips to poor countries and assist the people with projects that improve the environment where they live and provide sustainable agriculture, for example.

Community groups are working to make city, county and statewide changes that make a big difference. If you haven't already done so, join in their efforts or begin them. Many religious communities, especially the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in St. Louis through the Franciscans for Earth, have established programs. The Franciscan sisters encourage care of creation through education, collaboration, and advocacy. They show eco-documentaries, have speakers and events, grow heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and more in their demonstration garden to sell at farmers markets and donate to food pantries.

Let's continue these efforts and even enhance them. 

>> International scope

The Catholic Church, a worldwide faith with parishes in countries around the globe, views issues such as climate change through an international lens. A warming world is partly responsible for the worldwide migration crisis that is now underway. In his encyclical, Laudato Si', the Holy Father observed:

"Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by the phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with greater uncertainty for their future and that of their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation."

"Laudato Si'," par. 25 

"At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God's creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both 'the human environment' and the natural environment. It is about our human stewardship of God's creation and our responsibility to those who come after us."

Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good (U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2001.) 

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