NEW YORK — More than 75 people spent all day Saturday, Oct. 27, in the Province’s San Damiano Hall on West 31st Street to network, strategize, reflect, and share best practices with regard to creation care, particularly climate change.
Participants primarily from parishes in New York and New Jersey gathered as part of the Metro New York Catholic Climate Movement, a group focused on “bringing Laudato Si’ to life in the Metro New York area.” The conference organizers brought together a number of excellent speakers to share and dialog about a variety of climate issues at an event titled “Care for Creation: Hearing Earth’s Cry and Responding with Hope.”
The morning panelists gave voice to the cries of creation, highlighting what is happening in the world today and how people of faith have an important role to play in responding. Speakers illustrated the injustices both to the environment and humanity, and the content made clear the urgent need for immediate action with regard to climate change.
Impact on Humans
In addition to calling all to preserve and protect the natural world from climate-related impacts, the group was challenged to consider these effects on the entire human family, particularly on those who are poor. In today’s world, structural sin deepens as technology advances. Many, especially in the U.S., look to scientific and societal advances to mitigate the impact of environmental challenges, rather than face the need for lifestyle changes.
Conference speaker Dr. Meghan Clark of St. John’s University in Queens suggested that our moral responsibility grows as science develops. While climate-driven storms don’t discriminate, those most prone to decimation and despair in their aftermath are the poor, those without resources, a strong infrastructure, and stable employment. She cited Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico as an example. She also said that, today, many in our world don’t feel responsibility for others because we have become used to the suffering of others. Rather than focusing on “Do we have all the [technological] answers?” she suggested that we consider, “Are we standing in the right place? (i.e., with the poor and those on the margin).
The group then reflected on the call of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, released in 2015. This letter to the Church skillfully illustrates the interconnectedness of the world, and how humans are a part of and not separate from nature; as such, we must find common solutions to address the plight of the entire planet. Dr. Erin Lothes, assistant professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, N.J., suggested that Laudato Si’ could serve as a beacon to help us in the work. She encouraged conference participants to read and study the encyclical to learn the language of our faith, of science, and of policy with regard to care for the environment.
The afternoon began by focusing on how we might respond to the call of creation, drawing again on Laudato Si’, and on the model put forth in the Global Catholic Climate Movement, an international structure that supports this important work. Recommendations included making a personal ecological conversion, modeling a response in our lifestyle and through educational efforts, and advocating for change in policies.
Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Climate Covenant, a national organization, spoke about how it engages in climate action and the many reasons for hope. CCC formed in 2006 to address increasing ecological awareness and the need to implement Catholic Social Teaching on ecology within the U.S. Church.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops helped form the Catholic Climate Covenant and remains one of its 16 national partners. Misleh mentioned a number of sources of hope, among them: 1) the fact that the Paris Agreement of 2015 was able to be negotiated; and that, even though President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the agreement, many American corporations continue to follow the guidelines; 2) the great showing in the People’s Climate March in April 2017; 3) the fact that we have climate “solutions” at hand (e.g., ample global wind capacity that could power the earth 40 times over, solar panel technology that is becoming increasingly affordable and bypasses the need for an energy grid system). He also finds great hope in the potential of the Catholic Church – with about 73 million Catholics in the U.S. that constitute 23% of the population, 18,000 parishes, 70,000 Catholic-owned buildings, 573 Catholic hospitals, and 6511 Catholic elementary schools, the Catholic Church could make a substantial impact converting to renewable energy, working to be more energy efficient and instituting greening efforts.
Initiatives to Help
The gathering continued with panelists sharing some of their best care for creation efforts – initiatives for individuals and parishes, and at the policy level. One compelling presentation focused on the impact of food and diet on the environment. Speaker Kelly Moltzen, an expert in nutrition and public health, reported how resource-intensive meat is to produce and that industrial food production is responsible for half the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. She noted that Americans typically eat two times the amount of meat they need, and that adequate protein can be found in a plant-based diet. Cutting down on meat and processed food, and increasing our commitment to local food/community supported agriculture could help us strike a better balance between our needs and the needs of the environment.
Marty Susz, director of the Archdiocese of New York’s Office of Energy, spoke of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of the archdiocese. The office conducts parish energy audits, tightens building envelopes, works to buy/procure energy more efficiently, and is exploring more use of solar energy. Advocacy examples concentrated on good work at the state level, including New York’s successful effort to ban fracking; effective tactics included phone calls to legislators, appeals focused on the health issues associated with fracking, protests, and “bird dogging” the Governor. The impressive 11-month commitment made by indigenous communities at Standing Rock to fight the building of a gas pipeline through tribal lands also was held up, as were community and individual efforts to divest from fossil fuel companies, and parish greening efforts.
The gathering highlighted that the most effective policy action at this moment is taking place at the state level. It also enabled great connections to be made among those working for action and change at all levels of society.
At the final session of the day, representatives from the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Catholic Climate Covenant and the Metro NY Catholic Climate Movement shared successes and plans for the future. The event began and ended with prayer, song, and powerful ritual – making clear the importance of faith and community in our collective response to climate change, the most pressing challenge of our time.
— Fran Eskin-Royer is senior staff assistant in the Province’s Office for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation in Silver Spring, Md.
- “Timely Conference on ‘Care for Creation’” – Nov. 7, 2018, Catholic New York
- “Called to Care for the Poor and Creation” – April 18, 2018, HNP Today 7, HNP Today
- “Franciscans Sent Climate Change Letter to President Trump” – Nov. 22, 2017, HNP Today
- “Franciscans Support COP21’s Efforts to Address Climate Change”— Dec. 23, 2015, HNP Today