Catholics morally obligated to conserve natural resources
On June 2nd, the EPA mandated America’s power plants to reduce carbon emissions 30% from 2005 levels by the year 2030. In drawing a line in the sand on energy and climate, the Obama administration is putting into action the unanimous teachings by our most recent Popes on climate justice.
Popes John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis each have spoken passionately about the sinful consequences of environmental destruction. In particular, they have discussed how climate change exacerbates conditions of extreme poverty and violence in the developing world. On May 21, addressing a large Roman audience, Pope Francis claimed, “If we destroy creation, creation will destroy us!”
Like his predecessors, Pope Francis has insisted on the moral obligation to not only reduce carbon emissions, but also to assist developing nations in making the critical adaptations required by climate-induced extreme weather, and food and water insecurity. Not only is it the right thing to do, but the new rules bring many other benefits including jobs creation and national security.
The current and future effects of climate change are worse than what scientists had previously anticipated, making clear that a sea change in national politics is inevitable. The question is not a matter of whether we will respond, but rather when exactly we will embrace the goodness of God’s creation and our place in it.
The Obama administration is correctly anticipating this sea change, and the new EPA rules will open the doors a little more widely to the more optimal allocation of human and capital resources with respect to clean air and the scarce carbon absorption capacity of the atmosphere and thus the greater good. Government has already tightened fuel mileage standards in the automobile industry, thereby increasing the competitiveness of hybrids and electric vehicles. China, the European Union and the United States have been investing hundreds of billions in renewable wind and solar energy, bringing clean energy to scale and dramatically reducing the costs of clean energy.
Entrepreneurs and investors in the United States are quickly responding to the signals of geophysics; new companies and industries are forming to meet the real health and well-being needs of individuals and communities. The great Austrian economist, Joseph Schumpeter, gives this evolution of capitalist markets a name: “creative destruction.”
Every independent study confirms that, dollar for dollar, investments in renewables yield many more jobs than investments in the fossil fuel industry. For example, the University of California-Berkeley Study in 2004 showed that over a 10-year period, solar produces 5.65 jobs per million dollar investment, while wind creates 5.7 jobs and coal, 3.96 jobs. Today, wind and solar power are a lot less expensive than in 2004, and is a big reason large countries have been increasing their overall energy investments in renewables over the past five to 10 years.
There is also the matter of homeland security. Sixteen retired generals and admirals published a 47-page report this spring describing the manifold national security risks posed by climate change. Tribal wars over limited water supplies and arable land made scarce by long droughts are already realities in parts of the Mideast and Africa, and may get much worse in coming years. Rising sea levels and intensifying storms will have negative impacts not only on population movements but also on our military infrastructures and threat response capabilities.
As Catholics, we are called to witness our lives in courage, truth, and generosity. Celebrating the gradual greening of our energy markets is great, but we must more decisively part ways with political and commercial interests that have no use for science, and hasten the bursting of the “dam of denial” that has too long delayed meaningful action on climate change. In faith and hope, we should encourage further political action for climate stability and justice, while also reallocating our institutional financial investments away from fossil fuels and into 21st century, low carbon infrastructures and energy systems.
Looking back on the history of American heroism, and considering the many climate-induced economic disruptions on the horizon, we can take heart that our environmental “Pearl Harbor” moment is near. As daughters and sons of the Most High we will respond to the climate threat with moral and intellectual brilliance. There is simply no issue more unifying and more transforming than energy—spiritually and economically—as God’s Son, and God’s sun, are given freely to everyone!
Doug Demeo is a member of GreenFaith, an organization active in areas of interfaith and environmental leadership. Formerly the assistant director of campus ministry at St. Peter’s College, Jersey City, Demeo is a member of Sacred Heart Parish, Trenton, and frequently writes about faith and sustainability in National Catholic Reporter.
The views or positions presented in this or any guest editorial are those of the individual writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the Diocese of Trenton or The Monitor.