Climate change calls for Catholic response


Bob McKeon

January 21, 2013

The issue of climate change has been much in the news over the last couple of months.

In November, the International Energy Agency (IEA) published its authoritative World Energy Outlook 2012 Report. What caught the media's attention was the projection that the United States would eclipse Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer by 2020 and that North America would become a net oil exporter by 2030.

What received less attention was the prediction of a "long-term average global temperature rise of 3.6C." There is a global consensus shared by international scientific and political leaders that any global temperature increase beyond two degrees Celsius poses unacceptable risks to human communities and the ecosystems of the planet.

Also in November, the World Bank published a major report on climate change titled Turn Down the Heat. This report stated that we are headed to a four degree warmer world by the end of this century under current international greenhouse gas and emission commitments.

Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank, responded to this report with strong words; "a four degree C warmer world can, and must be avoided – we need to hold warming below two degrees. . . .


"Climate change is one of the single biggest challenges facing development, and we need to assume the moral responsibility to take action on behalf of future generations, especially the poorest."

Shortly after these reports were published, political leaders from around the world gathered at the 18th UN Climate Change Conference in Doha, Qatar, in early December. The results of this conference were largely disappointing. There were no new international commitments to greenhouse gas reductions.

However, there was a shared sense of the likelihood of serious harm coming from climate change demonstrated when national leaders did agree to establish a new "loss and damage" fund for the poorest nations.

Catholic international development agencies were present at the Doha conference. CIDSE, an international alliance of 16 Catholic development organizations from Europe and North America (including Development and Peace) observed, "The absence of carbon cuts at Doha leads the world straight towards catastrophic climate change, with no shelter for the poorest and most vulnerable people."


Our present federal government is too often is seen as obstructing effective actions to address climate change. We face a similar situation with our Alberta provincial government.

But the problem is bigger than specific government leaders. In Canada, we as a people appear to be incapable of "connecting the dots" in a public conversation where we analyze the increasingly available information and together begin to develop effective strategies for long-term change towards a truly sustainable society that can thrive within the ecological limits of our planet.


There are voices in our midst who are speaking out, in all sectors of society. But these voices have great difficulty gaining traction in the wider public decisions in the political and economic realms.

It is incredibly difficult to move public conversations beyond a narrow, short-term model of economic development. Our short-term prosperity is in too many ways linked to present and future harm of others, including our own children and grandchilden.

I believe faith communities can make a real contribution here. In recent years, we have seen ecumenical and interfaith statements on climate change.

Christian ethics, and more specifically Catholic social teaching, are a largely untapped resource in these public discussions – not primarily at the level of specific policy solutions or programs, but rather at the foundational level of influencing the very values, world views and understandings of what it means to live as humans that underlie our present continuing debates about oil sands plants, pipelines, fracking, upgraders, etc.


This month is the fourth anniversary of Bishop Luc Bouchard's pastoral statement The Integrity of Creation and the Athabasca Oil Sands.

Bouchard insisted that "environmental ethics is no longer of interest only to the specialist or to an elite group of theologians, but it is of great significance for mainstream Catholic life."

For those of us needing a quick update on Catholic ecological ethics, I suggest reading the brief section in Bouchard's statement titled Theological Reflection on Creation ( Maybe this can help us contribute more helpfully to the incredibly important discussions taking place all around us about the future of our world.

(Bob McKeon: