What does the UN Climate Conference in Paris mean for us?
Recently I attended an excellent conference run by an organisation called Green Christians. It focused on new ideas in economics, ideas that might liberate us from the treadmill of consumerism and so-called ‘growth’.
At one point a speaker asked what distinctive thing Christianity could offer to the debate. I wanted to reply in the words of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, ‘an integral ecology’.
For those who believe in one God, who creates, sustains, governs and redeems all that exists, all systems and patterns must be ultimately unified.
The relevant chapter of Laudato Si’ explicitly links the biological idea of ecology – the interconnectedness and interdependence of different species – with the cultural and political interconnectedness of human beings.
We have our own human ecosystems, as it were, and these interrelate closely with the natural world. That is why the Pope called so clearly for us to rethink the assumptions of standard economics.
Having noticed this theme of integration I find it popping up everywhere. I have reviewed three quite different books recently.
A Godly Humanism by Francis George, the late Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago, took Faith and Reason as its theme. For the Catholic, they must be intimately intertwined, always mutually supporting and guiding each other.
The second book, Speed Limits, was by a philosopher and agnostic, Mark C. Taylor, who provided a powerful critique of our industrial-capitalist culture. It is dangerously unstable, he argued, because of it obsession with speed. But this instability is exponentially dangerous precisely because all the systems of our world are interconnected, natural, biological, social, political and cultural. And, Pope Francis would have added, most fundamentally of all, religious.
The third book, The Lost Knowledge of Christ by Fr Dominic White OP, more than makes good the religious deficit. Its ambitious aim is to recover a forgotten, but once fundamental, Christian world-view, which understood the cross as rebinding the broken bonds of the entire cosmos. The life of faith and worship is a participation in this cosmic restoration.
Once again, to quote Laudato Si’,
‘everything is interconnected’ (70)
This matters. Whatever the politicians decide in Paris, it will not be enough on its own. Not even if the economists are converted. As St Augustine pointed out long ago, peace in the world begins with peace in our hearts, and the source of that peace is the Goodness and Truth we call God.
We need the right politics, we need the right economics. But we also need a culture and education imbued by wisdom, and we need millions of ordinary human beings, ordinary local communities, converted in heart and mind.
The COP21 has a chance of working if and only if we ourselves are prepared to
‘care from creation through little daily actions’ (Laudato Si’, 211)
Putting on an extra jumper or walking to work has become an act of moral, cultural, economic, political and religious significance.
For we believe in One God, Creator of all things, in heaven and on earth.
Sr Margaret Atkins, of Boarbank Hall in Cumbria, is a CTS author.
In the open debate about the environment, Catholics & Our Common Home looks deeply at the “ecological conversion” wished by Pope Francis.
The booklet challenges the critical, stir up the indifferent, and encourage the discouraged.