This month, nearly 200 countries are meeting in Paris to work on a global climate change agreement aimed at protecting and preserving what Pope Francis calls our common home, the earth.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference, which runs through Dec. 11, seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2020. More than 150 countries have submitted a climate change plan which outlines how — and by how much — they will reduce their emissions. (For example, the United States has pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent from its 2005 levels.) These national climate targets cover nearly 90 percent of emissions worldwide, according to the United Nations.
Religious leaders from around the world are rallying their congregations to pray for a successful climate change conference. The goal, they believe, is not just to limit climate change but to change hearts. This has been a message Pope Francis has voiced repeatedly.
Preserving human dignity and preserving the planet go hand in hand, Pope Francis tells us. One goal cannot be satisfactorily achieved without the other. In his encyclical, Laudato Si’, the pope identifies this as an integral ecology.
While in Kenya Nov. 26, Pope Francis visited the United Nations Office in Nairobi. He discussed the importance of the Paris conference and called for the adoption of “a culture of care,” according to Catholic News Service. “Care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment — in the place of a culture of waste, a throwaway culture where people use and discard themselves, others and the environment.”
While world leaders seek to limit climate change on a global level, there are many things we can do to promote care for creation. The United Nations offers an online manual, “The Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World,” that includes three levels of activity: things you can do from your couch; things you can do at home; and things you can do outside your house.
Some examples from level 1:
- Save electricity by plugging appliances into a power strip and turning it off when not in use.
- Don’t print. Use digital post-it notes. If you need to print, print on both sides.
From level 2:
- Take short showers. Baths require more water.
- Eat less meat, poultry and fish. More resources are used to process meat than plants.
From level 3:
- Bring your own bag when you shop for groceries.
- Take fewer napkins with you when eating takeout food.
The Catholic Climate Covenant (catholicclimatecovenant.org) also offers its own list of ways to make a difference, including creation care resources, sustainability toolkits and prayer and worship guides.
We can also practice an ecological spirituality that Pope Francis promotes in Laudato Si’. It begins with a conversion of heart and admission that lifestyle changes need to be made.
“We need to take up an ancient lesson, found in different religious traditions and also in the Bible,” says Pope Francis. “It is the conviction that ‘less is more.’ … Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little.”
Our challenge, then, is to give more to God’s creation by taking less. Care for the earth, locally and globally, is a huge challenge, but one humanity’s future depends on.