The following comes from a December 3 San Diego Union-Tribune article by Joshua Emerson Smith:
Opposition to abortion and the death penalty have long been cardinal beliefs for the Roman Catholic church, whose faithful make up about a quarter of all Americans.
What if fighting climate change becomes an equally passionate issue in parishes nationwide?
The foremost group of Catholic leaders in the U.S. is ramping up a campaign to do just that, urging priests and congregations from San Diego to Atlanta to think about global warming as a sanctity-of-life issue.
Some Catholic experts have even likened the growing campaign to deal with human-caused climate change to the revered pro-life movement — calling on the laity to do everything from cutting back on consumerism to installing energy-efficient light bulbs to personally asking lawmakers to take action.
Parishes nationwide, notably the Archdiocese of Chicago, are pursuing energy- and water-efficiency overhauls of their churches, schools and other buildings. Their moves are inspired by Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical last year — titled “Laudato Si’” — that implored governments to protect the planet, and especially the disadvantaged, against current and projected effects of climate change.
In San Diego County, for example, two dozen churches and schools have or are in the process of installing solar panels. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego expects all 99 parishes in its territory to do the same within a few years.
The nationally coordinated effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions is the biggest official campaign by any organized religion. It comes as the Catholic leadership mounts what appears to be an escalated and high-profile agenda to oppose policies ostensibly supported by President-elect Donald Trump, including issues of immigration and social justice for the poor.
“It’s clear that climate change is a pro-life issue,” said Sarah Spengeman with Catholic Climate Covenant, a nonprofit formed in 2006 by leading U.S. bishops to work on ecological issues. “People are being killed by climate change already, so it’s very core to our beliefs.”
Such reasoning has been met with vocal pushback from conservative Catholic circles.
“Some activist groups who would like Catholics to agree with their preferred climate policies claim that climate change is equivalent to abortion, but that makes no sense,” said Jay Richards, an economics professor at The Catholic University of America in Washington and a visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Procured abortion, according to settled Catholic teaching, involves an intrinsic moral evil. What’s the equivalent intrinsic moral evil with respect to climate change? There isn’t one.”
This fall, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Climate Covenant rolled out a program aimed at mobilizing action around Pope Francis’ encyclical, which outlined a moral obligation for combating climate change.
On Tuesday, the San Diego diocese — which covers this region and Imperial County — is set to become the latest location to host the program, dubbed “Laudato Si’ in the Parish.” Others that have done so include dioceses in Atlanta; Des Moines, Iowa; and Las Cruces, New Mexico. The program is scheduled to be implemented in at least 10 more regions next year.
The program’s foundations emerged from an ethical notion championed by Pope Francis that climate change through increased storms, flooding and drought will have an outsized impact on the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations, people who often are the least responsible for emitting greenhouse gases.
In San Diego, Bishop Robert McElroy said he ranks abortion and global warming as his two most pressing issues.
“Climate change and the environment in general really have to do with the continuation of life on our planet, and thus we really have to come to grips with the fact that we are depleting the resources of the created order at such a rate that humanity won’t be able to survive unless we change the patterns that we’ve been engaged in,” he said.
As for his flock of lay Catholics, McElroy said they’re still “very mixed” when it comes to understanding climate change, being concerned about it and making life changes in response.
“There’s a certain uphill struggle to it, but that’s true of any of these meaningful issues,” he said. “We just keep doing it.”
Credited by the Vatican with helping Pope Francis better comprehend the impact of climate change on the world’s most vulnerable people, scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan is scheduled to speak to Catholic leaders at Tuesday’s program launch event in San Diego. Partnering with the scientific community has been a staple of the pope’s climate-change agenda.
Practical advice being shared with the United States’ 195 Catholic bishops, who oversee more than 19,000 priests and their parishes, has largely focused on conducting professional energy audits, but has also included strategies ranging from limiting use of foam food containers to lobbying Congress to support the United Nations’ green climate fund, which helps developing countries pay for their transition to renewable energy.