Bishop calls for renewed climate action ahead of new papal documentFriday 29th September 2023
Bishop John has shared a message to Catholics across England and Wales ahead of a new Laudato Si’ document due to be released by Pope Francis next week.
In an interview with the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Bishop John Arnold, Bishop of Salford and Lead Bishop for Environmental Issues, spoke ahead of the release of a new document from Pope Francis that will update his 2015 encyclical letter Laudato Si’, which explores on our Christian duty to care for our common home.
The follow-up will be published at the conclusion of the annual Season of Creation on the Feast of St Francis of Assisi, 4 October.
In his message for this year’s World Day for Care of Creation, Pope Francis said it was “necessary to stand with the victims of environmental and climate injustice, striving to end the senseless war on our common home which is a terrible world war.”
The Holy Father urged everyone to play a part to “transform our hearts, our lifestyles, and the public policies ruling our societies.”
Bishop John echoes this important message from Pope Francis and explains why the time for renewed action is now:
Bishop John Arnold, our Lead Bishop for Environmental Issues, we have an exhortation which will update Laudato Si’, the Pope’s Encyclical on Care for Our Common Home that was released in 2015, eight years ago. In your view, eight years on, what are the imperatives? What is the environmental need to update this document and make a strong call to action?
Well, I think after eight years, we have to take stock and recognise that Laudato Si’ really brought environmental issues to the forefront for all people of goodwill, and it was a very powerful statement, but it came with strong warnings. The unfortunate thing is that eight years on, several COP meetings later, we really have not been achieving the targets that those COP meetings have agreed, and the damage is not being reduced. In fact, in some ways, it’s increasing. Some of the predictions of the environmentalists about what will be happening to the climate are proving to have been, in a way, simplified, and they’re actually accelerating faster now than those environmentalists were thinking. So I think the new statement by Pope Francis will be strong and will give an urgent warning. But, as always, he will finish with that sentiment of hope and that sense that in the urgency, we’ve all got our part to play.
We sometimes ask those questions; just how much is our behaviour affecting the environment? And certainly we look around us we see more extreme weather – even here in the UK, we see more extreme weather. Just recently, there was that question mark over the lack of ice in the sea in the Antarctic. So there are signs, aren’t there? There are reasons for action now…
Oh, certainly. The Antarctic has never had less ice as it emerged from winter – on any record. That is very serious and the oceans are warming and that’s having a big impact on biodiversity and on marine life. Every continent now has been struck. Even in the last six months, every continent has had some freak conditions, which environmentalists say is due to climate change. So we’re surrounded by it. And even in this country, we’ve seen droughts and we’ve seen unseasonal weather. It’s affecting our crops. The harvesting time is not as clear as it should be, and the crop itself is being compromised.
In terms of those that might be challenged by this and say, “these things are cyclical” or “I’m not convinced it’s as a result of human activity or corporate behaviour” or whatever else. What would you say to those that have a more sceptical eye on this?
Well, all I can say is that the evidence presented to us by people who really do understand the environment is irrefutable, that we are clearly going downhill rapidly. António Guterres, who draws on great authorities as Secretary General of the United Nations, he’s talked about no longer it being ‘global warming’, but now ‘global boiling’, and that we are facing a climate catastrophe. I don’t see how people can deny it anymore.
In terms of the synodal pathway, a synod on how the Church exercises its mission in the 21st century, Pope Francis is clearly one to talk about custodianship, isn’t he? How does that play into this particular dynamic?
Well, I think we’ve got to understand that we are stewards of creation. Each and every one of us has our part to play. They may seem to be trivial measures that we take in order to save electricity, save water, eat less red meat, all these sorts of things, all small in themselves. But if we put them together, then they do make a big difference. But what we’ve got to look to is system change and the ending of fossil fuels – because they really are the most dangerous element in global climate change – we’ve got to learn to live without fossil fuels.
Q: In terms of the theology and the spirituality, how does Christ play into us being good custodians of this Earth?
Well, I don’t think we can take the most important commandments seriously unless we include nature and the environment. When that pharisee asks Jesus, “What’s the most important commandment of the law?” And Jesus says, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.” And the second one resembles it. “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” If we’re really going to love our neighbour, we’ve got to look after the world in which we live because too many people are suffering through climate change and we’ve plundered other nations for our profit, and that’s got to change. We’ve got to repair the damage and make sure that in that way we’re looking after our brothers and sisters, which is our way of loving God.
Finally, Bishop John, our parishes, schools, organisations, some are doing an awful lot, and I know they’ve fed back to you what they’re doing. Is it unfair to say there’s more that can be done? What would you say to those Catholic organisations in terms of their responsibilities?
I think there’s certainly more we can be doing, and that’s, first of all, education. Young people are understanding it far more clearly than perhaps an older generation. Yes, parishes, schools, all Catholic organisations, we can all be learning more. When we know and understand, then I’m sure people will want to make a more joined-up effort to make sure that we are doing our best to repair the damage that we’ve done. There are many things that we can be doing, but we must not take anything for granted. We’ve got to press ahead and make sure that we are a voice – a voice to our democratic nation that says we must change our policies and our life as a nation.