Climate Change Conundrum: Lifestyle Options are Key
Like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned, most politicians pressed the continue-as-before button.
The issue of climate change is rarely far from the headlines. The COP21 in Paris in early December is focusing minds in 2015, but perhaps what keeps the matter on the boil continually is the gut feeling most people have that urgent steps are necessary, while few are willing to take concrete action themselves.
There are those of us who take Lent seriously each year on Ash Wednesday but, even if we manage a sustained forty-day dose of spiritually motivated self-punishment, few of us can resist untightening the belt again on Easter Sunday and extending the relaxed discipline of Eastertide across the next forty-six weeks until we are stopped in out tracks by the clarion call of next year’s Lent. Our attitude to the climate change problematic is disarmingly similar.
It is almost ten years since Al Gore managed to get us all worked up and alarmed with his dramatic slide show, An Inconvenient Truth, while at much the same time Lord Nicholas Stern, in the cold language of analytical science, calculated the impact of unrestrained climate change on the world economy, only to have other experts dismiss his report as “deeply flawed.” COMECE too published a reflection document in 2008 in which lifestyle change was posited as key to addressing the climate change conundrum. We are aware that despite the scientific evidence, we are dragging our heels.
Like Nero, fiddling while Rome burned, most politicians pressed the continue-as-before button. Certainly the much-trumpeted attempts to broker an agreement on restraint at Copenhagen and Lima delivered far less than they promised, so the stakes for Paris and COP21 are even higher as a consequence.
Time for a reality check with the man on the Clapham omnibus! A spring walk in the Ardennes under a brilliant blue sky, criss-crossed by the vapour trails of countless jets in mid-March indicated that predictions that air travel is forecast to increase by 100% by 2030 is no empty rhetoric. A few days after my walk in Belgium’s fen country, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II launched the P & O cruise liner Brittania, a spanking new ship which can carry 3,600 passengers and 1,350 crew. Research has shown that, however much aircraft pollute, ocean liners and container ships harm planet earth even more. We all know that, our heads tell us this is so, and yet we continue to patronise Cunard, we click on the RYANAIR website.
Temperance is one of the four natural virtues, and Lent, Ramadan and Yom Kippur teach the Abrahamic religions how beneficial it is in healthy management of the human body and spirit. Temperance as a rule of thumb in how we treat our planet might be fed into the debate about COP21 and it is a safe guess to predict that when Pope Francis addresses the issue of stewardship of creation in his much-awaited encyclical, he will doff his zucchetto to Thomas Aquinas and speak in the language we all understand, remind us of a truth about ourselves and our relationship to planet earth that we all intrinsically recognise, and inspire us to stiffen the moral backbone we are all born with to do something about it.
There are the easy steps: use the bus, take out the bicycle, wear that old jumper for another season, leave the e-mail on the screen rather than print it … there are just so many small things you and I can do to rectify what we know has gone wrong. There are also the tougher decisions, recommended by COMECE seven years back and outlined in detail in the document, the powerful message of which has not been diluted by time.
One recommendation worth flagging up as Lent 2015 recedes into the mist: refocus on spiritual values as source of happiness, turn our backs on conspicuous consumption. The challenge to all of us is to break the bad habits that have fed the problem (extend the lessons of Lent beyond Holy Week) and develop good habits which will help solve it.
Patrick H. Daly