Climate Change – Migration and St Francis

A recent SMA Justice Briefingst-francis-icon wrote about Climate Change and its implications for Africa.  It is also an issue that has a direct bearing on refugees and asylum seekers as it will be major cause of migration.

On September 27, 2013, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the IPCC) published its “5th Assessment” on Climate Change, which concludes that we are experiencing a major change in earth’s climate and that it is “95% sure” about the influence of human activity on altering climate, principally by the burning of fuels such as oil, gas, coal and peat. Up to now the evidence wasn’t so clear, and there were many, especially with financial interests in the fossil fuel industries, who wanted to deny what evidence there was. They will still try !

Climate change and its human causality is a reality.  The world simply is not ready, nor do experts have any experience or sure knowledge for dealing with the fall-out and the epoch- changing events that are likely to emerge if our misuse of the earth and its resources continues. But we do know one thing: no country will be immune to climate change.  Once again, we are issued with a “wake-up call”, this time from the IPCC. It tells us first of all that we are all members of a world-wide community, and even if we are sheltered from the worst of climate change, we have to take action.

The Feast of St Francis of Assisi takes place during the month of October.  In 2009 when naming him as the patron saint of ecology Pope John Paul II said, ”It is my  hope that St Francis will help us to keep ever alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.  And that he will remind us of our serious obligation to respect and watch over them with care.”

Here in Ireland, and in most of the developed world, we fall far short of the ‘fraternity’ Pope John Paul II hoped for.  This becomes very clear if we, as individuals,  ask and honestly answer the question, “What is my “carbon footprint – How much am I responsible for increasing carbon emissions”?   For us here in Ireland the answer is startling – it is a fact that each of us is, on average, responsible for producing ten tons of carbon emissions annually. This is one hundred times more than the average African produces.  The carbon emissions we and other developed countries produce are responsible for the climate change that is already destroying the environment in many parts of Africa.  By 2020, only six years from now, it is expected that climate change will reduce crop production by 50%.  The number of people who won’t have enough water will increase to at least 75 million people.  Hungry and thirsty people will be forced to become climate refugees.

Is it not time to change?   Time to ask ourselves if we can shape political change: lobby our government, and the EU to take action in two areas. First, by taking the IPCC report seriously and reducing our national carbon emission levels.  Second, accept that we must be ready to welcome “climate refugees” from regions where life becomes impossible due to desertification, disastrous flooding and other climate caused destruction. 

Finally, it is also time for personal change, a change of attitude toward the world in which we live and, like St Francis, to embrace a “fraternity with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created.”  For Francis the Gospel command to “Love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all you soul, and your neighbour as yourself” (Mt 22:37-39) extended beyond humankind to a cosmic kinship where every created thing is brother or sister united in the body of Christ.  It’s time for us to broaden our view.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,… For Whom the Bell Tolls… John Donne


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