Faith and reason Peter Hodgson
0 nce again, the bishops of the United States have shown their pastoral concern by issuing a statement on Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good. They succeed in steering between the dangers of making a statement so bland and vacuous as to be useless and one that goes into technical details that require expert knowledge and thus runs the risk of being later proved wrong. They consider the problem in its global generality, with special reference to the United States.
They begin by recalling that creation is God's gift to us and so should be respected for the benefit of all, not forgetting the needs of the poor and of future generations. Much of the debate on global climate change, however, is driven by politics and economics, with different groups minimising or exaggerating the challenges for their own purposes. The bishops "seek to offer a distinctively religious and moral perspective to what is necessarily a complicated scientific, economic and political discussion". As Pope John Paul II insists: "We face a fundamental question which can be described as both ethical and ecological. How can accelerated development be prevented from turning against man? How can one prevent disasters that destroy the environment and threaten all forms of life, and how can the negative consequences that have already occurred be remedied?"
Recognising that there are still many uncertainties in the predictions of the effects of changes in the atmosphere, they accept the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a sound basis for continued and prudent action. We all have a serious responsibility to act now in order to prevent the situation from worsening.
The problem is a global one and, as the Pope has emphasised: "We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well being of future generation." Our responsibility as stewards of creation implies that all of us, especially those in the affluent nations, should review our own life styles and not try to evade responsibility by imposing population and emission controls on the poorer countries.
"Solidarity with the poor requires the developed industrial countries. which are largely responsible for global warming, to use their knowledge to reduce their own emissions and to assist poorer countries to develop in an environmentally sound way.
"Interdependence," as the Pope has written, "must be transformed into solidarity ... Surmounting every type of imperialism and determination to preserve their own hegemony, the stronger and richer nations must have a sense of moral responsibility for other nations, so that a real international system may be established which will rest on the foundations of the equality of all peoples and on the necessary respect for their legitimate differences".
As one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, the United States has a special responsibility to develop effective policies to reduce climate change, including initiatives for energy conservation and the promotion of renewable and clean energy resources. To effect this requires "an attitude of candour, conciliation and prudence in response to serious, complex and uncertain challenges".
The dialogue between scientists, economists, politicians and diplomats "must be guided by fundamental moral values: the universal common good, respect for God's creation, an option for the poor, and a sense of intergenerational obligation".
In this document, the bishops of the United States have clearly outlined one of the most serious long-term problems of our times, and have provided sound guidelines for the ways to seek effective and just solutions. It is a problem that affects each one of us, and we ignore it at our peril.