Spirituality: The Missing Link in Addressing Climate Change

“Talk about the weather,” so goes the age-old advice on how to strike a conversation with anyone. The weather, as a shared experience, is a topic that alienates nobody – we are all under the same sky.  But these days, talking about the weather is no longer just a polite gesture to break the ice. It has become a dramatic discourse, a preoccupation on social media, at worst, a source of worry.  With the hot afternoons that seem to invalidate references to the cold December breeze in our Christmas songs, with darkness setting in too early at 5:30 PM, with super typhoon Yolanda taking us all by surprise…who wouldn’t?

This talk about the weather takes a more technical, highfaluting nature in the international community. Many conventions transpire to discuss climate change, the science of it, the policies needed to curb its effects and protect the most vulnerable countries, and various attempts to reclaim “climate justice.”  These are lofty initiatives that we hope do not get suspended in rhetoric while another super typhoon starts to brew somewhere. Significantly, too, we hope that these talks do not only remain scientific. We hope these also acknowledge the role of spirituality and religion in coming up with solutions.

Inasmuch as climate change is a global crisis, it is more importantly an internal, moral crisis. Human activity – competition for resources, excessive consumption, complacency, obsession over convenience – has driven nature nuts and nauseated, if you will. The many disasters the world has seen in a year seem to echo Leviticus 18:26 – 28:

“And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you.” 

This is an appropriate time to reflect on who we are, our relationship with the whole of creation and our God-appointed responsibility to be its stewards — as tenants, not owners:

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”   (Genesis 2:15)

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours.” (1 Chronicles 29:11)

Pope Benedict XVI also wrote numerous encyclicals and letters on climate change.  In his speech addressing the “Sister Nature” Foundation, a group of environmentalist-devotees of Saint Francis of Assissi, the Pope Emeritus said:

“Dear friends, while the Church admires the most important scientific research and discoveries, she has never ceased to remember that in respecting the Creator’s impression on the whole of creation, we understand better our true and deep human identity. If it is lived well, this respect can also help young men and women discover their personal talents and approaches and hence train for a specific profession which they will always seek to carry out with respect for the environment.”

Scientific rationalism may indeed provide solutions to mitigate the impact of climate change; it may tell us what needs to be done. But the urgency and motivation to act, to simplify lifestyles, and become more concerned rely on a more serious interior overhaul that only God – spirituality, religion – can inspire.

Let us pray that the next time we talk about the weather, it won’t be nonchalant chatter, or out of panic and fear, because it shall be out of praise:

“How many are your works, O Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number– living things both large and small. (Psalm 104:24-25)

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