By Philip Quirke
In our era of ecological awareness, we humans are called to be deliberately in harmony with the earth's living systems. People are becoming more aware of our responsibility for stewarding our planet away from exploitation, disposability and waste, to a more balanced relationship between all the living systems. It is in our own interest that we work towards such a relationship.
The human species has the power to direct the course of evolution. Our choices make a difference. The reality of climate change is experienced in Ireland through changes in weather patterns. Our meteorologists have reported that the data from the last eight years show these to have been the warmest on record. This is true for the planet as a whole. Natural disasters we will always have with us, but the warming of the planet means that they are more frequent and more severe. For example, the forest fires of Europe in 2022 and the flooding in Pakistan, and fire and flood in California indicate that weather patterns world-wide are out of kilter. Because climate issues are transnational, it is the Global Institutions which are challenged to address the crisis. And individuals can make a difference too.
We live on a small island off mainland Europe, which has so far escaped the excesses of fire and flood, of wind and rain. What kind of intervention is open to us, to me,. in the face of the magnitude of the global situation? An approach to a response is indicated in the old phrase of early recycling advocates: Think Globally, Act Locally. Some feel when you do in fact think globally that local action is next or near to useless. This defeatist attitude is understandable, but it need not paralyse local action. A few suggestions follow.
Carbon in the atmosphere contributes to global warming. Trees hold excess carbon, so to plant a tree is to make a worthwhile contribution. To protest against logging in the Amazon and Equatorial forests will encourage world bodies to act against deforestation, and to finance economic projects to assist poor farmers, who see no option for their livelihood but to cut and burn. So while the world bodies such as the UN and the IMF get on with their responsibilities, we can plant ‘Pocket Forests’ such as that in the grounds of Bride St Church, or we can plant a tree in our back and front gardens.
It is also within our grasp to limit the burning of wood, turf and coal. It is hard to surrender the pleasure of a coal fire, but maybe it is possible to set a coal fire three days a week instead of every night. Some homes need solid fuel heating; it is possible to burn smokeless coal. Those with oil or gas-fired central heating know that the thermostat set lower will save fuel, and make a small, painless contribution to lessening carbon in the atmosphere. When people see factories in both rich and developing economies belching out more fumes per hour than my house will exhale in my lifetime, they query the value of any cutback in domestic use, asking if it does any good at all. In fact it does. It is another small contribution, and many small contributions become significant in their cumulative effect.
A third small and do-able contribution lies in simple gardening. Tending a small vegetable garden provides the freshest possible foods. Gardening also brings one into conflict with pests, especially slugs who are lured by any green shoot. There are natural ways to control such pests, easily accessed on the internet. A flower garden will attract butterflies and bees, and a myriad of flying creatures, which ( maybe we should address them as ‘who’) are the pollinators of fruit trees and bushes. And if no garden is available due to living in apartments or second floor flats, a few large pots will give the opportunity to grow flowers, shrubs and even tomatoes.
Lent is the season when Christians work to renew commitment to review, renew and heal the imbalances which infiltrate our lives. A good Lenten practice would be to make some small gestures of rebalancing our relationship with the planet, Mother Earth, which, in the words of St. Francis, ‘governs and sustains us and brings forth manifold fruits and coloured flowers and herbs’.