The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change
Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, delivered an address today to the participants in a major international conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences on climate change and stewardship of creation. It was titled Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development.
Here is an excerpt:
Without moral conversion and change of hearts, even good regulations, policies, and targets in the world are unlikely to prove effective. Without this ethical foundation, humanity will lack the courage (moral substance) to carry out even the most sensible policy proposals. Yet without effective policies, our moral energy is all-too-easily dispersed.
This is an all-embracing moral imperative: to protect and care for both creation, our garden home, and the human person who dwells herein – and to take action to achieve this. If the dominant, pervasive ethos is selfishness and individualism, sustainable development will not come about. For progress towards sustainability requires a fundamental openness to relationship or, in other words, justice and responsibility, opening up new avenues of solidarity.
Citizens of wealthier countries must stand shoulder to shoulder with the poor, both at home and overseas. They have a special obligation to help their brothers and sisters in developing countries to cope with climate change by mitigating its effects and by assisting with adaptation. A simple analogy might help make this clear. Imagine ten people walking in a vast desert. Two of the ten people have already drunk half of the group’s combined supply of water. The other eight are growing weak from thirst. And there is no more water in sight. In such a desperate situation, the two who have drunk their fill have a moral duty to scout ahead to find an oasis. When they find it, they have a moral duty to guide the rest of the group there, making sure that no life is lost.
As this suggests, the wealthiest countries, the ones who have benefitted most from fossil fuels, are morally obligated to push forward and find solutions to climate-related change and so protect the environment and human life. They are obliged both to reduce their own carbon emissions and to help protect poorer countries from the disasters caused or exacerbated by the excesses of industrialization.
This moral obligation extends to all – political leaders, corporate leaders, civil society, and ordinary people too. Corporations and financial investors must learn to put long-term sustainability over short-term profit, and to recognize that the financial bottom line is secondary to, and at the service of, the common good. And every single person of good will is summoned by an inner call to embrace the personal virtues that ground sustainable development – and the most important of these is an enfolding charity that radiates outwards from the self to others, from those alive today to those not yet born.The entire text is here.