“The required change is much more than simply political or technological solutions”, said Cardinal Michael Czerny, Prefect of the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development at the Fourth International Congress on the Care of Creation held in Lisbon, Portugal, on Monday, 31 July.
The conference was hosted by the Catholic University of Portugal in collaboration with several entities including the John Paul ii Foundation for Youth. Attending the event were Cardinal-elect Américo Manuel Alves Aguiar, Auxiliary Bishop of the Portuguese capital and organiser of the wyd , and Bishop Claudio Giuliodori, President of the Youth Commission of the Council of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe — cce, Italy.
Our planet, Cardinal Czerny emphasized in his intervention on Integral Ecology for a new Humanity, is going through a crucial point of history called “The Anthropocene”. The Anthropocene is a new geological epoch; “never before has homo sapiens lived in such a time. For humans have significantly altered, and are significantly altering, all earth’s systems — the atmosphere, the oceans, the continents, and ecosystems — the whole community of life on earth”.
We are now experiencing disturbing concurrent trends — ice rapidly disappearing, hotter and more acidic oceans, rising sea level, extreme weather. This is affecting marine, freshwater, and terrestrial life more and more. In fact, the Cardinal’s home country, Canada, recently experienced its worst wildfire season, and in late June and early July the resultant smog blanketed large cities across North America and even reached Portugal. “The world of the 2020s has already left the safe Holocene climate zone”, the Cardinal continued, that is, “the global climate conditions in which, since the last Ice Age, agriculture and civilisations have developed over the past 11,700 years. Heat records are being exceeded yearly and even month by month”.
It is true, he added, that more “than 90 nations have now signed the Paris Accords and set targets to reach net-zero emissions by mid-century”, but much more needs to be done considering that we are now heading “dangerously close to the 1.5 to 2 degrees ceiling targeted by the Accords”.
Such an emergency, the Cardinal continued, requires everyone to embrace the concepts expressed by Pope Francis in his Encyclical, Laudato Si’, not forgetting that humans are “an integral part of the earth system and are now collectively shaping its future”. The Gospel calls us “to change how we live, and act, and pray”, the Prefect emphasized. Integral ecology interconnects the wide range of languages and categories that take us “to the heart of what it is to be human”. All the more so in the face of “the complex combination of multiple crises”: the eco-crisis, the so-called culture wars, the hundreds of millions in misery, more and more of them forced to flee their homes, and the new digital age with much promise and many pitfalls.
That is why “new meanings and fresh values are needed and, above all, living examples of persons, communities, and institutions that embody a ‘new humanity’” ready to restore an ecological equilibrium. The Prefect went on to emphasise that “we must become more aware of our common origin, our mutual belonging, and our shared future”, which is endangered by the frantic pursuit of profit. “Its technocratic paradigm, its runaway model of development, tends to dominate economic, political and cultural life, pits humans against the natural world and against one another. It promotes a modern myth of progress ‘grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market)’”.
Cardinal Czerny pointed out that education will be “inadequate and ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature”. Moreover, if we are truly “concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, including the religions and cultural and spiritual riches of the many different peoples”. Young people are demanding change. They “have a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit, and some of them are making admirable efforts to protect the environment”. In short, the “immensity and urgency of the challenge we face” impel us to embark on a new “ethical and spiritual itinerary”, in which “the results of the best scientific research available today” play an absolutely essential role and in which we recalibrate the relationship between human beings and the environment.
So what are the urgent actions that are needed to move our planet from an environmental collapse? Firstly, we must achieve net-zero emissions which will allow our overheated planet to cool off, said the Cardinal. Another important issue is to stop deforestation, especially in watersheds of global importance like the Amazon and the Congo. To protect biodiversity and habitats and halt ecosystem degradation. The economy and finance must also not be driven by “the frantic pursuit of profit”. And, above all, “a new way of thinking about human beings, life, society and our relationship with nature” must be promoted. “Integral ecology”, as the Encyclical Laudato Si’ states, requires “the need to contemplate the Creator who lives among us and surrounds us” and “to honestly examine our commitments and lifestyle; and to develop a serene harmony with creation”.
To promote an integral ecology, Cardinal Czerny lastly pointed to a guide. A role model mentioned often by Pope Francis: “Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically”. The Saint of Assisi shows us “how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace”.