First published in The Criterion on December 15, 2017.
In his 2015 encyclical letter “Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis states, “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gasses can be drastically reduced” (#26).
Reporting from the COP23 climate talks held in Bonn, Germany, in November, the Global Catholic Climate Movement (GCCM) echoes that sentiment and reminds us that, while advocacy is important, individual actions are just as important.
Systemic change is needed to address climate change. But systemic change, by its nature, is a slow process. The urgent challenge of climate change requires that we take actions in our homes and parishes now. GCCM believes that “individual change is important for catalyzing systemic, institutional change.”
Endorsed by Pope Francis, GCCM (catholicclimatemovement.global) is a global network of more than 400 member organizations and a community of thousands of Catholics responding to the pope’s call to action in ‘Laudato Si.’ You may know them from their hashtag, #livelaudatosi. One dimension of their goal, as stated on its website, is “to help the Catholic community lead by example and dramatically shrink its collective carbon footprint.”
Our parishes are being called upon to do their part. “Local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land” (#179).
One way we can begin is to implement changes on our parish campuses to save energy. Studies show that up to 40 percent of the energy used in a building is wasted. Saving energy in our parishes also has the benefit of saving money on utilities; that money can then be used for other ministries.
Parishes may want to eliminate energy waste and save money but not know where to start. The complexity of a typical Catholic campus with multiple structures built at different times can be intimidating when trying to develop an energy efficiency plan.
The Catholic Climate Covenant, a member organization of GCCM, has developed a program designed to help parishes do just that. Called Catholic Energies, this program is designed to guide Catholic campuses (churches, schools, hospitals and other Catholic organizations) through an energy assessment, design a plan for energy savings, and implement energy efficiency projects that reduce energy costs. They can also provide assistance in funding the projects.
Dan Last, Catholic Energies chief operating officer, said the program emerged in 2016 from hundreds of conversations with pastors, parish staff members and organizational leaders about the need for practical steps on behalf of the environment. For more information on this program, go to catholicenergies.org.
Saving money in our parishes is a laudable goal. But more importantly, making changes to reduce energy use demonstrates our commitment to the principles of Laudato Si’. Catholic parishes serve as role models for the community. This is truly putting our faith in action.
How has your parish been successful in reducing its energy use?
(Andrew Pike is a member of St. Thomas Aquinas Parish in Indianapolis and of the ArchIndy Creation Care Commission).