Statement of Greg Walgenbach

As a Catholic, along with other Christians and people of many faiths, I say at the outset that the fundamental problem that we are facing is a failure to acknowledge that this world is a gift from our Creator that we have no right to trample underfoot. The very first story in the book of Genesisis the nonviolent creation of all that is and the nature-filled images in the parables of Jesus and his words: “Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these” (Luke 12:27) call us to align ourselves with the nonviolent care of creation, what Pope Francis has called a revolution of tenderness. Human beings, according to the Bible, are to keep and till the natural world but, as Fr. James Martin, SJ, puts it, “sadly we’ve done a very good job tilling it but not such a great job keeping it” (recent video on the Care for Creation).

Pope Francis speaks of “a very solid scientific consensus” on the “disturbing warming of the climatic system…accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and…extreme weather events.” He emphatically states: “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it…[A] number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity…The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.”

The Paris talks are important because governments around the world must act but the people of the world must provide leadership, must act, must stand in solidarity with the poorest and most vulnerable among us. In a letter to Catholic bishops around the world, Cardinal Peter Turkson recalled the World Meeting of Popular Movements earlier this year:

Pope Francis observed that justice often requires prudent political action from elected officials. At the same time, the Holy Father recognized that simply to rely on well-known or high-profile leaders for action is often not enough. “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites.” Rather, “it is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”

Recent popes have pressed the case that stewardship of the environment is a moral issue, making it part of magisterial Catholic teaching. Saint John Paul II warned against the problem of consumerism and the way human beings set themselves “in the place of God and thus end up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.” He reminded us of the connections between “authentic ‘human ecology’” and treatment of the rest of creation. Pope Benedict XVI, known as the “Green Pope,” made Vatican City the first carbon neutral state, a largely symbolic action which nonetheless spoke to a commitment to practical and systemic solutions. He addressed the need for a global authority to oversee the “worldwide redistribution of energy resources” and “guarantee the protection of the environment.” Pope Francis has promulgated and expanded upon this social teaching in his encyclical Laudato Si’: On the Care of Our Common Home, saying: “We have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Our relief and sustainable development agencies like Catholic Relief Services working around the world see daily the impact of climate change upon the poor and the vulnerable. Pope Francis has said: “If we destroy Creation, it will destroy us.” When we reject the gift of the Creator, we suffer along with the rest of Creation. For the sake of the human person, especially the refugees of war and climate disaster that are part of the largest migration of peoples since World War II, for whole ecosystems cleared (destroyed and lost) for corporate profits, for animals facing increased rates of extinction, for all of these and more: “In the name of God…Defend Mother Earth!”

Bio of Greg Walgenbach

Greg Walgenbach is Director of Life, Justice & Peace, Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange. He is married with four children, lives in Anaheim, and is a parishioner of St Philip Benizi, Fullerton. Southern California native, Greg holds a Ph.D. in Theology and Philosophy from Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, CA. He has ministered in Baptist, Episcopal, and Catholic churches. He is a passionate advocate for the dignity of every human person and the integrity of all creation. Greg works closely with Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Climate Covenant, and the Global Catholic Climate Movement. As a Christian he longs to see people formed by the Gospel and Catholic social teaching, organized for action, and rooted in prayer.