The Christian virtue of hope, a gift of the Holy Spirit, empowers us to sustain a balanced, positive effort to limit global warming and save ourselves and our common home. The virtue of hope is different from optimism, whether utopian or reasonable. It is grounded in the faith conviction that God cares for the Earth and all its citizens with an unconditional love. Hope avoids the extremes of a paralyzing pessimism (It is too overwhelming so I am not going to think about it) as well as an intentional passivity (I don’t have to do anything because I am counting on God to intervene and save us). Concretely, hope moves us to celebrate genuine progress in limiting global warming and to commit ourselves in our own limited way to support further efforts needed to save our common home.
On the positive side, the 2015 Paris Agreement was a major achievement. Most of the countries of the world pledged to voluntarily reduce their emission of greenhouse gases to levels designed to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and to reach carbon neutral status by the second half of the century. Since each country sets its own target and monitors its progress, there is no way to verify their claims with certainty. However, it remains true that almost all countries recognize that global warming is a major threat to the earth and are willing to take measures to save our planet.
Since 2015, dozens of countries, including the United States and China, the major polluters, have voluntarily submitted stricter pledges. For example, the U.S. is now committed to cut carbon emissions by about half of the 2005 levels by 2030. The European Union and China have set similar goals to be achieved by 2030. Under President Lula, Brazil, which controls large portions of the Amazon rain forest, recently pledged to reduce deforestation to zero by 2030 – a sharp reversal of previous policies. Some U.S. states have set more ambitious goals. For example, California, the fifth largest economy in the world, has a 2030 goal of cutting emissions by 48% compared to 1990.
Many U.S. industries are committed to slowing down global warming. For example, General Motors has joined over 1,000 international companies dedicated to establishing “a safer, greener and better world.” GM plans to be carbon neutral by 2040 in its global products and operations.
Most U.S. colleges and universities are committed to reducing their carbon output and a handful have already achieved “net zero” carbon emissions also known as “carbon neutrality.” For instance, the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit school, reached carbon neutrality in 2019 after a multifaceted approach inspired by Pope Francis who wrote in Laudato Si that we all have a responsibility “to participate in swift and united action to repair humanity’s relationship with the Earth.” The university makes use of solar water heating and does not burn any fossil fuels. To limit the use of cars, the university does not allow student parking on campus, but gives every student a public transportation pass. They also offer financial incentives to faculty and staff to use public transportation.
Starting in 1995, the United Nations has sponsored annual Conferences of the Parties (COP) to deal with climate change. These conferences helped prepare for the Paris Agreement and have monitored progress ever since. At the 2022 COP 27 conference, the developed nations made tentative pledges to provide financial assistance to help developing countries meet their carbon emission goals.
Christian hope prompts us to celebrate all of these accomplishments and more. At the same time, the virtue of hope strengthens us to respond to the new harsh scientific consensus that more must be done to avoid the ceiling of 1.5 degrees C. Only swift and concerted actions by the nations of the world can save the Earth from cataclysmic climate changes. As Americans, we have the opportunity to vote for federal leaders who not only are people of character and competence but who also recognize the problem and support a national effort to save our common home.
Pope Francis encourages us to express our Christian hope by following the traditional wisdom: “Pray like everything depends on God and act like everything depends on us.”
What progress on global warming is most impressive to me?
About the Author
Fr. James J. Bacik has served as a priest of the Diocese of Toledo since his ordination in 1962. He is a widely regarded theologian, writer, lecturer and pastor who served as campus minister and adjunct professor of humanities at the University of Toledo for more than 30 years. Fr. Bacik is an AUSCP member. Visit his website at frjimbacik.org.