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Cry of the Earth

  • 19 August 2021
  Last week the annual Catholic Social Justice Statement was launched. Entitled Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poor, its theme is care for the environment. In the same week the authoritative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report warned of the need for immediate and radical effort to minimise emissions and of the likely effects of their existing growth.

The documents warned their two constituencies of the danger of inactivity and marshalled the religious and humanitarian reasons for responding urgently to climate change. They face an identical challenge. If governments are to respond adequately to climate change they need to come under pressure from the people. That will not happen unless people see the issue as personal. It needs to enter their dreams, engage their imagination, stir them to change their way of life, and make them active in demanding an appropriate response. 

The greatest obstacle to such a personal commitment is the realisation that personal action is not sufficient. If emissions are to be reduced, let alone removed, all nations need to be involved. This gives individual nations an escape clause. If individual advocacy is to make a difference, it must meet the opposition of politicians, businesses and individuals who stand to lose by radical action. In the face of these obstacles enthusiasm for necessary change is likely to fall away and yield to weary resignation.

That is why Pope Francis and the Social Justice Statement insist on the need for conversion, a word with intentionally religious associations. Conversion involves a change of mindset and priorities that lies deeper than passing or spasmodic attention, the vague desire that things were otherwise or a wish not to be troubled by the situation.

Conversion has many dimensions. To be converted is to come to see an issue as personal. It is not abstract but concerns us and people for whom we care, demands our personal investment, and occupies my feelings and my mind. Conversion also leads us to see an issue as urgent. We become convinced that to respond or not to respond to it will have serious consequences. It takes a high priority. Conversion leads us, too, to give an issue pride of place within our framework of meaning. We set it among our other beliefs and readjust our other commitments and allegiances. It helps reshape our relationship to people and to the world around us. Finally, conversion leads us to see an