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World Youth Day's ecological conversion opportunity

  • 08 March 2007

In Australia — especially in this time of drought — people are increasingly conscious of climate change. Not a day goes without a news headline highlighting some new initiative to reduce carbon emissions.

Despite the climate change sceptics, the upswing in environmental consciousness is a global phenomenon. It is not just first world elites who are taking notice, but all kinds of communities in the developing world as well, from Pacific islanders worried about rising sea levels and storm surges to Filipino rainforest dwellers concerned about typhoons.

Interestingly, the late Pope John Paul II was aware of and shared this environmental consciousness. In a remarkable and almost prophetic statement in 2001, he called on the Church to encourage and support the "ecological conversion (that) has made humanity more sensitive to the catastrophe to which it has been heading".

"Man," he said, "is no longer the Creator's 'steward', but an autonomous despot, who is finally beginning to understand that he must stop at the edge of the abyss."

Picking up on increasing signs of this ecological consciousness, noted American commentator, John L. Allen, said "ecology and natural resources" are one of ten "megatrends" that he expects to shape global Catholicism in coming decades.

I’ve been thinking about these issues, particularly in the context of the forthcoming World Youth Day 2008 event, for which I am organizing a local program for a Melbourne parish. Each time I look at the World Youth Day website the number of people expected to participate keeps rising. Half a million, 600,000, now 700,000 people are expected to come to Sydney for the final Mass with Pope Benedict on the 20th of July. Many of the Australian participants will fly in to Sydney. More than 100,000 international visitors are also expected – nearly all of whom will fly for up to 25 hours. According to figures available on climate change websites, a flight from Europe will generate seven to eight tonnes of carbon dioxide that will be emitted into the atmosphere. Even a flight from Singapore will generate over three tonnes. It is obvious then that, depending on exactly how many people come, and from where, the 'carbon cost' of hosting World Youth Day in Sydney could easily reach half a million to a million tones of CO2 equivalent. That’s five to ten times more than the 100,000 tonnes that FIFA estimated as the carbon cost of hosting