Climate change

Forty Shades of Green

I GREW UP IN RURAL IRELAND in the 1950s in a world surrounded by trees.

Close to my home, a ribbon of horse chestnuts lined both sides of the road. Each summer their intertwining canopies shut out the light, which gave the road its name—the dark road. In the fields around our house there were stands of oak, birch, elm, and sycamore. About 40 yards to the south and west, my father planted a shelter belt of Leylandii. We had different varieties of apple trees in the orchard, and two pear trees.

In 1962, just as the Second Vatican Council was beginning, I entered St. Columban’s seminary to be a priest. The seminary was located on a large estate called Dowdstown in County Meath. More than 150 acres were covered in woodlands full of indigenous trees such as oak, hazel, holly, ash, Scotch pine, willow, elm, and rowan. There were also exotic species, including a number of the sturdy cedars of Lebanon, a variety of cherry trees, and even a few California redwoods. The folklore in the area was that the trees had been planted in the 1820s by Gen. Robert Taylor, who had fought alongside Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo.

Trees are the dominant life form on land—and the longest-lived creatures on earth. During my seven years in seminary, while studying philosophy, theology, spirituality, and scripture, we never once looked to the natural world or trees for insight into our relationship with God, other human beings, or other species. And there is so much to learn! Sadly, theology and scripture presentations were isolated almost exclusively to the divine-human relationship, with little consideration given to the rest of creation.

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Faith in People: NYC Climate March Draws All Religions for a Healthier Planet

Participants in the People's Climate March in NYC, Sunday September 21. Image vi

Participants in the People's Climate March in NYC, Sunday September 21. Image via a katz/

More important than the celebrities or politicians marching on Sunday, members of the faith community came out in droves to support the rally. The Huffington Post reported on the wide variety of faiths that were represented at the march. A reporter from Christianity Today wrote, “Almost every conceivable strand of society was represented in the huge column of humanity — not only were there groups of Methodists and Baptists rubbing shoulders with Catholics and Presbyterians, there were Christians marching with Muslims, Jews, pagans, atheists and Baha'i. Anti-capitalist protesters stood alongside 'Concerned Moms for the Climate;' doctors, firemen, and vegans held banners next to indigenous people and victims of Hurricane Katrina.”

The reasons that thousands of individuals came out to the streets of New York City on Sunday are vast and personal. But for many members of the faith community, spreading awareness about the decaying state of God’s creation was a moral obligation. Signs such as “Jesus Would Drive a Prius” and a life-size moving Arkrepresented the importance of taking care of God’s creation throughout the rally. In a recent interview with the National Catholic Reporter, Steffano Montano, a theology professor at Barry University in Miami, said as a Catholic, there's a spiritual responsibility to combat climate change.

"By understanding creation, we can come closer to the Creator. It's an added spiritual responsibility. Justice for the earth is something that affects everybody. It's going to affect my daughter, my grandkids. It affects the poor in ways we are still trying to come to terms with. And it's our fault. So that's why we're here. It's on us to make a difference," said Montano.

Ban Ki-moon's Climate Altar Call

Marchers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Dec. 2009. Image cou

Marchers at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Dec. 2009. Image courtesy Ricardo Esplana Babor/

Reuters reported today that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is starting his drum beat to gets heads of state to his emergency climate conference in New York at the end of the month.

“Ban wants heads of state at a Sept. 23 gathering in New York to outline how their countries will contribute to a mutual goal to contain rising temperatures," said Selwin Hart, the Barbadian diplomat helping to spearhead the conference. The final deal is due to be signed in Paris in 2015, according to Reuters.

This one-day, “leaders-only” Climate Summit is somewhat unprecedented. U.N. climate negotiation meetings are usually called by the executive secretary of the UN’s climate caucus (UNFCCC) and attended by directors of environmental agencies. Ki-moon is switching things up because, as we’ve learned, effective policy to reverse global warming is about economics, not science or technology.  

“You don’t control economic policy at national level if you’re an environment minister,” said Michael Jacobs, a former climate change advisor to the U.K. government.  

A Teacher in Kabul

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly

Zekerullah going to school in Bamiyan. Photo courtesy Kathy Kelly

Here in Kabul, one of my finest friends is Zekerullah, who has gone back to school in the eighth grade although he is an 18-year old young man who has already had to learn far too many of life’s harsh lessons.

Years ago and miles from here, when he was a child in the province of Bamiyan, and before he ran away from school, Zekerullah led a double life, earning income for his family each night as a construction crew laborer, and then attempting to attend school in the daytime. In between these tasks, the need to provide his family with fuel would sometimes drive him on six-hour treks up the mountainside, leading a donkey on which to load bags of scrub brush and twigs for the trip back down. His greatest childhood fear was of that donkey taking one disastrous wrong step with its load on the difficult mountainside.

And then, after reaching home weary and sleep deprived and with no chance of doing homework, he would, at times, go to school without having done his homework, knowing that he would certainly be beaten. When he was in seventh grade, his teacher punished him by adding 10 more blows each day he came to school without his homework, so that eventually he was hit 60 times in one day. Dreading the next day when the number would rise to 70, he ran away from that school and never returned.

Now Zekerullah is enrolled in another school, this time in Kabul, where teachers still beat the students. But Zekerullah can now claim to have learned much more, in some cases, than his teachers.

Climate Change Is Happening: 4 Things You Can Do About It

wk1003mike /

wk1003mike /

The reality of climate change can be tough information to absorb, and if you’ve known for a while, it can just plain get you down. Yes, rising carbon pollution is leading to global warming. The impacts are already happening now, especially in poor countries and on our coasts. So now what? In the face of a problem on a global scale, what are we to do? Here are four suggestions.

1. Pray.

The massive scale of global warming is a reminder that we are only human. It’s overwhelming to think about and difficult to know where to start. The good news is, God is waiting for us to hand over all our burdens. This is God’s world, not ours – a perspective that can inform not only our outrage over what humans have done to the creation, but also our response. We can be the hands and feet of Christ, doing the work God calls us to do, but we are not the saviors of the world. Knowing that can be both humbling and strengthening. Prayer is a great place to start if you’re trying to figure out what to do about climate change, and it’s an equally important place to return to if you’ve been fighting the good fight for years (exhaustion and burnout are a real thing in this line of work!).