Earth Hour 8.30 pm, 23rd March

Earth Hour - Photo:

Earth Hour began in Sydney in 2007 as a symbolic gesture to show support and commitment to our earthly home. Yet, the annual observance is about much more than switching off lights and devices for an hour.

In their daily lives, Columban missionaries support communities that face many challenges at the same time. Moved by the suffering of peoples and the ailing earth, Columban missionaries strive to raise awareness about the magnitude of climate change and its many dimensions. Global temperatures are pushed up by the extraction and use of fossil fuels leading to extreme weather, disrupted access to healthy food and clean water, damage to infrastructure, loss of employment, social and cultural upheavals and threats to peace. Climate change is particularly harming the dignity and daily lives of people living in vulnerable situations and the futures of the young.

The Missionary Society of St Columbans in Australia signed a multi-faith letter calling on governments of the world to implement concrete plans to phase out new coal, oil and gas projects, and transition to renewable energies that leave no one behind. “The science surrounding the most urgent danger facing humanity is undeniable: to be good caretakers of our common home, we must act and phase out the production of fossil fuels.”[1] The multi-faith letter was an endorsement of a global treaty that was also signed by civic leaders and presented at the international climate summit, COP 27 in 2022. The following year some progress was made at COP 28 with the first-time acknowledgement at a climate summit that fossil fuels need to be phased out. Australia and Pacific Island partners are tipped to host COP 31 in 2026.

The majority of Australians care deeply about these issues and want more action at all levels to address climate change and protect our beautiful home.[2] Having access to accurate information is a necessary step to making a meaningful difference. The latest international scientific reports show that scaled-up renewable energy, improved buildings, the greening of urban areas, reduction of food waste and improved management of forests and farms are among ways that would effectively make a difference to global problems.[3]

Making changes to consumption patterns and caring for nature has widespread benefits, and bringing people together to discuss challenges, learn new ways and work on projects is a strong way forward. As such, community resilience and empowerment is one of the seven practical goals that grew out of Pope Francis’ vision for transformation in times of human and ecological suffering. Columban missionaries in Britain have been working hard to reduce their carbon footprint, says Helen Dufficy, a member of the Columban Creation Covenant Working Group. The installation of solar panels, replacement of older vehicles with electric, promotion of public transport, walking and bikes, and use of Zoom for meetings to cut down travel are some of the measures that have been taken up.[4] Acknowledging and celebrating achievements made by one another is also an important part of the change process and helps to inspire us all.

Pope Francis says, “I would like to repeat: the future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites. 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. I am with you.”[5] 

Sr Caroline Vaitkunas RSM
Peace, Ecology and Justice Office
Columban Mission Centre, Essendon

[1] Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty
[2] Biodiversity Council 2024, 2024 Biodiversity Concerns Report: A survey of community attitudes to nature conservation (March 2024)
[3] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change IPCC, Climate Change 2023 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers (Geneva 2023)  
[4] Helen Dufficy, Columban Creation Covenant in Britain, (Essendon: Peace, Ecology and Justice e-bulletin St Columbans Mission Society, 2023)
[5] Pope Francis, Apostolic Journey of Pope Francis to Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, Participation at the Second World Meeting of Popular Movements 5-13 July, 2015