Stories help us to understand our world. Now that we are trying to cope with the phenomenon of climate change, we must listen with our minds and hearts to the stories coming to us from science, cosmology, theology, history, from our companions in the earth communities and from humans, especially victims of climate change.
A few months ago on my way home to Ireland I got a message from the world of science. According to the small print on my return ticket from Manila to Dublin and back, via Abu Dhabi, I learned that I would be adding 1,542 kgms of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and each of my fellow passengers would be doing the same. People who fly, and I’m sure they number in the millions, are all helping to heat up our planet.
The gift and skill of flight graced the earth when the first birds joined the chain of being 150 million years ago. In all the intervening years they have been adding beauty and colour to the air and, unlike the human intervention, cause no pollution. Sadly now whole species are dying out because of the action of humans who only joined the web of life over two million years ago.
From the cosmic story we learn that trees entered the chain of life 350 million years ago. Now the magnificent rain forests, the lungs of our planet which, as well as being home to a wonderful diversity of flora and fauna, help to regulate the temperature of the earth, are being wantonly destroyed by human activity. Through a failure of will, wisdom and goodness, mining and logging are allowed to continue to wreak havoc on the forests. With the loss of the forests the climate is getting hotter.
The warnings about climate change are constant. Because of higher temperatures, glaciers are melting, seas are rising. There is too much rain in some places, forest fires in others. Hurricanes and salination of fresh water are destroying food sources. Humans are being affected but it is the poor, beloved of God, who suffer the most. Island peoples with rare ecosystems and unique cultures face the prospect of their island homes disappearing under the rising ocean. Indigenous peoples who were an integral part of the forest community and who through their life and their rituals honoured the spirit, source of all life, are being brutally cut off from the homes of their ancestors.
An estimated one billion people live in the slums of cities, driven there by poverty caused by unjust and uncaring economic systems and forced to live on land which will be affected by rising seas. They are always the first victims of massive hurricanes which are occurring with such regularity in so many countries that we very soon forget the names of the affected places and the stories of the victims and move on with our lives. Many of the victims are unmourned as whole families and communities have been annihilated. Climate change brought about by humans is not the only cause of the destructive hurricanes. Where are the mangroves that once protected our coastlines, the forests which prevented severe flooding and landslides, native trees with deep roots which can withstand the strength of the hurricanes?
A young girl watches a plane as it passes over an apartment block in Hong Kong.
Our earth, wonderful and precious, brought into and kept in being by the Spirit of infinite love, is being threatened by humans, the last-born in the community of life. All the species that preceded us prepared for us a paradise. And now we are destroying our common home.
At this critical stage we must, as Pope Francis encourages us, make room in our hearts for the wonderful generosity of our Creator God. The Scripture invites us to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with our God. We must get down from our pedestals and cherish all creatures as Pope Francis asks us, and learn from the poor. As part of the problem, we must become part of the solution. All of us whether individuals, families, religious, social or political communities, professions and associations can contribute to healing the planet. Jesus came among us loving creation, bringing good news to the poor and through his death and resurrection offered us a future full of hope.
Our mission too is to spread goodness, and indeed goodness is everywhere. I have experienced it here in the Philippines in indigenous people who risk their lives to protect their ancestral lands, in the poor living so lightly and joyfully on the earth, and in the children who praise and spread joy and wonder. I have experienced wonderful goodness and generosity in Ireland also. It is because of the goodness and generosity of schoolchildren and parishioners, family and friends, sisters and priests that our mission in Midsalip in the southern Philippines is enabled to continue to care for creation and to walk with the poor as they seek a better life.
Before leaving for Ireland I had asked the pupils in our pre-schools in Midsalip to bring five fruit-tree or forest-tree seeds to school and, with the help of their parents and under the guidance of the teachers and staff, to plant the seeds in the soil. I asked them, when the seeds germinated, to transfer them to bags which the children themselves filled with soil. So when I arrived back in the Philippines, I learned that more than a thousand little seedlings were growing in the bags. The children are delighted to be assisting in the miracle of new growth. There were a few losses as the Subanen chickens foraged for their own food and were delighted to discover fat, juicy avocado and durian seeds in the soil. And God who delights in the soil, the seeds and the air, the sun and the children was surely delighted that some scrawny chickens could feast on the seeds.
Sr Kathleen Melia from Mohill, Co Leitrim Ireland joined the Columban Sisters in 1967. Since 1983, she has been in Midsalip where her wide ranging ministry to the Subanen people includes education, healthcare, farming programmes and the study and preservation of their culture.
Listen to "They read me like a book"
- Read more from The Far East, April 2019