By Bishop Andrew Bellisario, C.M.
Just about every year, our parents took my sister and me on an annual road trip from Los Angeles to upstate New York to visit our family. Travel in the ‘50s and ‘60s was mostly on the old Route 66 and other state and US highways, eventually transitioning to the modern interstate highways under construction. It was the time when long-distance car travel first became available to the masses and was encouraged by the automobile manufacturers. Many of us from those days will remember the famous and catchy commercial jingle sung by Dinah Shore:
“See the USA in your Chevrolet,
America is asking you to call.
Drive your Chevrolet through the USA,
America’s the greatest land of all!”
Following those sentiments, we would pack up the family Chevy Impala and off we would go each summer heading east. There were no smartphones, movie players, or video games. We passed the time with lots of conversation, playing cards, reading, and sleeping. But most of the time, I spent looking out the window. I had a paper map and followed along mile after mile after long mile.
What an adventure it was looking out the window! As we departed home, there were the beginnings of the now-famous urban sprawl of Southern California which quickly gave way to the hot low desert. After hours of hot air blowing in our faces, the 12,000-foot San Francisco Peaks of Flagstaff came into view with the high desert of Northern Arizona beyond. The Rocky Mountains with all their grandeur were next, and we drove through majestic mountain passes. Coming down the mountains near Denver were the vast fruitful plains as far as the eye could see until they joined the sky on the horizon. It is still a magnificent sight today. It wasn’t long before entering into the never-ending amber wheat fields in Kansas. Then, crossing the mighty Mississippi River that separates the beautiful rolling hills in Missouri and the cornfields of Illinois, we continued through the woodlands of the east. Finally, we arrived at our destination in the beautiful Finger Lakes region in upstate New York.
The above is a brief description of my early memories looking out the window at a portion of God’s gift of creation to us in the United States of America. Here in Alaska, we are blessed with some of the most spectacular views of God’s creation anywhere in the world.
It troubles me to read about climate change affecting God’s gift of creation and what it can mean for future generations long after I am gone. I ask myself the question, what responsibility do I have to protect creation? And facing the enormity of the problem of climate change, I ask, what can I possibly do that will make a difference? After reflection, I decided that I need to begin by educating myself more about climate change and not give in to the temptation of ignoring it. I start by turning to Pope Francis’ encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home.”
In this groundbreaking encyclical, our Holy Father has summoned Catholics, people of faith and all people of goodwill to take the first necessary step of profound interior conversion. It is a call to renew our relationships with God, one another, and the created world. Pope Francis points out that we are all connected to the rest of the human family, to the created world, and to those who will come after us in future generations. He teaches that God created the world and entrusted it to us as a gift. Now, as stewards of God’s gift, we have the responsibility to care for and protect it and all people who are part of creation. Holy Father reminds us that we are facing a climate emergency. “We must take action accordingly,” he says, “in order to avoid perpetrating a brutal act of injustice towards the poor and future generations.”
The Holy Father spoke to a gathering of energy company executives in June 2019 at the Vatican. He urged them to do their part to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases that are trapping heat in the atmosphere and to work towards the replacement of fossil fuels with clean energy. He referenced his remarks to the recently released report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). This report warned that without action to drastically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases worldwide, it would be impossible to keep atmospheric temperatures from rising by 2° Celsius (3.6°Fahrenheit) by mid-century.
In the same report, the IPCC reported that warming greater than the global annual average is already happening in many land regions and seasons. It is two to three times higher in the Arctic. We see this throughout our state and region. There are higher summer temperatures, loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic Ocean and the Bering Sea. Melting glaciers are evident. Rising water temperatures make it difficult for salmon and other species to survive. Rising sea levels threaten Alaska Native villages in coastal Alaska.
If we have the will, nations can work together to find ways to keep global temperatures from continuing to rise beyond 2° Celsius. The best scientists in the world tell us this will only be possible by making steep reductions in the emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This can be accomplished through conservation, the use of clean energy sources and turning away from what Pope Francis calls a disposable, throwaway economy and culture, that threatens to render our common home increasingly uninhabitable for millions of its people as well as its animals and plants.
The interior conversion Pope Francis calls us to begins with each one of us and how we live and act. A good way to start is to take the Catholic Climate Covenant’s St. Francis Pledge to live out the vision of Laudato Si and our Catholic faith through prayer, concrete action, and advocacy on behalf of creation and the poor. We can bring the St. Francis Pledge to our families and our parishes.
We can encourage our fellow Catholics to read Laudato Si, take it to heart, take the pledge, and join together to care for our common home.
What we do today will significantly affect what our children’s children will see when they spend time looking out the window.
You can find the St. Francis Pledge and more information about climate change at catholicclimatecovenant.org