With World Environment Day falling this week (June 5) and World Oceans Day on June 8, there is little need for ever more ferocious storms, forest fires and flooding to remind us of the planet's vulnerability in the face of increasing carbon in the atmosphere. A new report from a group of scientists in China suggests the Paris Agreement's 2°C increase in the earth's temperature on pre-industrial levels will soon be swamped with projections it will rise to double this figure before the end of the 21st century.
In fact, the researchers' modelling showed temperatures rising to 4°C as early as 2064. This would mean "A great many record-breaking heat events, heavy floods, and extreme droughts would occur if global warming crosses the 4°C level, with respect to the preindustrial period,” says lead researcher Dabang Jiang of Institute of Atmospheric Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Pope Francis reminds us constantly of the integrated nature of humanity's social life with the life of the earth. In Laudato Si' he speaks of the ongoing interraction between humans and nature.
"When we speak of the 'environment', what we really mean is the relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.... Recognising the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behavior patterns, and the ways it grasps reality." We are faced with not two separate crises but with one complex one, he writes (LS #139).
Francis counts among his concern for the environment, many exhortations for the care of the marginalised. This month we look at the struggles Aboriginal people have in achieving fair treatment in the justice system for their young. Amy McQuire writes of one family's efforts to gather evidence to prove teen Mark Haines' 1988 death was not suicide only to have police summarily dismiss it. Such instances only serve to emphasise the fragility of the society that is foundational in Australia and which is well documented as among the oldest societies.
Small islands in the Pacific are not only vulnerable to being swamped by warming and rising seas but are at the mercy of big businesses which set up on their land and send their profits overseas. Amy Mitchell writes of such exploitative practices happening all over the Pacific with scant media attention. Francis emphasises the vulnerability of these small communities.
"It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet's population, billions of people" (LS #49).
The implication is that, as humans and people of God, we must make ourselves aware of the vulnerability of our own and other communities and then explore our interconnectedness. How can our actions help or hinder the progress of others towards a fully human existence? How can our actions towards others be rich in the mutual respect Catholic social teaching demands?