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A challenge of civilisation

Super Typhoon Yutu, strongest storm on Earth in 2018. Satellite view. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.

As we look forward to this new year, there are many issues that compete for our attention. As a nation, we continued to be worried about a weak economy and the uncertain future of our oil and gas industries and what that portends for our national prosperity.

In a year which will see a general election, we reflect deeply on the state of our society, its inequalities, and its polarised political culture.

The universal Church remains caught up in the clergy abuse scandal which has diverted attention and resources away from its mission of salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As a local Church, we continue to grapple with declining attendance at Mass, the need to inspire more vocations to religious life and to prompt ‘ordinary Catholics’ to discern their own vocation of service to family, community and society. We must remain focused on meeting the challenges posed by our poorly performing Catholic schools, especially our primary schools.

There are indeed many issues which compete for our attention.  One issue which has not garnered enough attention and action is the existential threat posed by climate change.

The recent (September 2019) UN-sponsored Climate Action forum indicated that globally we have not made meaningful progress on the December 2015 Paris Climate Accord. It concluded that soon we are likely to reach a ‘tipping point’ where nothing we humans do will be able to stop the global rise of temperature which could be as much as 4° C by the end of this century.

The worsening hurricanes, such as the ones which struck Dominica and the Bahamas, intense and more frequent wildfires in California and in Australia, thawing of sea ice in the Arctic, rising sea levels already affecting some islands in the Pacific, colder winters and unbearably hot summers, all portend a planet headed for trouble.

Across the world, groups of concerned young people such as Greta Thunberg as well as older folk have mobilised to protest and pressure governments to do more to meet the threat. Some countries are responding.

China, a major user of coal and source of emissions, has embraced renewable energy and the use of electric vehicles on a national scale. The European Union is doing its part but the United States, under its current president Donald Trump, withdrew from the Paris Agreement and is encouraging the production of coal.  The government of Brazil is not doing nearly enough to save the Amazon rainforest, the ‘lungs of the planet’.

In his message to the UN Climate Action forum, Pope Francis linked the inaction or weak action of governments to the moral qualities of honesty, courage and responsibility.

Pope Francis stated: “The problem of climate change is related to issues of ethics, equity and social justice. The current situation of environmental degradation relates to the human, ethical and social degradation that we experience every day. … We are facing a ‘challenge of civilisation’ in favour of the common good.”

Trinidad and Tobago and the rest of the Caribbean are not major sources of emissions, but we will be among the countries likely to be most affected by climate change.

We have a moral responsibility to add our voices to advance the global agenda for action on climate change. Our lives and the lives of our children and grandchildren depend on it.