Francis is a breath of fresh air on climate change

Climate-change issues as they relate to my relatively small garden here on the Bruce Peninsula mean very little indeed compared with what other people in Canada, and around the world, are now facing:

But they do at least make the point that we’re all in this together, that climate change and whatever is causing it is a world-wide reality affecting all of us, and this precious little blue-green jewel of a planet on which we all live and call home. Or should.

Here now in mid-July I walk between my rows of sweet corn that at this point should be much higher by now than it is and worry if we don’t get a good, long spate of normal warm summer weather soon I may not have ripe corn to pick before the first frost. I wonder, is all the work of tilling, planting, and now tending in vain.

Climate change, and the reasons why it’s happening, is complicated. It’s not just a matter of global warming making the Earth a few degrees warmer in some kind of uniform pattern. Here in Grey-Bruce we’ve just been through one of the coldest winters on record, so cold it froze municipal water lines to an unprecedented extent.

For the sake of the bees and other insect pollinators I plant untreated seed. That means not treated with neonicotinoid fungicide to prevent the seed from rotting as it waits for the ground warm up enough to germinate. With untreated seed you just can’t plant too soon, as much as I’ve tried to anyway, including last year after that exceptionally cold, 2014 winter.

Surely, I thought, the end of May would be okay. Not so. So this year, like other farmers and gardeners who try to grow naturally without the use of chemicals, I waited, and waited for warmer weather. The result was corn seed going into the ground beginning in the first week of June, and even then I worried it might be too soon; but any later, I reasoned, and I might as well not bother. I finally planted my last few rows on June 14, later than ever, by a long shot.

So, that hardly seems like global warming, deniers will no doubt say. But there’s no question climate change is a reality causing huge environmental and socio-economic problems in many parts of the world, from wildfires burning out of control in northern Saskatchewan and normally wet B.C. to  Africa, where many thousands of people have become desperate environmental refugees, risking death by drowning to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Pope, or as he prefers “Bishop of Rome,” Francis I recently weighed in on the subject of climate change.

I’m not Roman Catholic, but I will say I welcomed the church’s election two years ago as a hopeful development.

And sure enough, his recently published Encyclical Letter, Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home, is an impressive, passionately written document. I confess I have only just begun to read it, but already I feel like it’s been a long time since I read anything that rings so true.

I will say too that I humbly agree the root cause of man-made climate change is a spiritual malaise, the modern human obsession with material wealth and the “throwaway culture” of consumerism that goes with it, to fill the emptiness within.

The writing is refreshingly accessible, at times even shockingly blunt; but given the topic, the use of such urgent language seems appropriate, and much needed, to get the message across in no uncertain terms.

For example, here’s an excerpt from Chapter 1, Pollution and Climate Change, pollution, waste and the throwaway culture:

“Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”


And toward the end of the document, where Francis speaks of the need for change, to put it mildly, comes this:

“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

He talks about a modern “techno-economic paradigm” that gives people more ways than ever before to avoid looking inward at the quality of their spiritual lives:

“Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals . . . This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power.”

That’s practically revolutionary language, to an extent likely not heard so high up in the Catholic church for a very long time, if ever.

But it’s what has to be said at this time of great urgency.

Francis is finally optimistic:

“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.”

Let’s all hope he’s right about that.

Originally published in The Sun Times in 2015.






















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