METROPOLITAN ATHANASIOS AT A CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

SPEAKING AND ACTING ON VALUES,

CLIMATE CHANGE AND SUSTAINABILITY.

ECUMENICAL CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE

AND PAPAL ENCYCLICAL.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT, TUESDAY, 29 SEPTEMBER 2015

METROPOLITAN ATHANASIOS OF ACHAIA.

I thank the Bishop of Gand Luc Van Looy for his introduction to the Papal Encyclical “Laudato si”. My personal short intervention follows on behalf of the Conference of European Churches and the Conference of Orthodox Representatives to the European Union.

The publication of the Papal Encyclical three months ago was a significant moment in the process of articulating the social teaching of the Catholic Church denouncingthe slow but inescapable transformation of the earth into “an immense pile of filth”.The Encyclical followed and in a way resumed numerous publications aiming at awakening public environmental awareness by many Bishops’ Conferences and specialists. What is more exponents of many Churches have in different circumstances also expressed their concerns about climate change. The Papal Encyclical explicitly mentions the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I as a distinguished specialist on the environment who has insisted for many years on climate change that is intensifying on our planet each day as a result of human actions. The Pope has recently joined Patriarch Bartholomew in fixing September 1 each year as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Both leaders have affirmed that accumulated filth is not only material but mainly spiritual.

The Churches welcome every single effort to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. They join in every way possible the Institutions such as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change expressing hope that we still can limit global warming to an average of 2 degrees C before the end of the century and thus avert the worst consequences for us, for our children and future generations. It is worth mentioning here that the European Christian Environment Network in its Report after its 10th Assembly (29/09- 1/10/2014) stated: “Through the choices we make on energy, food and water we contribute to the environmental impact on others...There is moral obligation on developed countries to lower greenhouse gas emissions and at the same time lend support to the most affected”.

Everybody, governments formulating climate policies, Institutions groups of active citizens and individuals have an important role to play in the effort to tackle responsibly the problem of climate change and contribute in the process towards taking ambitious and just decisions.

We need to enforce Environmental Justice in order to enhance the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development and implementation of environmental laws, regulations, and policies. No matter how ambitious it may sound, enforcement of Environmental Justice will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards. Although governments may never agree on a definition of Environmental Justice, there is global agreement on protecting the basic human rights that make achieving Environmental Justice possible. Environmental Justice will be enforced when everyone has access to the decision-making process with the aim of securing a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work. Justice is viewed as unattainable without citizen participation in key decisions. Let me also add that the very meaning of Ecclesia is a calling for all to unite and lead their way to a concrete target with one heart and a common mind. This is the core message of the Papal Encyclical as a call to all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action” before it is too late.

Let me say at this point that we now know that steel works, blast furnaces, rolling and finishing mills, along with iron and steel foundries, are responsible for more than 57% of the total human health risks from industrial pollution. This means that if governments wanted to make major reformative legislation for Environmental Justice, they could easily do so by targeting these industries. Irresponsibility concerning protection of the environment is expected to stop when the elites themselves become aware that all humankind is affected by global warming and the survival of all mankind is at stake. Prof. Othmar Edenhofer of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research seems to address everybody, but especially profit mongers, when he says that “it doesn’t cost the earth to save the planet”. I believe that potential polluters and profligate consumers would not be able to treat vulnerable populations as expendable and would be forced to seek other alternatives to polluting activities and overconsumption, under certain conditions set by law.

Agencies are also required to identify an assessment methodology which can be used to determine whether human activities have disproportionately high and adverse environmental and health impacts.

Churches may encourage and bless initiatives like Alternatiba that is the idea of a framework to mobilize society in order to face the challenges of climate change. Numerous Alternatiba events, which provide hundreds of alternatives in order to raise people's awareness and to stimulate behavior change, have been or will be organized in over sixty different French and European cities in view of the upcoming meeting in Paris.

The European Parliament may decide to help financially the research centers which have brought to the fore the dire consequences awaiting humanity and our planet. The environmental movement has been successful in development of scientific solutions to environmental degradation. The results of such research should be widely defused in the effort to enhance public awareness and sensitivity. Nonetheless, on this point it is useful to mention a comment made by the Conference of European Churches in a letter addressed to President Herman Van Rompuy dated from October 6, 2014: “Although science and technology play a significant role in responding to climate change, relying on them alone will not be sufficient. Addressing ethical issues, educating and involving people are musts in climate programs”.

At this point I would like to underscore that as Christians we do not understand environmental education only as a moral issue in the sense of our responsibility to tackle the problem of climate change. We believe that we are part of the cosmos and Christ Himself became flesh and thus He became part of the creation, of the cosmos. Thus climate change acquires, beyond its moral dimension, a cosmic dimension too. It is about us being what we really are. To say it differently using science fiction imagery: we cannot be human beings if transformed in a sort of mechanical creatures programmed to survive in extreme climate conditions.

We need a coordinated plan for the media which can play a major role in raising the issue to its rightful level of importance. The media have already shown that they can inform, refine awareness of the problem and mobilize the public to proceed to courageous initiatives and undertake promising projects. They can positively contribute towards changing the public mindset leading to exaggerated consumerism. The Churches should cooperate with the media in a coordinated effort to unveil the spiritual, social and political gap entailed by ongoing irresponsible actions destroying little by little elements of our planet that are of vital importance.

The younger generation should also be informed either at school or in the frame of activities of environmental organizations to undertake its part of responsibility together with the older generation. We all need to cooperate in order to prepare a better and sustainable environment. Grassroots groups have demonstrated the success of empowering people and of the protection of civil liberties in environmental preservation. Following the Copenhagen Summit failure in 2009, we feel that it is time for European citizens to acknowledge that everything cannot be expected from political decisions at a higher level. We should start at the base, right where we live, with practical initiatives: eco-construction, short distribution chain, renewable energies, organic food, and local money… A list that should certainly not be restrictive in order to create a citizen dynamic, a change in environmental mentality.Joining forces gives impetus to the efforts to get environmental reforms implemented. All vulnerable members of society must have access to environmental information, exercise their rights of free speech, and have a role in determining their access to resources.

Let me finish by saying that the four musical notes by which Beethoven’s 5th Symphony begins sound as an alarm indicating, according to a widely known interpretation, the menacing role of fate. Those four notes could have become a mess in the head of an untalented composer of music instead of the masterpiece Beethoven has bequeathed to us. Let us hope that our responsibility for the protection of the environment will not be left to fate. Let us hope that so many alarming bells that are heard from the four points of horizon about climate change will end up in a symphony, in a comprehensive agreement, when political leaders meet in Paris from November 30 to December 11, 2015, for the United Nations Climate Change Conference. We hope and we pray that all honest endeavors for the protection of the environment and climate change will not produce a disarray of confusing irresponsible voices manifesting a well-known undesirable menu of conflicting interests.

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