The Catholic Church is Thinking Outside the Climate Box

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By Michael Gold

If it seems our climate is being tossed around a giant box like a rag doll, the Catholic Church in New York state is thinking outside it.

The Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers just unveiled a new solar canopy in the parking lot of their mission in Ossining.

The Archdiocese of New York (ADNY) installed a solar array on the roof of St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Yonkers in 2018 and recently completed a solar roof installation project at Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains earlier this year.

It’s installing a solar array on the roof of the closed St. Theresa K-8 school in Briarcliff Manor, which is still used for day care and religious education. The project should be completed by the end of this year.

Additionally, the ADNY is exploring the possible installation of a solar array on the roof of Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale.

It looks like the church is working on fulfilling the Pope’s vision in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si” (“Praise be to you”).

It’s worth revisiting what the Pope wrote in the encyclical. It contains messages that are relevant today and far into the future. The Pope calls the Earth “our common home.” This is a critical point. There may be almost eight billion people inhabiting this world, but we share the air, water and plant life that keep us all alive.

As Pope Francis wrote, “The Earth was here before us and it has been given to us…Our bodies are made up of her (the Earth’s) elements, we breathe her air, and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all, and meant for all…The Earth is a shared inheritance…. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world…Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us,” the Pope wrote.

Another important point Pope Francis made was this: “Human life is a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.”

In other words, if I am reading the encyclical correctly, the Pope is saying that climate change, with its horrific heat waves, long, punishing droughts, food shortages, increasingly frequent and widespread wildfires, torrential storms and destructive floods – an ongoing nightmare of enormous, previously unthinkable environmental destruction – is degrading human life.

The encyclical elevated the debate about fighting climate change. The Pope made it a question of spiritual ethics, not just survival. How willing are we to come out of our boxes as individual consumers and think and act in defense of our common humanity? How willing are we to work with other people in our communities, first to reduce and then stop our consumption of oil, natural gas and coal, not to mention cut down on the mountains of plastics, metals and other waste we’re generating?

The Pope condemned “rampant individualism” and a “self-centered culture of instant gratification” in “Laudato Si.”

This thought makes a very conservative point. We need to spend less time thinking about consuming more and more products, which give us a momentary thrill, and that quickly fade into memory and devote more of our energies long-term to building a better world, one that is not threatened by the radical weather we’re so casually unleashing because of what we consume and the way we consume it.

Another important matter the Pope brought up was this: “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”

This is a critical issue. We need to think about our children and what kind of world we are leaving them. Every parent wants their child to succeed. If we bequeath to them an unstable climate, we greatly diminish their chances at building a successful life. In fact, we may be harming their future ability to survive.

We should support the church as it increasingly builds solar installations on roofs and in parking lots and expands the amount of renewable energy it can generate.

Other organizations should follow the church’s lead. For instance, school, town and shopping center parking lots are prime candidates for the type of solar canopy installed at Maryknoll.

Parking lots stretching for hundreds of yards in every direction are scattered all over Westchester, from village train stations to shopping malls. The stores in those shopping malls have enormous roofs that are ripe for solar panel installations.

Every business owner, government entity and school administrator should start thinking about how they can get solar panels on their roofs and in their parking lots. It will save them money on their electric bills. Plus, they can earn payments for leasing their roofs and lots. And it’s good for everyone living on the planet.

The Pope, ever optimistic, wrote, “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”

I want to believe that. Businesses, schools and governments need to follow the church’s lead and do much more to stop using fossil fuels and build up our renewable energy capabilities.

Michael Gold has written op-ed articles about the environment for The New York Daily News, the Albany Times-Union, The Virginian-Pilot and other newspapers.

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