18 March 2019, The Tablet

It is a scandal that the people affected most by climate change are the poorest

by Anna Joy Marshall

Climate change cannot be a separate issue to social justice because it is both a cause and result of social injustice

It is a scandal that the people affected most by climate change are the poorest

Thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of Paris to denounce the inaction of the government about the climate change during a march called 'March of The Century' on Saturday 16 March
Photo: Thierry Le Fouille/Zuma Press/PA Images

Anna Joy MarshallBy Anna Joy Marshall

Scientists say that for every disease, there is a natural cure somewhere on the planet. There are thousands of natural resources like wood, edible plants and fuels. Everything we need can be found on earth. Scientists who study cosmology and biology are so often overwhelmed by how seemingly perfect our world is. People have had whole revelations looking at how complex, purposeful and beautiful our world is. So many people rely on our world as their livelihood. But so many of us take it for granted.

With climate change looming over us, it's time to change that. The UN 2009 Global Assessment Report said in low-income areas such as the Middle East and North Africa, 20-40 per cent of summers would have highly unusual heat extremes, affecting food production as well as health.(1)

When we think of climate change, we think of heat, extreme weather and rising sea-levels. The problem seems manageable when we can go home, put on the air conditioning or wrap up warm and safe at home. One of the real issues with climate change is how much it deepens the scar between rich and poor. Low income countries carry 13 per cent of the global exposure to tropical storms but 81 percent of the risk of being killed by one. 

Climate change highlights the issues of injustice just as much as it destroys natural habitats and wildlife – maybe even more so. Climate change cannot be a separate issue to social justice because it is both a cause and result of social injustice. People are affected all around the world. So often, the people it affects are the marginalised and the poorest.

A term that often comes up is a climate refugee. By 2050, there could be up to 200 million people displaced by rising global temperature, according to the International Organisation on Migration. People have to leave behind homes, jobs and sometimes families to escape flooding, extreme weather and drought. Why is there flooding, extreme weather and drought? Because of climate change. Why is the climate changing? Because so many of us are trapped in an indulgent, consumerist lifestyle. Many of us are complacent even when people all around the world are suffering.

Critical thinking is a key that can help us challenge ourselves and others. It could be the first step to us resolving the issue of climate change. It is more important than ever in the world today. Yet combatting climate change is not something we have to face alone. I believe action and spirituality sit together. I was in a workshop by a Columban Missionary and he said: "Prayer and action work together." Spirituality is like the roots of a tree and action is the leaves inspired by God.

So much in the Catholic faith comes down to the creation story. We believe God is the omni-benevolent, omniscient and omnipresent creator. God created humans and God loves us, and God created the world. In Genesis 1, the Bible says God gives us dominion over all of creation. God has created us in Imago Dei, breathed life into us giving us a soul. The soul is the part that connects us to God, the part inside of us that shares God's love with us and allows us to share it with others.

To put our beliefs into action, last year in November my sister and I held a Social Action day for young people. Two of the workshops were about climate change and care for creation. One young person on the day commented: "It's made me aware of how in need our world is for our respect." This reflects the teachings of the Old Testament. We have a responsibility to care for creation. We have been given stewardship. However, so often this stewardship is forgotten in our world "amid the noise and distractions of an information overload."  Looking inwards instead of outwards makes us think that all we are responsible for is ourselves, even when the world is so big around us. We lose the awe and wonder we all used to have for the world when we were little.

In Matthew 14, Jesus says: "For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." Maybe this awe and wonder, hand in hand with respect, is a window into God's Kingdom, and maybe when it comes to all issues today, including climate change, we need to open our eyes to the dignity of our beautiful world and every single person in it. Religious people have the foundations of protecting the environment written into their very history. Along with religious people, climate change has also inspired millions of non-religious people to action.

There is a way in which the issue of climate change is unifying people into looking after our world. In 1 John 4:16, it says: "God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them." Love is working. There is something special in the solidarity found in caring together for our common home, something I would describe as holy in the way Pope Francis described holiness in "Gaudate et Exsultate": "We are called to be contemplatives even in the midst of action, and to grow in holiness by responsibly and generously carrying out our proper mission."

Finally, there is a hunger in young people for doing good things. I believe it is hunger in all people, and some might even say it is the work of the Holy spirit. I was inspired when I saw this recently through a member of my school. A year eight boy had started a petition to get rid of plastic bottles in our school cafeteria. He had at the end of the petition over 200 signatures from other young people. All the time, people like this boy are seeing the way we are living is not good enough. We have to have the hope and courage to change.

1: UN 2009 Global Assessment Report on DRR, 1.3.1 2 

Anna Joy Marshall, 15, is a student at St Mary’s Catholic High School, Chesterfield. She is active in the Justice and Peace movement. This article is the winner of the writing section of the Young Journalists Competition in the Columban Region of Britain. She said after learning of the result: "This competition has made me think about different ways of voicing my concerns about the environment. What we are doing is unsustainable and the only chance we have to change is now."




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