Season of Creation Reflection: Edward de Quay
Supporters of Jesuit Missions (JM) will know that the environmental crisis particularly affects the poor and the vulnerable. In recent years JM has stepped up its commitment to accompany those most affected by environmental degradation. Action is needed urgently by governments, businesses, and each of us to care for our common home and all its inhabitants.
“Caring for our common home” is a top priority for the Jesuits, as described in the fourth Apostolic Preference. Climate change, or ‘global boiling,’ as UN secretary general António Guterres has begun calling it, can be a slippery concept. With greenwashing rife and the cost of living crisis shifting priorities, it can be difficult to know whether we are making any progress at all.
Pope Francis quotes Patriarch Bartholomew (the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church) in ‘Laudato Si,’ asking us to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation [LS#8]”.
A good place to start then is by understanding our contribution to climate change, after which we can know more concretely whether or not we have made any improvement. This is exactly what the Jesuits in Britain have done over the last year.
Emissions of greenhouse gasses are one of the contributing factors to climate change that can be measured. Using energy in its many forms gives off greenhouse gasses, which alter the climate. The results can be seen worldwide in increased heatwaves, wildfires, flooding and drought.
To better understand our impact, the Jesuits in Britain have formed a decarbonisation committee and have commissioned a carbon baseline audit of all Jesuit communities and works. We have 103 Jesuits living in nine communities and 361 staff members in chaplaincies, schools, parishes and other works.
We know that our communities and works emitted 7,488 tonnes of CO2e (CO2 equivalent; a number of greenhouse gases are combined in this figure) in 2021-2022. Now that we have something to measure against, we want to halve this figure by 2030.
It can be difficult to visualise what 7,488 tonnes of CO2e means. Provisional figures for 2022 total greenhouse gas emissions in the UK come to some 417.1 million tonnes of CO2 (though it is important to note that methodologies for deriving these numbers are unlikely to be comparable, so this is for illustrative purposes only).
Our contribution is tiny in the wider context, but this is precisely why Pope Francis wants people to understand climate change as a social issue first. Carbon emissions are still rising despite efforts to decarbonise our energy through technical solutions like solar panels and wind farms, which have their own environmental and social costs.
Energy consultants like to say that the best unit of energy saved is the one not used in the first place. Rather than cover our land in energy generation to keep up with demand, should we not reconsider how much we actually need to consume and change our behaviours accordingly?
For the Jesuits and the Catholic world in general, the principle of solidarity is of primary importance. In 2022-2023, UK trade in crude oil from Guyana was at £840 million, or 97% of total UK trade with Guyana. JM supports the ‘Policy Forum Guyana’ which advocates on environmental issues. Their work includes having led the campaign for Guyana to become a member country of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI).
In Madagascar, where per capita carbon emissions are 0.15 tonnes of Co2, compared with 5.15 in the UK, JM supports the Arrupe Centre to help people understand the risks of global climate change to their local area.
We know that climate change affects economically poorer nations harder, so reducing our emissions sends an important message of solidarity to our global Jesuit family, and also recognises our disproportionate historical (and continuing) impact.
Stephen Power SJ , chair of the Province Decarbonisation Committee, writes in this years’ JIB Annual Report; “Addressing the climate crisis and looking to promote a fair transition to a sustainable world has found the Jesuits in Britain involved in a wide variety of activities, dispelling the tendency to be cowed by the scale of the problem.
To quote Pope Francis in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’, ‘let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern never take away the joy of our hope’ [LS #244].”