It began in the most unlikely of places: with a teenager refusing to go to school. But over the last four years, a remarkable wave of climate activism has spread across the globe, inspired by the Swedish teenage, Greta Thunberg, who caught the imagination of teenagers around the world, including here in Ireland.
Their ‘climate strike’ gave many older people hope, when it brought thousands of teenagers out on to the streets of towns and cities around Ireland, as they demanded a different ecological future. We know that the Lord often uses the wisdom and energy of youth to bring about change. Certainly, our young people are our leaders on this most important issue. The Government, which admits that it has been slow on the issue of climate declared a climate emergency in May 2019 making Ireland only the second country in the world to do so.
This growing grassroots appetite for change has come at just the right time. The summer brought no comfort from scientists, whose investigations continue to suggest the problems we face are far and more serious than we had thought. Heat and flood records were broken across the world. The Arctic ice shelf has melted this year at an alarming rate. Pope Francis’ document on climate, Laudato Si’ is an illuminating work. The pope’s thinking is impressive, imaginative, and robust. Francis’s account of the many factors at play in climate breakdown and the many ways in which it will devastate lives is evidence-based, intricately argued, and motivated by a vision that is pro-life in the fullest meaning of the term. As a Papal encyclical Laudato Si’ is an authoritative text within the Catholic Social tradition.
In the summer of 2019, Pope Francis met with Greta Thunberg. He encouraged her to continue her work and assured her that the climate strikes had his support. Many in the Irish church recognise that in recent decades there has been a failure to connect the faith with the younger generations. Yet here, there is a clear and direct overlap between the mission of the church and the passion of the young. The Pope sees that care for our world is not just one more good deed that we might choose to take up but is integral to Christian faith. He insists that as ‘we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us,’ we are not responding to some temporarily ‘hot’ topic in the culture, nor are we motivated by selfish self-interest, because of the threat we face. Rather, we care for the earth because we know ‘that all the good which exists here finds an echo in God’s kingdom.