The Catholic Committee of Appalachia (CCA) is distributing a DVD, “Climate Change: Our Faith Response,” to all 27 Catholic dioceses in the Appalachian region. The 10-minute DVD is intended for religious education classes and comes with a study guide to underscore the Church’s teaching about the care of creation and humanity’s responsibility for stewardship.
The message is clear — the time for debate is over. Prudent action for the sake of the common good will save millions, possibly billions, from disaster.
Funded in part by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the DVD was produced from video footage of a teleconference held in four locations around Appalachia in 2007 discussing the morality of global climate change. To model better stewardship, the conference rejected a central location in favor of a dispersed teleconference format to cut driving distances and lessen its carbon footprint. Speakers in Institute, W.Va., Richmond, Ky., Abingdon, Va., and Asheville, N.C., discussed the irrefutable science behind global warming, its effect on the poor and humanity’s moral responsibility to act.
The video clearly states that no credible scientist doubts the existence of global warming, unless that scientist works for an energy company. Corporations that forestalled action against global warming used a strategy developed by the tobacco industry during the early 1950s. That strategy demanded more evidence and greater scientific certitude, plus it ignored the big picture and questioned the details.
One graph in particular, dubbed the “hockey stick,” represents a Cartesian graph of temperature over time that appears nearly flat for a thousand years, then abruptly turns upward with the intense use of oil from the 1860s. The energy industry, by funding institutes and free-market think tanks, rallied scientists and statisticians to quibble over details to cast doubt on the ultimate findings. Yet, not one of the 900-plus papers published between 1993 and 2003 on global climate change disagreed with the big picture: The climate is changing and human activity is largely to blame.
Still, a 2006 ABC News poll showed that while 85 percent of those surveyed believe global warming is “probably” happening, 60 percent think scientists are still debating it. The “tobacco strategy” used by the energy industry succeeded in obfuscating the main outline of global warming and thus delayed the political will to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for nearly two decades.
The call of conscience comes from Appalachia because in the coalfields we see the direct effects of cheap energy on communities and people. Mountaintop removal (MTR), an aggressive mining practice that removes sometimes the top 500 feet of a mountain, is the cheapest way to mine coal, but the practice pollutes the water, buries the streams and destroys the ecosystem. Local folks, besides seeing the beauty of their beloved mountains destroyed, suffer cracked foundations from blasting and more frequent flooding from deforestation.
The sulfur dioxide coming from coal to generate electricity causes acid rain, smog, asthma, respiratory infections and lung disease. The Clean Air Task Force, commissioned by the EPA in 2000, found that coal-fired power plants account for 30,000 deaths per year in the U.S.
“Live simply, so others can simply live” has direct application to the mountains. To waste electricity in Chicago (hence, to live extravagantly) produces more greenhouse gases for the atmosphere and pulls down a mountain in Appalachia.
The DVD (available from CCA) hopes to encourage a more intentional, creation-centered spirituality. John Paul II reminded us: “No peaceful society can afford to neglect either respect for life or the fact that there is an integrity to creation.”