Pope Francis: Let us choose life! Let us choose the future! 

December 19, 2023

As COP28 has come to an end, we recall that the goal of the global UN climate change conference was to declare a “phase out” of fossil fuel that powers the world’s economy and is destroying the climate and life on earth.

The fossil fuel world industry forced a compromise in the wording and finally, it was agreed to “transition away from fossil fuel.” It is historic. After 28 years of talking, this is the first time all nations agreed to end the era of fossil fuels, oil, gas, and coal. This is the only solution to save the planet from further extreme damage and save the environment and people’s lives. Words are fine but action is what is now needed. 

The alternative is to triple renewable energy generation sources to more solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and other methods to generate electricity. The final agreement agreed to increase finance to support small nations suffering the devastating effects of climate change caused by the most powerful and rich nations.

Pope Francis is one of the most outspoken advocates for the end to the fossil fuel lifestyle that is destructive to creation, a center point of his papacy. Words are important but action is more so, he said. In his Laudato Si encyclical and in his speech to the conference, he advocated for all people to take urgent action against destructive climate change. Some of it is “already irreversible,” he has said, and that “highly polluting fossil fuels need to be progressively replaced without delay.” 

Pope Francis challenged the world leaders in his speech to COP28: “Are we working for a culture of life or a culture of death? To all of you, I make this heartfelt appeal: Let us choose life!  Let us choose the future!  May we be attentive to the cry of the earth, may we hear the plea of the poor, may we be sensitive to the hopes of the young and the dreams of children!  We have a grave responsibility: to ensure that they not be denied their future.” His words were apparently listened to and helped shape the final declaration.

He called for the truth to be acknowledged: those who “deny, conceal, gloss over or relativize the issue,” saying that it was people and lifestyle that are the causing the destructive impact of global warming and it is people of Faith who must help change it. 

The center point of the Christian faith is being totally convinced in mind and heart that truth, goodness, action for justice, love of neighbor, and creation will eventually overcome wrong-doing and evil through belief and friendship with Jesus of Nazareth. The kingdom of justice and love will come if we build it work for it and believe we can succeed. Faith like that will “move mountains” of corruption, wrongdoing, and evil as we hope the COP28 will achieve. 

Besides working for social justice, healing, and helping the victims of violence and the abused and exploited poor, promoting renewables is ‘faith in action”. The battle that raged last week during the COP28 summit about how to stop harmful climate change and global warming from destroying life as we know it on planet Earth was a battle of good against evil. The natural disasters across the globe are the “mountain” of evil that we must believe we can move.

Pope Francis made it clear when he said a “broad change in the irresponsible lifestyle connected with the Western model” must happen to stop climate change so dramatically. That lifestyle and economic activity burning fossil fuels non-stop is causing the planet to overheat and if it reaches 1.5 degrees hotter it may be a tipping point of no return and the cycle of warming will continue irreversibly. Climate destruction is already causing a catastrophic impact on agriculture, food production, health, water, and much more. 

We need faith and hope to win this struggle and “to say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change,” Pope Francis said. 

Unless the world and the biggest emitters of CO2, the US and China, and others like the Philippines stop burning fossil fuel in power plants and vehicles and build more renewables and change to electric cars, we face continual intensive climate disasters: excessive temperatures, (2023 was the hottest ever), drought, crop failure, floods, forest fires, typhoons of greater intensity, glaciers melting, rise in ocean levels, less fish, food crises, diseases, and wars over water and productive land and many deaths from heat waves.

The fossil fuel cartels have to accept that the oil game is over. They and others have staunchly defended fossil fuels- the source of their wealth, power, and prestige- and they still do with greater determination than ever.

At COP28, they changed “phase out” fossil fuels to “transition from.” The phase-out that is coming is an economic death sentence for them but destructive climate change by fossil fuel burning is a physical death sentence for the poor people of the world. They will continue to promote fossil fuels to earn all they can, like the UK which recently started oil drilling again. 

Pope Francis has called for a life of dignity, to choose life, not death: “The destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst and threatens to unleash a conflict between generations.”  Climate change, he said, is “a global social issue and one intimately related to the dignity of human life.”

The only answer is more alternative renewable sources of energy, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, bio, wave, etc. They will replace fossil fuels. The Philippines and other countries must give more tax breaks to renewable energy projects, more solar plants, and wind farms, and high-quality low-cost electric cars, fewer trucks and buses, and more trains. At present, electric vehicles are super expensive and just for show. Needed is a law mandating the installation of fast-recharging facilities and home charging units. The oil and auto industry is opposed and will try to block such laws. 

The source of energy is free. We just have to capture it and give the nation a clean, low-cost energy supply and save the lives and homes of the poor. Society must change and get out of fossil fuels quickly or as Pope Francis says, we have to “choose life over death.” 

Irish Father Shay Cullen, SSC, established the Preda Foundation in Olongapo City in 1974 to promote human rights and the rights of children, especially victims of sex abuse.

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