by Frances Correia
What is meant by global warming? 20 years ago when I was at school I remember being taught that global warming would lead to more extreme weather. That is, in areas prone to flooding it would be wetter. In places like South Africa that are dry, drought would become more common. Although without the scientific background to deeply understand the complexity of global warming, I am aware of witnessing more extreme weather patterns around the globe in the last two decades. However, the drought that has gripped our own country for the past few years and the Category Four hurricane that hit Haiti this Tuesday are clear signs to me that our weather is becoming more extreme.
In his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, Pope Francis emphasises the importance of adequate care for the earth. We live in a complex world and are only just beginning to realise that our actions (in particular industrialised actions) have far greater consequences than people initially imagined. He also warns that it is the poor who are most vulnerable to the consequences of environmental damage.
The nature of natural disasters is always social. A natural disaster striking a well-resourced country able to easily and efficiently mobilise internal resources to help is one thing; when it strikes a people who are already labouring under the burden of poor infrastructure, inadequate heath care facilities and insufficient funding the nature of the disaster is intensified.
Haiti is an impoverished nation, and has still not recovered from the massive earthquake that hit it seven years ago. Now it has been hit by a Category Four hurricane, the worst in its recorded history. Many people’s homes and other buildings were not rebuilt. Many were still living in makeshift huts insufficient to protect against a hurricane of this magnitude, and there are only a limited number of buildings strong enough to seek cover in. In addition Haiti has not yet recovered from the massive cholera outbreak after the earthquake, and it is reasonable to expect that with additional damage to sanitation infrastructure the epidemic will get worse. The poverty of their situation makes this disaster even worse.
We live in an interconnected world. We are called as Christians to be in solidarity with others whom we may not know, and who may live elsewhere, to share in their ‘griefs and anxieties’. We are called by the Gospels to live with open hearts, with generosity, and to put our imaginations and our abilities at the service of the common good. This requires that we at the very least spend some of our time thinking and praying about what is happening around the world, as well as in our own communities. It is only if we are already thinking and praying about others that we can be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit to action on behalf of them. As we, on this planet, begin to grapple with the reality of global warming, we are reminded to be more open to God’s invitation to action by each of us.