Monday, November 10, 2014

Climate Change: A Challenge to Our Mission as Redemptorists

Two days ago, the whole nation commemorated the first anniversary of the Typhoon Yolanda. On that day, the group that did the Climate Walk from Manila reached Tacloban. A month from now I will be starting my Solo 1,800 km Climate Bike Ride for Victims of Yolanda, Pablo and Sendong (from Manila to Iligan via Tacloban, Davao and Cagayan de Oro).

This month, Redemptorists are gathering in 3 places (Cebu, Bacolod and Davao) for the so-called pre-Chapter assemblies where we will be discussing (among others) the direction which our life and mission will take for the next four years. I was asked to prepare a working paper on Climate Change vis-a-vis our Mission:

Climate Change:  A Challenge to our Mission
A Working Paper  

Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR


For the last three years, the Philippines  has been hit by three devastating super-typhoons: Typhoon Sendong in December 2011 which hit Cagayan de Oro and Iligan – including our former mission area in Hinaplanon, Iligan City. The flood reached our church in Tibanga, which made it impossible to hold the Misa de Gallo that day.

Typhoon Pablo hit Davao Oriental in 2012, several hundred kilometers  from our parish in Davao City. This was the first time that a typhoon has ever hit this area.  In 2013 Typhoon Yolanda  hit Samar, Leyte and parts of Cebu and Panay. Our parish in Tacloban was badly hit, and so many died and thousands of families became homeless. Our Church became a temporary evacuation center for three weeks.

 Will there be more super-typhoons coming? Undoubtedly, yes. It is the new normal. And besides super-typhoons, there also other disasters predicted. More flooding even from ordinary rain More long dry spell or drought. With the polar icecaps melting at an unprecedented rapid rate and the ocean rising gradually, a time will come when coastal towns and cities will experience more flooding and God forbid – will be submerged, hopefully not in our lifetime. All of these are manifestations of globa warming and climate change. And it will get worse in the years to come. According to PAG-ASA by 2020, there will be a rise in temperature of .09 to 1.1 degree Celsius and 1.8 to 2.2 C in 2050.

The Reality of Climate Change

 Almost 25 years ago, John Paul II warned about climate change in his World Day of Peace Message (1990):

The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related ‘greenhouse effect’ has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs. Industrial waste, the burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, the use of certain types of herbicides, coolants and propellants: all of these are known to harm the atmosphere and environment. The resulting meteorological and atmospheric changes range from damage to health to the possible future submersion of low-lying lands.

 Climate change is the effect of the destruction of the environment by humans.
The burning of fossil fuel – from factories, coal-fired power plants, cars, forest fires, etc. has released unprecedented volume of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere creating a green-house effect on our planet.  The forest –which is supposed to be the lungs of the earth that will absorb carbon dioxide and turn it into oxygen- is fast disappearing.With deforestation, there will be less trees to absorb rain fall, and thus, more floods.

Global warming is melting the polar ice-caps, raising the temperature of the oceans, changing  weather patterns, causing more water to precipitate into the atmosphere and creating more super-typhoons.

Thus, we can expect to experience the extremes of El Nino – long dry spell, and La Nina – long wet periods and super-typhoons.

The climate has become crazy and unpredictable. There is no more debate about the reality of climate change. And it is going to get worse. Many scientists would say that it is no longer a matter of preventing climate change but of mitigating its effects and preparing for the disasters that it brings. The more ambitious task is acting together to reverse climate change – which seems to be an impossible dream but which needs to be done.

The Vatican Academy of Science in 2011 came up with a report outlining the duty of the Church and all nations vis-à-vis climate change:

 Failure to mitigate climate change will violate our duty to the vulnerable of the Earth, including those dependent on the water supply of mountain glaciers, and those facing rising sea level and stronger storm surges. Our duty includes the duty to help vulnerable communities adapt to changes that cannot be mitigated. All nations must ensure that their actions are strong enough and prompt enough to address the increasing impacts and growing risk of climate change and to avoid catastrophic irreversible consequences.

The following are three measures to reduce the threat of climate change and its impacts:

1.“Reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means possible to meet ambitious international global warming targets and ensure the long-term stability of the climate system.  All nations must focus on a rapid transition to renewable energy sources and other strategies to reduce CO2 emissions.  Nations should also avoid removal of carbon sinks by stopping deforestation, and should strengthen carbon sinks by reforestation of degraded lands.  They also need to develop and deploy technologies that draw down excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. These actions must be accomplished within a few decades.

2.“Reduce the concentrations of warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by as much as 50%, to slow down climate change during this century while preventing millions of premature deaths from respiratory disease and millions of tons of crop damages every year.

3.“Prepare to adapt to the climatic changes, both chronic and abrupt, that society will be unable to mitigate.  In particular, we call for a global capacity building initiative to assess the natural and social impacts of climate change in mountain systems and related watersheds.”

The Challence of Climate Change for our Mission

What is our response as Redemptorists to climate change? How do we carry out our mission in view  of climate change and the disaster that it brings?

Besides coming up with protocols on how we should respond in case of disaster (emergency response) we also have to broaden our perspective in terms of disaster risk reduction, preparedness, management, relief and rehabilitation.

We already have accumulated experiences in disaster response and mission in our own parish in Tacloban and other parishes hit by Typhoon Yolanda. This provides a model of how to respond immediately to disaster in a coordinated manner and how to carry out our mission in areas hit by disaster.  Karl Gaspar’s paper has distilled some of the learnings and the protocols that we as a province can adopt in the future, especially in terms of disaster response, rehabilitation and rebuilding.  

However, there is more that we need to do. Our mission is not just for communities already affected or will be affected by disaster. It is also for those who may be vulnerable to disaster. The question we need to answer is: how do we prepare ourselves and the communities that we minister for the disaster that arise due to climate change.

How can we make people aware of climate change and the disasters that it cause? How do we help develop parishes and BECs into disaster-resilient communities? What are the protocols that must be put in place which can be adopted by us and the people in our parishes and mission areas in case of disaster? What kind of mentality and lifestyle do we promote that can help arrest or revert global warming?

We should avoid the mentality that we are the messiah – that our primary role is to save or rescue helpless victims. We are not humanitarian aid workers but religious with a mission.

 We should operate on the principle of community participation in disaster risk reduction and management. We should avoid fostering a dependent-victim mentality.

In our preaching, evangelization & catechetical programs, and formation of BECs, we need to integrate the message of climate change, the responsibility of human beings as stewards of creation to care for the earth and protocols for disaster preparedness and management.

In order to do this, there is therefore a need to come up with resources -  modules and training manuals. These are the possible content:

  1. Our earth – global warming and climate change – causes and dangerous consequence. Disasters are not acts of God (due to God’s will) but due to human carelessness, sinfulness - selfishness and greed.
  2. Human beings as stewards of God’s creation – the responsibility to care for the earth. The practical implications of this in terms of lifestyle, plan of action to protect further environmental destruction and contribute to the reduction of carbon/GHG emissions, etc.
  3. Protocols for parish/community-based DRRM (Disaster Risk Reduction and Management).
Possible topics for community-based DRRM protocols/systems:

  1. Disaster risk-vulnerability assessment (discerning the kind of disaster the community is vulnerable to).
  2. Risk reduction and mitigation (what the community can do ASAP to reduce the risk or mitigate damage even before the disaster)
  3. Standard Operational Procedure in case of impending and actual disaster (warning, safety measures, evacuation, rescue, etc.)
  4. Initial Damage/Casualty/Needs assessment
  5. First Aid/Emergency Relief operations (how the community can help in orderly and efficient ways of doing this)
  6. Rehabilitation/Rebuilding (participatory/ holistic approach that includes material, psycho-spiritual dimensions)
The role of our apostolic units/mission teams is to facilitate this process and to help train the parish and BECs into becoming disaster-resilient communities.

In carrying this out, there is a need to coordinate with social action centers/commissions (national, diocesan, parish levels), NGO and LGU’s, government agencies (especially NDRRM and local counterparts).

In case of disaster, we do not have the expertise of humanitarian aid groups and first responders. Our role as Redemptorists  is very limited once disaster strikes.

Our significant contribution should be  in disaster preparedness and in the rehabilitation/rebuilding phase.  The victims and survivors do not only need material relief. They also need psycho-spiritual processing and community-rebuilding. This is where we can respond more effectively.

As Redemptorists we too should answer these questions: what can our own communities and apostolic units contribute to stop global warming? How can we help reduce the GHG/CO2 emissions? How will this affect the way we build or renovate our houses, monasteries and Churches?  How will this affect our use of vehicles and the type of vehicles we acquire?

 We, too, are vulnerable to the disasters that may be caused by climate change. We also need to go through the process of disaster risk assessment and reduction and adopt our own protocols for disaster management .

 To sum up, these are the urgent tasks in our mission:

  1. To make people aware of  climate change, its causes and effects and the human responsibility as stewards of God’s creation to care for the earth.
  2. To help mitigate the effects of climate change an promote disaster risk reduction, preparedness and management. This means helping build disaster-resilient communities (parishes, BECs).
  3. To foster a green lifestyle and search for ways that can contribute to reduction of green house gas.
We have to come up with mission modules and manuals on climate change and disaster risk reduction and management that can be used in our mission and parish apostolate.


No comments: