Message for the 2020 Day for the Environment
Towards a Sustainable World beyond the Myth of Growth
The world is shrouded in darkness, created by the fear of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, for which a vaccine has not yet been discovered. In the midst of this pandemic, we have come to realize that we are all in the same boat, all interconnected. This boat of humanity, the Earth - our common home, is in danger of being shipwrecked. As it is in the case of climate change, global warming and desertification, insatiable human greed has helped fan the flames of COVID-19. We have frenetically chased after the idol of ‘growth and development,’ assuming that wealth guarantees happiness. As a result, we face this unprecedented global crisis.
In its 2018 Special Report, ‘Global Warming of 1.5℃,’ the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) states that it is indispensable that we limit warming to 1.5℃ above pre-industrial levels, in order to avoid a global catastrophe. To achieve this target, global carbon dioxide emissions, the main cause of climate change, should be reduced to zero by 2050. This daunting task should be completed within 30 years. However, this will be possible only when and if we make drastic changes to our lifestyles. A complete transformation is required. To begin with, what is required is deep reflection on our lifestyles and then fundamental changes to the infrastructure of the global social and financial systems. Government policy focused solely on economic growth must be revised and reformed to promote eco-friendly energy and preserve the ecosystem. Citizens should also change their mentality from one focused on material success to one which stresses the primacy of life.
As a knock on effect of the coronavirus pandemic, air pollution has plummeted by between 25% and 45% compared to 2019 values in major cities such as Los Angeles, Paris, Sydney, and Rio de Janeiro. This is also the case with our nation. The decline in economic activity, caused by the pandemic, has led to improved air quality in our sky. During these trying times, overpowered by the pandemic, we are realizing how our excesses have placed the entire ecosystem in jeopardy. Faced with various ecological crises, including climate change, we are forced to reflect on ourselves and our lifestyles; we have gone ahead at breakneck speeds and in so doing become indifferent to our neighbors in need and the suffering of the ecosystem.
“It is not the time of Lord’s judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters,” said Pope Francis (Extraordinary Moment of Prayers, March 27, 2020). Although it may be too late, there is still a chance to change. As a way toward building a sustainable world, we ought to aim at buying and possessing less. By reducing the clutter in our lives, we may make room to express our love of God, the natural world and our neighbors.
Another urgent challenge facing us is that of changing the ways in which we produce energy. Our heavy dependency on fossil fuels has helped to bring about climate change, while nuclear power exposes the world to the constant danger of deadly nuclear accidents. It is high time to invest in clean and renewable energy such as solar and wind power. A drastic change is called for throughout society. We should prioritize the protection of the ecosystem and the dignity of human life, and abandon the idol of unending ‘growth and development.’ Such a transformation will be possible only when we entrust ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Through this fundamental change, God may present something good to society, humanity as a whole, and to individuals.
June 5, 2020
World Environment Day
+ Peter Kang U-il
Bishop of Cheju
President of the CBCK Committee for Ecology & Environment