"We cannot love God when we do not appreciate or care for what God has made," says Ghanaian Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. The cardinal, pictured in a 2015 file photo, made the comments in an Oct. 31 interview with the Catholic Times, newspaper of the Diocese of Columbus, Ohio. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Turkson hopes Laudato Si' will have impact on Paris climate conference

By  Tim Puet, Catholic News Service
  • November 5, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Cardinal Peter Turkson, the lead consultant on the papal encyclical on the environment, is hoping the document would have a significant impact on the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris.

"The world is turning its gaze toward Paris" for the event, which begins Nov. 30 and continues through Dec. 11, said the Ghanaian cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. "It is the hope and desire of the Holy See that the guidance of (the encyclical) Laudato Si' will provide the moral fibre” to enable leaders of the 196 nations taking part in the conference to come to the hard decisions they need to make.

The conference's stated goal is to achieve a new international agreement on the climate, applicable to all nations, with the aim of limiting the rise of the Earth's average temperature to two-degrees Celsius, widely seen as the benchmark for avoiding catastrophic global warming.

"I am hoping the world's leaders in Paris will come away with concrete gestures and actions" related to climate change, Turkson said Nov. 2, the last day of his three-day visit to Columbus. After Columbus, he was at Santa Clara University Nov. 3 and 4 to deliver an address at a climate conference there.

The upcoming Paris meeting is the 21st such gathering of partners to a UN convention on climate change, which was adopted in 1992. The cardinal noted that the first 20 meetings have resulted in little progress, but said he felt people are slowly beginning to realize the threat posed by global warming and the need to take better care of the environment.

"Government leaders are preparing to take action, and now business leaders have accepted an invitation from Pope Francis" to come to the Vatican for a dialogue on the environment in December, Turkson said. In addition, he said several national bishops' conferences have committed themselves to encouraging their nations' leaders to take decisive steps on climate change at the meeting and at home.

"Catholic social teaching demands a sense of justice in which we respect the demands of relationships in which we exist, including a respect for the demands of our relationship with Mother Earth," he said during remarks to a capacity crowd to Ohio State University's Mershon Auditorium. His appearance was part of a series of events the university is conducting relating to sustainability of the planet's resources.

Turkson repeated several of the points he had made at his other Columbus stops about how the encyclical is at its heart a document on how we show our love for God by the way we treat the people and the resources God has made.

In response to a student's question on how individuals can help control climate change, Turkson referred to a papal suggestion: "Turn off your air conditioners."

He also mentioned turning off lights when not in use and paying attention to what's in the food we buy.

“Every small gesture that reduces carbon in the atmosphere can help," he said. "They don't have to be big initiatives."

While on campus, Turkson saw Ohio State's EcoCAR project, in which students are re-engineering a 2016 Camaro into a performance hybrid, and he viewed ice core samples from the world's highest, most remote ice fields at the school's Byrd Polar Research Center.    

"I saw students displaying creativity, innovation and skills in responding to some of the difficult challenges facing society," he said. "I don't think there's any reason to doubt the competence and willingness of young people to embrace those challenges. We can be very hopeful about their efforts."

At a news conference before his talk, Turkson said, "Age doesn't matter. The Pope's appeal should have particular interest for young people, but we all should be concerned about the kind of world we leave for those who come after us. Some students desire a new toy or a new product every day, and discipline in controlling their tastes and desires will be of great help."

Responding to a question from the auditorium about how his own experience might have affected his environmental consciousness, Turkson said he was raised in a manganese mining town in southern Ghana, with the town's young people using the area around the mine as a playground.

"I grew up with environmental degradation," he said. "I remember how the forest and the topsoil were taken away, and all that was left were gaping holes that we were told it wasn't cost-effective to fill. I can't say this is what led me to my present position, but it's what I grew up in."

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