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Delving into ecological conversion

What does ecological conversion look like? It is an important question for Catholics in the light of Praise Be: On care for our common home (Laudato Si’).

It was on my mind when I visited the site of the Paris negotiations, particularly since the conference focus was turning specifically towards action responses to climate change.

I trod the well-worn path to the Climate Generations Area, a massive space for exhibitions and meetings, which is open to the public and right next door to the main conference hall.

I passed the Wangari Maathai room; clearly a tribute to the great African environmentalist who was educated by Catholic sisters in Kenya and the United States of America (US), before she became famous globally for founding the Greenbelt Movement in Kenya.

I learned about civic resilience in the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, despite the destruction of severe weather, watched explorers crossing ice on film and then appearing in person to stress the importance of raising awareness about the fragility of Antarctica, then attended a gathering on Ecological and Energy Transitions financed by Citizens through Crowdfunding.

I then visited Oceans: Proposals for Blue Economy

Crowdfunding collects contributions from a local community and the discussion was on windfarm projects in the Loire Valley and in Picardy.

The first cost Ä750,000 ($6.5 million), which was raised by 350 local residents. The second cost Ä110,000 ($937,000), which several hundred contributors funded.

It was easy to get people involved when they realised that ultimately their energy bills would be reduced, but many also wanted to support renewable energy initiatives in their locality.

We heard that 50 per cent of Germany’s renewable energy is produced by cooperatives.

“Even if you are not interested in energy transition and the issue of climate change, you might be very interested in local economic development and cheaper energy,” a speaker said, adding, “Many people these days like to know what their money is being used for.”

I heard the mayor of the capital of South Korea, Won-Soon Pak, speak on Seoul’s moves towards Energy Democracy. He explained that the use of solar panels has increased four-fold since 2011 and 2016 will see the growth of solar panels on the rooftops of schools.

This energy transition is alongside an energy saving plan which has reduced the city’s consumption of power by four per cent, despite an increasing population. 

He said that he was delighted that one nuclear plant has been closed and is targeting two more for closure within the next few years.

“We want safe people and a safe future,” he said, “and more green jobs.” He added, “Earth is already a great coalition of cities, and cities and their citizens carry a huge responsibility to address the pain of the Earth.”

Pope Francis talks about listening to the cry of the Earth and at a function organised by the World Young Men’s Christian Association about how campaigners and civil society can address climate change, a Norwegian negotiator at the Conference of Parties underlined the importance of knowledge in lobbying work.

Using social media to keep informed and to grow climate campaigning was a key message.

Another speaker urged humility, saying that we are all climate deniers to some extent, as few have reduced their own carbon footprint sufficiently to keep climate change below the 1.5 degree rise bar suggested by scientists.

He suggested that an individual transition to a low carbon lifestyle is as important as urging changes at the macro level... echoes of ecological conversion.

Ecological conversion is at the heart a spiritual response to the climate crisis. In my ramblings, I discovered the need for moral and cosmic balance at a meeting titled, Dharma and Climate Change.

It was run by an Indian climate scientist, who said there is not much of a moral angle in top down processes. 

In order to show that ordinary people can play a significant role in the transformation of society in the light of climate change, he invited four people from the audience to fill the empty seats on the platform to make a panel.

The four came from Sri Lanka, South Africa, Canada and the US. “My country is a cesspool of climate deniers,” the American said, “and I want to learn about responses and best practices in other parts of the world.”

The woman from South Africa wanted to see climate change recognised as a moral issue, especially with recent droughts and heatwaves in her country, but also thought that immediate needs for housing and employment competed for attention.

The chairperson was concerned that acting on climate change and promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is on the backburner in an India trying to pump up consumerism.

So much came back to consumerism and consumption beyond Earth’s finite resources, alongside magnificent practical initiatives to get back to working with life systems and not against them.

As one speaker put it, “Society is currently based on having and not being.” Perhaps ecological conversion could begin with a reflection on what this means for us, both as individuals and as a Christian community.

• Ellen Teague