Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 23rd Sunday of Ordinary Time. (The Sunday following the World Day of Care for Creation – resources from the Vatican, CAFOD, Season of Creation and the global Catholic Climate Movement.)
Please Lord, I can!
As many of you know, I spent four years studying what is in the heavens, pursuing research in astrophysics at Cardiff University. We live in an amazing age! During the last month we’ve started receiving images from the latest spaceprobe to arrive at Jupiter and discovered that the next-nearest star to our Sun, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting it in a zone which makes liquid water possible!
We also understand Planet Earth better than we’ve ever done before. We don’t have all the answers – right now many scientists are puzzling over whether microbeads in our shower gel are harmful to creatures in the sea – but we do know enough to be worried about humanity’s impact on our planet.
The earth is getting warmer, ice is melting at our poles, and that has consequences for people who live on islands and coastlands. Crops won’t grow in the same places, in the same way, that they would a generation ago. Do we fully understand the way everything in our environment interacts? No. But do we understand enough to be worried? Yes.
Last year, in his encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis said that “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”
Now, I could give a whole lecture on what’s in the Pope’s document, and another on what we can do to help our planet, but our time is short, so I am going to pick just one issue today: Energy.
Almost all the energy we use on Planet Earth comes from sunshine. Coal, oil and natural gas come from plant material, plants which captured sunshine over hundreds of thousands of years, but which we are burning up in decades. When we burn our “fossil fuels”, this produces carbon dioxide, which is a major cause of global warming.
The sun also heats our atmosphere, causing wind, which causes waves; and it evaporates water, which falls as rain, enabling rivers to drive waterwheels. The gravity of the sun and moon cause tides to ebb and flow twice a day. We can even use solar panels to catch the sun’s energy directly. But sunshine, tides, wind and waves aren’t always there when we need them. There are ways of storing large amounts of energy for later, but these aren’t cheap because they need big-scale engineering. At Dinorwig, the “electric mountain” in North Wales, water is pumped from a low lake to a higher one whenever there is surplus electricity to be stored.
Why should we care? The decisions we make today about energy affect our children, and our children’s children. Today’s psalm reminds us that God sees human life come and go, generation after generation. In the Gospel, Our Lord reminds us that we should always take stock of our resources before starting a project. We also need to think about the humans who will inherit this earth long after we awake to the bright morning of heaven. Will we leave them enough oil to make plastic and medicines, or will we have burned it all in our cars and power stations?
CAFOD have reminded us often in recent years that we should “live simply, sustainably, and in solidarity with the poor”. None of us can solve the problem of climate change on our own, but if every person on earth chose to make one small change each, seven billion small changes add up to one huge change for the better!
So what can we do? The good news is that some things we can do won’t cost us money, only time and a little effort – in fact, saving energy equals saving money! Over the last couple of years, you’ll have seen the houses around St Philip Evans Church covered in scaffolding. Local flats were offered external wall insulation – and we advertised the offer in our parish newsletter. One of the first things I did on moving into St Philip Evans Presbytery was to arrange for cavity wall insulation to be pumped into the walls of the house, and for thicker insulating rolls to be laid in the loft – and I didn’t have to pay a penny for it! You can find lots of ideas to help you online from the Energy-Saving Trust.
For those of us who can afford to do so, we can use our money to help drive change. “Green energy” does cost a little more, because of the need to pick up the slack when the sun doesn’t shine. But the more people who insist on having green energy, the more the power companies will invest in the technology. Yes, this means that our landscape will change. When I drive to visit my parents in Llanelli, I see more and more wind turbines being installed along the Neath-Port Talbot coastline. I don’t welcome the blot on the landscape, but I know it’s part of the price we pay for our energy-hungry lifestyle. Earlier this year, 16 Catholic Dioceses in England and Wales agreed to come together to buy 100% green energy, and by belonging to this large consortium, our parish now runs on green energy at an affordable price. If you are willing to pay a little more for your power bills, you can switch to a 100% renewable provider, too; and if you have some money to invest in making long term savings, you could even consider installing solar panels.
The way we buy our energy is a moral issue. The choices we make affect our neighbours in space and in time – those who live at risk of rising sea levels, and our future generations of consumers. Our Lord today challenges you to give up all your possessions! I’m only challenging you to save energy and buy greener energy. As crosses go, this is quite an easy one to carry!