Leading environmental activist delivers stark warning ahead of Omagh discussion, writes Emmet McElhatton
A leading Irish voice on climate change has urged local people to lose their “indifference” to the dangers facing our planet.
Fr Sean McDonagh is a Columban priest and eco-theologian who has repeatedly urged the Catholic Church to make the climate crisis a “top priority”.
He will arrive in Omagh next Wednesday evening to commence a series of environmental talks at the Sacred Heart Church.
Fr McDonagh (pictured) spent more than 30 years as a missionary in the Philippines, where he watched the destruction of tropical forests with terrible ecological consequences.
His experience led him to publish his first book on climate change way back in 1986, which was titled, ‘To Care For The Earth – A Call to a New Theology’. Since then, he has published ten books on the issue.
Speaking to the Ulster Herald this week, Fr McDonagh explained how he first became worried about climate change many years before it grew into a worldwide concern.
“It was in the early days off my 30 year life in the Philippines,” he said. “There, all you had to do to see the negative consequences of mankind’s interference with the climate was to open your eyes and see what was in front of you.”
Growing up in Ireland, in houses whose roofs have never been shook by a hurricane and whose floors need not yet be unnerved by rising sea-levels, it is easy for us to live with a deluded sense of the true seriousness of the climate crisis.
While Fr McDonagh acknowledges how easy it is to entertain this delusion, he is adamant that our indifference can no longer be justified by our ignorance.
“We need only look at our TV screens and see the smoke rise from the Amazon, the coffin close on the great barrier reef, and record-breaking hurricanes ripping through the Bahamas to witness the most devastating effects of climate change in real-time,” he said.
“Our job as children and caretakers of the planet is to dispel this psychology of indifference,” he insists.
“If we continue to shut our eyes to climate change we must understand that we are complicit in it. We must seek out ways of actively engaging with the crisis if we are to avoid the most tragic case of gross negligence imaginable.”
Fr McDonagh is all too aware of the pervasive tendency to underplay the climate crisis.
When his first book – ‘To Care For The Earth – A Call to a New theology’ (1986) – took two years before attracting a publisher, the priest said he experienced “the visceral gutpunch” that is felt by any sincere climate reform advocate when they try to tell the world the sky is falling and it “just looks the other way.”
Fr McDonagh points to big industry as one of the greatest contributors to climate change. It also stands to lose the most from the tightening of climate-related regulations.
“Industrialists have been pretending climate change isn’t a problem for the last 40 years,” he declared. “If it’s information on climate change you want, don’t ask big industry or corporations.”
He also paints an extremely bleak future if we don’t put the brakes on our collective slide into the abyss.
“Global temperatures have risen one per-cent since the industrial revolution,” Fr McDonagh said. “A climate change skeptic may raise this statistic in defence of the claim that if human industry has effected global temperatures at all, it’s impact has been so small as to negate any calls for concern.
“But the current devastation caused by that one per-cent rise invites us to imagine the world in 12 years time when the global temperature could have risen by 1.5 per-cent.
“You can keep this thought experiment going for as many years as you like, but year by year the world begins to look increasingly more desolate and uninhabitable.”
Fr McDonagh’s intense and committed effort towards rectifying the state of the climate has been strongly informed by his time spent in the Philippines.
In his view, it’s the people of the Philippines and other impoverished parts of the world who face the consequences of climate change on a daily basis.
“The sad reality is that those who have contributed least stand to suffer most,” he said. “The natural order will not restore itself, and karma will not come back to bite those who have let profit cloud their conscience before millions of innocent peoples lives are destroyed.”
Fr McDonagh concluded the interview with a short message ahead of next week’s talk: “Time is of the essence… we must take action!”