Fr Tom O’Brien Address for London Climate Action Week Interfaith Service

Father Tom O’Brien, Parish Priest of Our Lady Immaculate and St Andrew, Hitchin, and member of Westminster Justice and Peace Commission, gave the following address at the online interfaith service to mark the start of London Climate Action Week “Take Care for our common home” on 27th June 2021.

Coming together as we are today, united in a passionate concern for our common home and sharing our insights and beliefs, is precisely what Pope Francis wanted to happen when, in 2015, he wrote a letter to everyone in the world called Laudato Si or Praise be to you. Recognising that we face a catastrophic crisis, Pope Francis publicly proclaimed and clarified our deep concern for the destruction happening to our planet. He also recognised that this crisis can only be addressed together and globally. Whatever our differences of faith or of non-faith, we are all united in our growing concern for the future of our planet. The letter spells out the challenges we face clearly and succinctly and also recognises that we need to act now before it’s too late.

We believe that God called us to be stewards of creation which Pope Francis summarises as cultivating, ploughing, working, as well as caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving the natural world. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. It is a call to work with a creation that is only too willing to work with us.

The letter recognises that: “We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment” (#141).

Throughout the letter care for the earth is conjoined with care for the poor. They are indispensably connected. Laudato Si: “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: ‘Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest'” (#48).

Our exploitation and abuse of the resources of the earth have led to increased Tsunamis, a continuing global rise in temperature that affects climate in a way that the poor, who depend on the land for sustenance, face long term droughts leading to a lack of clean water and starvation (25,000 a day, UN). Seeking survival leads them into underpaid jobs in which they are exploited, their basic rights are ignored and their freedom denied, so that we can have cheaper food and cheaper clothes to which they have no access. Laudato Si states There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself. There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology” (#118).

We are called to an inner conversion to a radical change in lifestyle, to living more simply, being less wasteful, to recycle and re-use, to be more generous to those in need. We must urgently lobby the government not to decrease our overseas support aid and even increase it.

Some of the fastest growing businesses in America are in energy efficiency and renewable energy helping produce the same output for half the energy.”

Businesses, who promote sustainability through the supply chain, have reduced their costs. They see pollution as a form of waste.

An organization that doesn’t waste anything is proved to be more efficient and more profitable.

Young people, led by the likes of Greta Thunberg, are calling for and fighting for a radical reduction in Co2 emissions. The recent G7 meeting has committed to fading out the use of fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy.

Being positive and hopeful is actually an important way to combat climate change. “We must look toward our positive shared future. The more we articulate the ability to get to that place, the more likely we are to get there.”

Expression of Hope;

Encouragingly, in Laudato Si, Pope Francis adds:

“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing what is good, and making a new start, whatever their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us. (#205)”

This was the first time London Climate action week had held an interfaith service and it was organised by South London interfaith group and Faiths Forum for London. Among the wide range of speakers there was humanist Richard Norman and pagan Robin Horne. Dr Ruth Valerio of Tearfund, Rabbi Jonathan Wittenberg, Zahra Kanani from Streatham mosque, Zoroastrian Vista Khosravi, Robert Harrap General director of SGI-UK, Sikh Balbir Singh Bakshi and Jain Varsha Dodhia all spoke about what there faith teaches about Creation and some of the practical actions their communities have undertaken. Bishop Karowei Dorgu, Anglican Bishop of Woolwich spoke about Southwark as an eco-diocese and what parishes are doing.

The recording can be found at: