The cover photo of the Winter 2023 Vocation for Justice newsletter shows Columban grounds this summer at the office headquarters in Solihull. It illustrates a Columban commitment to maintaining a home for wildlife and implementing a three-year plan to plant trees, orchards and hedgerows. The addition of a wildflower garden and apiary is planned to protect the vulnerable bee population. Eco-retreats and education days are run at St. Columban’s.
The issue, which the Columbans send out to around 6,000 Justice and Peace activists in Britain, takes the theme, ‘Saving Our Commons’. It highlights that individuals and organisations acting in their self-interest can overexploit and destroy natural resources that all of us are entitled to share. These resources include our air, water, land, a stable climate and biodiversity.
Of course, we not only respond locally, but we think globally.
And globally, we’ve had a wake-up summer. July was the hottest month ever on record and saw extreme weather events on all seven continents. Heatwaves across Europe and North America and record-breaking downpours and flooding in South Asia show that Earth’s climate is moving into a new normal.
UK temperatures reached their highest point of the year on 7 September, with 32.7C recorded in Greater London. The heatwave in England and Wales is the first since records began that temperatures have been higher than 30C for six days in a row in Britain in September, according to the Met Office. An Amber health alert has been issued.
Scientists say that next year will be even hotter than this year as El Niño takes fuller effect. A paper published in the respected journal Science last year predicted that major tipping points, such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet, the West Antarctic ice sheet and the Boreal Forests of Siberia, start to become “likely” at 1.5 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels. We are getting very close.
Yet, people of vision throughout the world are working towards a paradigm-shattering, dignity-creating, freedom-enhancing and sustainable world. There is no alternative, especially when we consider justice for future generations.
It can be done. Paris is hosting the Olympic Games next summer, and after a $1.6 billion decade-long cleanup project, the famous river Seine will once again be safe enough to swim in. Chronic pollutants have included raw sewage, old TVs, motorcycles – and even dead bodies. Now, 30 to 35 species of fish have returned. It gives us hope that we can clean up the UK’s polluted waterways with sufficient will.
Isn’t the public desire for pollution-free waters where fish and people can swim safely enough to preserve the commons? Well, it needs to be underlined. Political and economic powers need civil society to demand they do the right thing for the common good in terms of climate stability, biodiversity, clean water and wider access to the riches of the global commons. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, highlighted at this year’s annual conference of the National Justice and Peace Network of England and Wales, provide global benchmarks.
We must have hope and commitment to save our commons. This issue includes articles by Indian ecologist Vandana Shiva on ‘Reclaiming Our Common Home’, by CAFOD’s Campaign Manager on the rights of farmers to own, sell and save seeds, and by a Columban worker in Fiji who calls for the conservation of the ocean and coastal ecosystems. The centerspread gives examples of Church action on ‘Saving our Commons’.
The 2023/24 Columban Schools Competition, ‘Biodiversity Matters’ is launched. The Columbans ask that it be brought to the attention of young people, parents and teachers.
Injustice, violence, and the destruction of life forms and entire living ecosystems of the Earth community today are directly related to humanity’s loss of sensitivity related to and connected to our environment, neighbours, and God the Creator. People of faith must stress these links and the terrible impacts on poor communities. Columban mission believes that God is with us in our mission to save our commons.