An ecological game-changer

Picture of Jonathon Braden

Jonathon Braden

Jonathon was formerly with Laudato Si

All Catholic institutions have been urged to divest from fossil fuels as a way to live out their faith and work against the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. The call has been made by Archbishop of Glasgow William Nolan, who added, “It will be an embarrassment for any Catholic institution that hasn’t divested.”

In his prior role as Bishop of Galloway in Scotland, he was instrumental in leading the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland to divest from fossil fuels ahead of the United Nations 26th Climate Change Conference in Glasgow.

The bishops’ conference participated in the largest-ever joint divestment announcement from faith-based institutions. Seventy-two faith institutions from six continents with more than $4.2 billion of combined assets under management announced their commitment to divest from fossil fuels last November.

Archbishop Nolan has previously shared details about the divestment journey of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, why divestment is not purely a symbolic gesture, and how Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’ has transformed the Catholic Church.

“It’s always much more than something symbolic. But even then there are various arguments that are used against divesting,” said Archbishop Nolan. “For instance, we do still need fossil fuels. We do need oil and gas. They keep our cars moving, and they keep our homes heated. So, we are in a period of transition, so while we’re in a period of transition, we do still need these oil companies to continue as before. But it’s not acceptable to just continue the status quo.

“There are also arguments against the economic argument. In Scotland, for instance, up to 20 percent of our economy is based around the oil and gas industry. So people said, ‘Well, it’s irresponsible. What about all those jobs, and all those people?’ So that was another argument that we kind of kept coming up against.

“But eventually, we realised, well, we still need oil and gas just now, we do have to transition. We do have to push towards that direction. If you’re investing in these companies, then you’re profiting from their activity, and it wasn’t really right to be profiting from oil and gas, when we knew these things were causing such pollution to the whole environment of the Earth.”

Archbishop Nolan added, “I think it’s going to get to the stage, it will be an embarrassment for any Catholic institution that hasn’t divested.

“This has gone from a purely symbolic gesture to something much, much more than that. Because we’re now advocating, and Pope Francis is advocating as well, (for) a complete change of lifestyle. We have to change our lifestyle. So we have to dig deep … It’s just a small step, is divestment. That’s where we start, but we have to make that small step.

Laudato Si’ is an amazing document. For many years, the Church was fairly silent on this environmental issue, this environmental crisis, and so Laudato Si’ has come in and has put it all together and ensured everything is integrated. And this is very much a part of a religious issue, not just a climate issue.

“It’s a question of God’s creation, and our worship of God and God’s creation … The document itself, I think it was a game changer for the Catholic Church and a game changer for the environmental movement, and its effects are still growing.”

Meanwhile, an event held in late June titled “Oceania Talanoa: Faith, Indigenous, and Nature’s Moana Shaping and Safeguarding Innovations of the Sea,” invovled Catholic leaders and Indigenous peoples from Oceania. They shared how they connect with the ocean and God’s creation, and how Catholics everywhere can “shake up” the status quo.

Fr Pedro Walpole, SJ, Global Coordinator for Ecojesuit, Research Director for the Environmental Science for Social Change, and Network Coordinator for the River Above Asia Oceania Ecclesial Network, said, “If we don’t feel it here (in the heart), it doesn’t matter how much, how little we have in our pocket. We’re not going to change. The change, as we keep hearing from the youth today, must be now, not 30 years from now. We need a change now.”


Fr Walpole explained that the health of oceans is critical to the health of all species, especially human beings, therefore all of us must care for it. Oceans generate 50 percent of the oxygen we breathe, and they absorb 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, according to the UN. Almost 2.4 billion people live within almost 100 km of the coast.

But a warmer planet is causing sea levels to rise and about eight million metric tons of plastic is dumped into the ocean every year. This plastic is suffocating coral reefs and endangering the thousands of species that make up that ecosystem.

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong of the Archdiocese of Suva, Fiji, deepened participants’ understanding of the “ecological conversion” needed. He quoted Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. All three popes shared the same urgent concern for the destruction of God’s creation.

In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis echoes Pope John Paul II and invites everyone to undergo an “‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them.”

Other speakers shared emotional testimonials about how their lives had been shaped by a thriving ocean. Theresa Ardler, Research Indigenous Liaison Officer at Australian Catholic University, grew up in an Aboriginal fishing community. “It’s actually quite beautiful to still have that strong connection with the ocean, and I’m very proud. It’s very much in my heart,” she said.

Tevita Naikasowalu, Coordinator for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation for the Columban Mission Society in Fiji, compared the ocean to a mother caring for her children. His entire island is surrounded by the ocean. “Whatever we need is from the ocean,” he said. “It can really speak to you if you will learn to listen.”

Jonathon Braden is the former strategic communications officer with Laudato Si’. He wrote this article before he left the organisation.

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