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The Philippines Leads on Climate Change


By: Bob Boyer


Most readers may not be surprised by this headline, but I confess that I was mildly surprised two or three months ago when I heard a Filipino on National Public Radio (NPR) claim that his country was leading the world on climate change. Then I caught up with an article written, at about the same time, that strongly seconded the claim. “If you want to see an inspiring example of engagement with Laudato si’ –Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment—look to the Philippines.” (Rita Ferrone, “Commonweal,” January 25, 2019, 6).

Ferrone guides us through this development, explaining why and how “Catholics in the Philippines, more than anywhere else,” have engaged so strongly with Francis’s pleas. Shortly after the encyclical appeared in June of 2015, “the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released a strong statement backing the central concerns of the encyclical: ecology, stewardship, and concern for the poor.” (Ferrone, 6) The Bishops noted that the effects of climate change are “deleterious and devastating” on everyone but “especially on impoverished and struggling nations and communities.”

And the Philippines, both a “struggling” and a Catholic nation, is responding. “Church groups have lobbied for clean energy; fought the spread of polluting industries, deforestation, and mining; engaged indigenous communities in planting trees; and worked for solar-energy access for offgrid communities in poor areas.” (Ferrone, 6) These groups and the Bishops have evidently gotten attention at home and abroad. The Global Catholic Climate Movement came to Manila to launch its 2017 “Laudato si’ pledge” campaign. The Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Louis Antonio Tagle “invited Catholics around the world to sign the “Laudato si’ pledge.” Characteristic of Tagle, his invitation is both eloquent and humble: “I don’t want to sound presumptuous, but I would like to say that I am speaking in the name of the church, in the name of humanity, in the name of the poor, in the name of our common home, creation.” (Ferrone, 6)

Ferrone concludes her article with a listen-up message for the Catholic Bishops of the U.S., noting that by contrast with the Philippines, the U.S. Bishops have done precious little to promote climate change. She points to the Philippines and to Ireland, “where the bishps have divested from fossil fuels.” “They get it in lots of places,” she says, but “Here? We’re still waiting.” (Ferrone, 6).

As I noted at the outset, I was mildly surprised when I heard the Filipino on NPR make such a convincing case about the Philippines taking the lead on climate change. With hindsight, I’m much embarrassed. I’ve written about my own travels in the Philippines, emphasizing that the country is an archipelago of about six hundred inhabited islands. I’ve taken overnight Super Ferry trips and been amazed at the country’s beauty and aware of its vulnerability to flooding from a combination of rising water levels and typhoons. Former students at my college wrote to me to ask where they could send money to help out after Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 caused thousands of deaths and massive destruction.

Fittingly “the Philippines Leads” on climate change. Let’s follow.

Bob Boyer welcomes your observations at Robert.boyer@snc.edu.

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