• Nazareth Academy student Katherine Bailey is president and founder of the school’s Environmental Club.

Students speak up on climate

By Mike Latona/Catholic Courier    |    12.20.2009
Category: Back to School

Katherine Bailey wants to get the word out loud and clear about global climate change -- because, in her opinion, there simply isn't any time to wait.

"It's scary that it's happening right now," said Katherine, 16.

To help draw attention to this issue, Nazareth Academy's Environmental Club -- for which Katherine, a junior-to-be, serves as founder and president -- has ordered eye-catching bright green T-shirts proclaiming, "We only get one earth." Club members will wear them at cleanup projects upon returning to Nazareth this fall.

Money to purchase the shirts came from a grant initiative to assist Catholic parishes and schools in raising awareness about environmental justice, particularly global climate change. The funds, in amounts of $50 to $200, were issued in conjunction with the diocesan Public Policy Committee's focus on this subject as an education priority for 2007. Funding was provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and local donors.

Elmira's Holy Family Junior High School is using its grant to erect a 4-by-8-foot bulletin board related to global climate change. According to Elizabeth Berliner, principal, the board will include a message about stewardship of God's creation; news articles, maps and other information; and hints on caring for the environment. Announcements about the environment also will be made over the public-address system, and contests will be held for the best environmental ideas or posters.

Global climate change, or global warming, is related to the "greenhouse effect": As the sun's energy heats the earth, a portion of the energy radiates back into space. But four main "greenhouse gases" -- carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and water vapor -- help keep the sun's energy in the atmosphere. This process is necessary to life on Earth; otherwise the planet would be too cold for our survival.

However, global average air and ocean temperatures have increased in recent decades, and have been cited for widespread flooding (due to the melting of ice and snow), increasingly violent tropical storms and droughts. Scientists blame this trend on an overabundance of greenhouse gases due to such factors as deforestation and burning of fossil fuels, and warn that these problems stand to worsen unless we act now.

Katherine and Berliner both credit "An Inconvenient Truth," the Academy Award-winning documentary featuring former Vice President Al Gore, as a key factor in publicizing global climate change.

"There is a lot of stuff about global warming in the news now. Compared to years before, they're making a big deal about it, which is good," said Katherine, a parishioner of St. Helen in Gates.

Berliner said that Holy Family's eighth-grade class viewed "An Inconvenient Truth" last October, and it was then shown to the seventh-graders in March 2007. She noted that Nick Minichiello, an eighth-grader in the school's student government, has taken a lead role in enlightening fellow students about global warming.

Many have challenged "An Inconvenient Truth" and the like, saying concerns are due to overreaction or political motives. Berliner remarked that "politics is certainly related to the issue, but I find it very hard to refute the scientific claims that this is our reality, now and in the future years, if we do not reverse many of our practices." She added that while some political leaders genuinely care about the environment, "our other concerns of financial profit, convenience and comfort often blot out their message or send us into denial." She added that "the statistics are alarming as to the energy consumption, the deforestation and the casual depletion of non-renewable resources by Americans and American companies abroad."

"Our U.S. bishops and Pope Benedict take very seriously the reports from the scientific community and are urging the global Catholic community to learn more about the possible impact of global climate change on the human -- especially the poor and vulnerable -- and natural community," added Kathleen Dubel, justice-and-peace coordinator for Catholic Charities of Chemung/Schuyler who coordinates the diocesan-grant project.

Barbara Barker, science-department chair at Nazareth Academy, noted that her students are keenly focused on all aspects of the environment, such as taking energy-efficiency pledges to shut off televisions and lights when not in use. Barker said that younger people such as her Nazareth students are the key to change because older generations are potentially too set in their ways to change their habits related to the environment.

At Holy Family Junior High, meanwhile, students are recycling plastic drinking bottles and wearing heavier clothing so the thermostat can be lowered by two degrees in the winter.

"God gave humankind dominion over the world he created, and with that dominion comes responsibility. I think this concept is one of the most important ideas to nurture in our children," Berliner said.


EDITORS' NOTE: The diocesan Public Policy Committee is seeking donations in order to offer a second grant cycle in 2008. Checks may be made to Catholic Charities-GCC Grant Fund and sent to Kathy Dubel, 215 E. Church St., Elmira, NY 14901.


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