A Catholic response to climate change Print E-mail
Around the Diocese
Written by Kat Wagner, Catholic Herald Staff   
Thursday, Apr. 02, 2009 -- 12:00 AM

LANCASTER/MONROE — A year ago when St. Clement Parish in Lancaster was looking to insulate the attic of their building complex, which had been losing heat and causing ice dams, they brought in a representative from Franklin Energies, Inc., subcontracted by We Energies, to do an energy audit.

Rick Benson, the parish finance chairperson, had the idea to apply for an energy grant from Energy Incentives, through We Energies, to help cut the installation costs, and parish office manager Barb Thompson obtained the grant information.

Web resources

•Energy-saving tips and resources:
• The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change’s “St. Francis Pledge to Protect Creation and the Poor”:
• National Catholic Rural Life Conference:


But the first thing looked at wasn’t the roof but rather the heating boilers, said Tom Schaefer, the parishioner in charge of the project. The existing two boilers had once been rated at approximately 60 percent efficiency.

Schaefer contacted fellow parishioner Tom Carroll, a local heating contractor, who brought in a heating engineer to evaluate and propose a better solution. What followed was the installation of six smaller boilers to replace the old boilers.

Lowering energy, costs

The new computerized boilers operate on an “as needed” basis, running only with the intensity and number of units necessary to provide enough heat. Not only do they heat the building at greater efficiency — 93 percent — but they also provide hot water for the parish complex.

Schaefer also contacted Al Klaas, a parishioner and a local contractor, to install the insulation in the 18,000 square-foot attic.

The Franklin Energy engineers projected the energy savings for these two projects to pay back in approximately five and a half years. After Schaefer prepared the grant request for the project,  Franklin Energies backed up their projections with an energy grant to the parish for $11,967, approximately 20 percent of the total project cost.

“It seemed to be a no-brainer to go with it,” said Schaefer. He added the they are monitoring the natural gas usage on a monthly basis and are just now computing the first year’s results.

“I’m absolutely convinced it’s paying off,” he said.

In addition to the new insulation under the roof and the new boilers, the parish also installed a new front door and new windows in the rectory (two of which were just put in at the beginning of March) and updated the lighting in the school during Christmas break.

“It’s really made a world of difference, and it’s saving money,” said Fr. William Seipp, pastor. “I think people are just tired of me saying ‘turn off the lights.’ I think we need to save energy overall.”

The Catholic response

With aging buildings and a growing awareness of the ecological need, more parishes and dioceses, like St. Clement Parish, are finding ways to reduce their carbon footprint. Pope Benedict XVI and Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Celestino Migliore have frequently addressed the subject of climate change in recent years, and Vatican City recently installed solar panels on the pope’s audience hall as part of its quest to become the first carbon-neutral state.

In early March, a workshop sponsored by the Diocesan Office of Rural Life was held to help Catholics learn more about climate change and what they can and should do to make a difference.

The workshop featured talks by National Catholic Rural Life Conference representative Tim Kautza, Wisconsin Catholic Conference legislative director Barbara Sella, and The Country Today editor Jim Massey.

Kautza addressed the background issue of climate change — what it is, what the Catholic faith says about it, and how Catholics can make a difference.

Climate change, which often in public discussion goes under the moniker “global warming,” is the general warming of the atmosphere and its climatic impacts (rising sea levels, changes in rainfall, and increased temperatures, for example).

While historically the temperature of the earth rises and falls in cycles, the sudden increase in the past hundred years has been linked strongly to human activity. The third of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s assessment reports in 2001 concluded that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the [human-induced] increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.”

In a June 2001 statement, “Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence, and the Common Good,” the U.S. Catholic bishops called on people of faith to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable at the forefront of the debate around climate change.

“At its core, global climate change is not about economic theory or political platforms, nor about partisan advantage or interest group pressures,” the bishops wrote. “It is about the future of God’s creation and the one human family. It is about protecting both ‘the human environment’ and the natural environment. It is about our human stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to those who come after us.”

Stewardship, justice issue

Climate change, therefore, is an issue of stewardship and of social justice: protecting God’s creation and those who cannot afford or are not able to escape the effects of flooding, drought, heat waves, or other extreme weather.

Those most affected by these changes would most likely be the poor, elderly, youth, and disabled — those who would not be able to escape its effects, Kautza said.

“We can use Katrina as an example,” he said, clarifying that he wasn’t saying the 2005 hurricane was an indicator of global warming, but rather an indicator of the effect of extreme weather on people. “Who are the people last to leave or who didn’t leave? The poor, the elderly — the people who didn’t have any way to get out.”

Kautza also pointed to the 1995 Chicago heat wave that killed approximately 600 people. “Who died?” he said. “The people who couldn’t move themselves.

“It doesn’t have to be the impoverished, the malnourished people,” Kautza said. “There’s a lot of people around us — they’re in rural communities and urban city centers. They’re the elderly, the little children.”

Taking action

Catholics, therefore, are called upon to pray and take action to help alleviate climate change. Changes in personal habits can sometimes be as little as using “energy-efficient” light bulbs and appliances, planning errands or carpooling to make better use of the car, or learning how to recycle more.

The benefits of these small changes go beyond climate change, Kautza said. “Generally, the same solutions that are good for climate change are good for the care of the earth.

“Everyone’s in their own situation, of course, but there are things that can be done that save money. Everyone doesn’t have to go out and get Priuses to make a difference,” he said, referring to the Toyota hybrid auto.

For more information on the Catholic response to climate change, contact Tom Nelson in the diocesan Office of Rural Life, 608-821-3093. More information from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference can be found at their Web site,, or by calling 515-270-2634.

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