This year, Laudato Si’ Week reminded me of Christian hope, “for we know that things can change.” (13)
Pope Francis opens his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si’ with facts about how we have harmed the earth and each other before sharing how the Catholic faith brings hope and motivation to address environmental issues. In the first chapter, “What is happening to our common home?” he begins with pollution and climate change. He sees these problems as “closely linked to a throwaway culture.” (22)
As one example of the “throwaway culture,” fossil fuels are a single-use energy source that spews harmful pollution and endangers people’s health. Pope Francis writes “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.” (26)
While local individuals and churches can’t single-handedly change large energy systems, they do have options. Depending on location, the individual or church has options of solar, wind, and other renewable sources of energy. These renewable resources draw from richer and cleaner wells of energy.
Catholic Climate Covenant offers a program called Catholic Energies, managed by the solar developer Mission Energy, to help churches, religious communities and other owners of Catholic facilities to deploy energy efficiency programs and adopt renewable energy. On a conceptual level, it is easy to understand that solar energy is a cleaner and more sustainable source of energy for a church. But how well do the numbers support the claim? Let’s consider an example. (See "Catholics Go Solar" image: Art by Cari Nunziato.)
An average-sized Catholic property that completes a 100-kW solar project and switches to efficient LED lighting will offset about 82% of the energy they would traditionally get from their utility company. Over 25 years, this one church would eliminate 2,900 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions, the equivalent of 7.2 million miles driven by an average passenger vehicle.
(For reference, Catholic Energies has completed projects ranging from 75-kW to 400-kW for churches. Their biggest project to-date is 2-MW, the largest solar array in the District of Columbia.)
Catholic landowners are well positioned to help the U.S. transition to renewable energy with properties across cities and rural areas alike. Together with programs like Catholic Energies, church leaders can reduce energy costs, lower emissions, provide a “teachable moment” to the wider community and answer Pope Francis’ call to illuminate our world using clean energy, “for we know that things can change.”