REPORT ONE: Loyola University is hosting its second annual Climate Change Conference March 19-21, 2015 at its North Shore Campus in Chicago. The conference is designed to “tend” or pay attention to and serve the needs of Earth at this crucial time in planetary history. It promises to place us squarely in the role of caretaker and explore the implications of “tending earth” through an interdisciplinary reflection on the ethical principles, policies, and actions needed to combat the crisis of global climate change.
The conference is co-sponsored by the six Jesuit universities of the upper Midwest, a collaboration that is promising for the future of Jesuit networking in addressing global issues of justice and sustainability. The co-sponsoring universities joining Loyola are Creighton, John Carroll, Marquette, Detroit Mercy, and Xavier.
The conference will feature “interdisciplinary reflection on the ethical principles, policies, and actions needed to combat the crisis of global climate change.” The conference will begin with reports on the sustainability initiatives, student organizations and actions, policies, and programs at the six universities. It will then proceed to probe the framework of justice that needs to guide future debates, motivations, and potential policy commitments, including institutional divestment from fossil fuels and reinvestment in alternative sustainable sources of energy.
An underlying question of significant interest is what a concerted set of actions and programs from the Jesuit network of higher education institutions in the U.S. might succeed in achieving as an educational statement to the nation and a model for concerned and committed institutions, organizations and corporations of all kinds. Stay tuned.
REPORT TWO: The morning session began with welcoming comments from the Loyola University provost. Steve Mitten, S.J. then began the conference with poetic prophetic power.
Creating God, Big Love… global climate change? sea rise? who would have thought?
It’s not what our grandparents taught.
When it first came, we laughed, it couldn’t be the sea
In a wild-child’s dream it should fly, from some great cloudless height
Should cry like a hawk, red-tailed, high and sweet?
Who would have guessed it would first grab the feet like the sea?
It did we.
Greedy wave-fingers stealing sand from spots we thought it safe to stand,
Laid out our proud catch times before; watched them thumping like hearts ashore.
Like live bright coins we counted each but left them gasping on the beach
Until there was none.
Are we then done?
Now brash young fisher people’s tend their lines bullheaded to the end.
Should we shout “Run, while you still can?”
Indifference finished many a man.
The grandest catch will have us drown
Fighting as we go down.
You’ve got our attention.
So we have come these three days, not in a belly of the whale, nor tomb,
but with hope nevertheless for a rising.
Send forth your creative spirit on us.
Awaken our eyes to new possibilities,
Strengthen our spine for greater courage and resolve
to swim against the tide of current consumer fashion,
Widened our arms to further out reach,
Open our hearts to an ever-embracing love
As we tend to our ever-suffering planet.
May your Love transform us and the world with new steps toward healing a hurting planet.
Transform us into fisher-folk of listening, of decision, of action.
We pray in the name of your son Jesus Christ on this feast day of Saint Joseph… Amen.
The conference’s opening session was designed to be foundational and informational. Dr. Nancy Tuchman, Founding Director of Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability, welcomed the full house of nearly 160 participants from across the U.S. and Sweden, Spain, Indonesia and the Philippines. She highlighted the important link for Jesuit universities between climate change and social justice, noting that there are currently 10 million climate refugees globally and that there will be a projected 1 billion by 2050, a mere 35 years from now. She noted that universities around the world are stepping forward with courses, conferences, action and advocacy to address the issues of climate change and justice.
She then laid out the underlying question of this Climate Change Conference:
Given the unparalleled Jesuit educational network nationally and internationally, with its professed mission and institutional commitment to social justice, how can all its members speak out on climate justice with one voice? How can the significant resources of this network be leveraged to make a significant difference for the future of the planet?
The bulk of the morning session was then given to short reports mapping the “sustainability assets” of the universities represented. The first report identified four “General Assets” that provide valuable services for any campus. Many of the U.S. Jesuit universities participate in these programs.
- Aashe – Association for the advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education: a home base for professional sustainability officers
- Stars: a voluntary self-reporting framework from Aashe using social, environmental and economic criteria to set a common standard of measurement for sustainability in higher education [includes review of investments]
- Catholic Climate Covenant – St. Francis pledge – resources
- American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment promoting climate action plans for climate neutrality and sustainability
The individual Jesuit universities represented in the conference then reported on the sustainability resources and activities on their campuses. These range from sustainability offices to courses and degree programs, environmental building criteria to summer camps, water conservation programs to faculty research, community gardens, student groups, alternative energy sourcing and more. A quick review of their websites will provide an eye-opening and encouraging picture of their engagement with climate change issues.
Upper Midwest Jesuit Universities’ Sustainability Efforts
- Creighton University
- John Carroll University
- Loyola University Chicago
- Marquette University
- University of Detroit/Mercy
- Xavier University
By the end of the morning session, there was only a short time to raise the questions of collaboration, developing a united voice, and leveraging these institutions’ academic and moral authority for social change. A list of contact people on each of the campuses is being compiled so that this question can be pursued after the conference. It is definitely the most critical and promising question of this gathering.