Churches provided shelter in the worst flooding in Mexico in 50 years in 2007
“The family needs a home, a fit environment in which to develop its proper relationships,” said Pope Benedict XVI in his World Day of Peace message 1 January 2008, “We need to care for the environment: it has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion.”
Pope Benedict said: “If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations.”
It was the latest in a long line of Church statements deepening the understanding of the relationship between human dignity, sustainable development and care for the environment.
In the 1960s, bishops began highlighting justice issues around the environment. The Second Vatican Council statement in Gaudium et Spes said: “God intended the earth with everything contained in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should be in abundance for all in like manner.”
In 1971, the Second Synod of Bishops was forthright: “Those who are already rich are bound to accept a less material way of life, with less waste, in order to avoid the destruction of the heritage which they are obliged by absolute justice to share with all other members of the human race.”
Pope John Paul II in his World Peace Day message of 1 January 1990 said that people must "realise that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith".
In 2002 Pope John Paul II and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I together signed what has become known as the Venice Declaration. The Declaration said: “A new approach and a new culture are needed, based on the centrality of the human person within creation and inspired by environmentally ethical behaviour stemming from our triple relationship to God, to self and to creation.”
Many bishops’ conferences have spoken out on the harm of climate change. The United States of America Catholic Bishops' Conference issued a statement in 2001: 'Global climate change: a plea for dialogue, prudence, and the common good' in which they said, "Since our country's involvement is key to any resolution of these concerns, we call on our people and Government to recognise the seriousness of the global warming threat and to develop effective policies that will diminish the possible consequences of global climate change."
In September 2006, New Zealand's Catholics were urged to adopt simpler lifestyles by the country's bishops who identified climate change as "one of the most urgent threats" facing Pacific peoples.
Rising temperatures and sea levels, and the greater intensity of storms and natural disasters, they said, are already affecting the food and water supply for people on low-lying islands.
The bishops asked Catholics to use less energy, buy locally produced goods which require less transportation, and reduce their car use to bring down carbon emissions.