MUMBAI, India — Cardinal Oswald Gracias on Sep. 1 will launch the Green Diocesan Initiative for the Archdiocese of Bombay.

“The Church ever alert to the signs of the times, recognizes the ecological crisis as a major threat facing the world today. Responding to this crisis forms an integral part of the Church’s mission. Both out of respect for God’s Creation and concern for those affected by its degradation, the ecological crisis becomes a moral issue for Catholics today,” Gracias said on Aug. 15.

The cardinal cited Pope Francis’s 2015 ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, in which he invites the Church to take on the mission of “caring for our common home.”

He said the Archdiocese of Bombay is seeking to become a ‘Green Diocese’ and create a comprehensive approach towards combining spirituality, education, and developing of consciences.

September 1 was chosen for the beginning of the project since it is observed by the Church as the World Day of Prayer for Creation.

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“We do not need convincing that climate change exists; we have fallen victim to it too many times for that,” said Bishop Allwyn D’Silva, the Bombay auxiliary who serves as the Secretary of the Climate Change Desk at the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences.

D’Silva was chosen by Gracias to lead the development of the Green Diocesan Initiative.

The bishop told Crux protecting the environment is an urgent matter for the entire Church.

“Each of the last four years has seen record-breaking heat. The decade from 2008 to 2017 was the warmest decade on record in India. This, coupled with mismanagement of water reserves, has led to more drought and water shortages,” he said.

D’Silva gave the example of the popular Indian summer tourist destination of Shimla, located in the south-western ranges of the Himalaya: It has recently seen its worst-ever water crisis, in turn leading to a 30 percent drop in flights and hotel bookings compared to last year.

“Indeed, the World Bank recently identified climate change as one of the greatest threats to the growth potential of the Indian economy and predicts a fall in living standards for nearly half of Indians, because of changes in temperature and precipitation. Our country and its people deserve so much better than this torturous future,” the bishop said.

He said the burning of fossil fuels – especially coal – has provoked many other problems for the people of India, not the least of which is air pollution.

“In many parts of India today, the irony is that every life-giving breath of air we take also increasingly contributes to our death. This mostly used to be a problem during the winter and around individual weather events – now, in places such as Delhi, toxic air is a threat all year round. More people died of air pollution in India in 2015 – 1.81 million – than anywhere else in the world. Closing our eyes to this reality is to avoid the gaze of our conscience,” said D’Silva.

The bishop said it’s not just bad news, and solutions to the crisis are out there.

“Solar and wind energy – reliable methods of generating electricity that contribute neither to climate change nor to air pollution – are now cheaper than coal in our country,” he said, adding that the country should not believe the argument that coal is the fastest route to development.

India has the world’s fourth largest coal reserves and nearly 57 percent of its energy comes from the fossil fuel.

However, according to a report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, investments into clean energy in India rose 22 percent in the first half of 2018.

The government has prepared an ambitious plan to reduce India’s carbon emissions 33-35 percent by 2030, mostly by increasing the use of green energy sources – such as solar power – and decreasing the use of coal.

On June 5, India even served as the global host of the 2018 World Environment Day, which is sponsored by the United Nations.

“[The use of coal] simply doesn’t add up any more, even before taking into account the money needed to treat patients with respiratory problems from harmful power plant emissions, rebuild cities after more intense flooding from climate change, or feed farmers whose crop fails due to more severe droughts – all negative consequences of using fossil fuels. India is already moving from coal to renewable sources of energy and is becoming renowned as a solar leader globally; the quicker we phase out coal completely, the better,” D’Silva said.

On an archdiocesan level, individual Church entities can do things like install solar panels, use greener electric supplies, using biomass for fuel, and advocating for better environmental policies.

Gracias encouraged everyone in the archdiocese “to wholeheartedly embrace this mission which the Lord is calling us to.”

“As we work towards building up a Green Diocese, may our hearts open up to contemplate the gift of Creation, a gift that reveals the Holy Trinity and draws us ever deeper into its Divine Mystery. Our care of our common home is a part of our responsibility of enabling all generations to enjoy the fruit of God’s Creation, enriching the earth and protecting it from further harm. In this, we will collaborate with all men and women of good will,” the cardinal said.