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As consensus continues to grow in the United States around the need for a proactive approach to climate change, Catholic organizations like the Diocese of San Jose in California are finding a valuable resource and inspiration in Catholic social teachings for stewardship of the environment. The diocese recently announced a new program called the Catholic Green Initiative of Santa Clara County to encourage area Catholics to conserve water and energy, to become more educated about conservation efforts and environmentally friendly practices for the home and workplace and to collaborate on a unified “green vision” for the diocese.

The impetus for the initiative originally came from grass-roots efforts in local parishes to increase awareness of environmental concerns. Since last September, a diocesan green team under the direction of the Rev. Brendan McGuire, vicar general for special projects in the diocese, has been meeting regularly to formulate a plan of action and organize a town hall meeting for parish leaders and others in the Catholic community engaged in the environmental movement.

At that meeting, held at Santa Clara University on Feb. 7 and co-sponsored by the Diocese of San Jose, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, Santa Clara University and Presentation Retreat and Conference Center, participants heard from Dan Misleh, executive director of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, who spoke on the theology of stewardship and the centrality of stewardship to the Christian ethos. The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change (profiled in this issue of America by Bishop William S. Skylstad) is a conglomerate of 12 organizations committed to addressing the causes and consequences of climate change.

Outlining some of the damage climate change has already caused to the environment and to human communities, Misleh warned of the immediate need for action. “We need movement, not just a plan. People are becoming informed on this issue and I see a real hunger for leadership, especially from the church,” he said.

Bishop Patrick J. McGrath of San Jose expressed similar sentiments in a January statement. “Our Catholic social teaching impresses upon us that nature is not something to exploit but is God’s creation to preserve,” McGrath wrote. “We are called to celebrate the splendor of God’s handiwork, to be good stewards of creation, and to safeguard the integrity of all that God has made.”

Specific actions already underway in the diocese include retrofitting a number of schools and churches for solar energy, as well as plans to distribute reusable grocery bags in parishes. The initiative will eventually include education programs on the connection between Catholic social teachings and the environment, as well as practical education efforts on how to reduce water and energy use in the home, how to make households more “green” and how to make greater use of community organizing to affect public policy on environmental issues.

“This initiative is about mobilizing all Catholics in the diocese under a single vision of sustaining an environmental legacy for our children, their children and all future generations,” said Father McGuire. The initiative is scheduled to launch officially on June 5, which is World Environment Day.