Hurricane Sandy: An act of God or humans?


Joe Gunn

November 12, 2012

Last week at my parish, during the prayers of intercession, we asked God to minimize Hurricane Sandy's damage. We remembered the people of the Caribbean where 66 people were killed, and turned our thoughts towards those expected to bear the brunt of Sandy's continuing anger.

My guess is that next Sunday, now that the storm has caused billions of dollars of damage to our American neighbours (and much grief to Eastern Canadians), we'll be praying even harder.

We pray for political leaders . . .

Nobody can claim that hurricanes are solely caused by climate change, even if 2012 is the third busiest hurricane season in history. For years, scientists have warned that such severe weather events will become more dramatic, and more common, should we fail to limit our greenhouse gas emissions.

And so far, politicians have largely ignored these warnings. How else can we explain the American presidential debates, where, for the first time since 1984, and during the warmest year in U.S. history, climate change did not even merit a question?

Here, the most recent study (Oct. 18) of the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), stated, "to achieve Canada's 2020 greenhouse gas mitigation targets, . . . Canada will need to engage more fully in its own transition to a low-carbon economy."


Ottawa is about halfway to meeting our own carbon reduction target, according to the commissioner of the environment. The federal environment minister announced Canada will become the only nation on the planet to sign, and now walk away from, the Kyoto Accord.

And in the last federal budget, unwilling to hear more bad news about its own policy failures, the government promised to kill the NRTEE itself. An author of the study, John Cuddihy – a brilliant engineer, father of two young girls and member of my parish – is now looking for a job. Maybe the Catholic bishops should hire him.

We pray for our Church . . .

Last November, over 60 faith communities signed an historic document, The Interfaith Call to Leadership and Action on Climate Change. They appealed to the federal government for forceful action to meet Canada's already insufficient carbon emission reduction goals.

Many congregations of Catholic religious signed, although the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops refused. At the time, the bishops reported that they were preparing their own pastoral letter on climate change, which the faithful have anxiously awaited.

Unfortunately, one year later, there is no sign of such a statement. Rather, the CCCB just let go their senior researcher, Fran├žois Poitras – the most likely staffperson to draft such a statement – and abolished his position. When I went to work at the CCCB in 1994 there were four full-time staff in the Social Affairs Office. Now there are none.

We need to pray hard for the ministry of the four excellent bishops who volunteered last month to work on the Commission for Justice and Peace: Francois Lapierre of St. Hyacinthe, Noel Simard of Valleyfield, Don Bolen of Saskatoon, and Anthony Mancini of Halifax.

These bishops have a tough job to do since the social ministry of the Church is weathering a storm of its own. In September some bishops communicated their dismay at Development and Peace's plans for a Fall Action campaign, finding it too "political."

Even though campaign materials in both languages had already been printed, the postcards to the prime minister asking for a review of his cuts to international development assistance were sent to the recycling bin. This decision has caused great dissention in the ranks of D&P's national council, and also at the base.


The Quebec youth wing has announced its refusal to work on the new, tamer campaign, preferring to work for "internal change" in their organization. Last week in Montreal I was speaking on a panel before 100 persons, and a senior D&P staffperson took the microphone.

In moving tones, Claire Doran announced her decision to resign, stating she could no longer condone "lies" in the organization. The crowd applauded.

Let us pray that people of faith, accompanied by all our leaders, will organize before more disasters occur, to address the causes of extreme weather events so that our responsibility to choose life is truly lived in word and deed!

(Joe Gunn is the Ottawa-based executive director of Citizens for Public Justice,, an ecumenical social advocacy organization.)