“When you’re open to and looking for those bridges, you end up finding ways to do something bigger than you even imagined.”Sister Patty Johnson
As our congregation has implemented various changes to reduce our plastic consumption and carbon footprint, we’ve been building bridges throughout the congregation, within our sponsored ministries, alongside other organizations and even globally with the United Nations.
In 2019, our congregation committed to responding to the crisis of Earth and global warming, not only as individuals or as a congregation, but in a manner that expanded and deepened our partnerships.
“When you’re open to and looking for those bridges, you end up finding ways to do something bigger than you even imagined,” said Sister Patty Johnson who leads our Earth efforts as a member of the Congregational Leadership Team.
While our congregation has implemented Laudato Si’ in a variety of ways and built many bridges with partners, two of our biggest collaborative projects include our work to reduce plastic pollution with the United Nations and our Trees for Tacna initiative.
UN Plastics Treaty
One of the biggest problems for the Earth is plastic pollution. Our congregation has been challenging individuals to avoid plastic and spreading the message of Plastic Free July. But Sister Patty recognized that we could make the biggest impact by supporting the systemic global change being championed by the United Nations.
In November 2022, Sisters Mary Lou Dolan and Patty Johnson virtually attended the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee, or INC 1, at the United Nations in Uruguay on behalf of the Congregations of the Sisters of St Joseph Non-Governmental Organization (CSJ UN NGO) to advocate for a legally binding international treaty to address plastic pollution.
We prioritized amplifying the voices of groups with expertise in plastic pollution and who align with our values, including the International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), the High Ambition Coalition to End Plastic Pollution, the International Alliance of Waste Pickers, the Endocrine Society and the Small Island Developing States.
We formed a committee that developed our advocacy positions for the next Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-2) on Plastic Pollution in Paris from May 29 through June 2. Two CSJ UN NGO representatives attended INC-2 in person: Helga Haass-Männle, Ph.D. Chem., a Chambéry Associate who lives in Norway, and Sister Jeannette Londadjim from the Sœurs de Saint-Joseph – Institut, who lives in Paris.
At INC-2, we voiced strong support for a circular economy for plastics where the producers are responsible for ensuring environmentally sound practices rather than consumers. We want to see the elimination of single-use plastics, quickly transitioning nonessential uses of plastics to more environmentally friendly materials. We advocate for developing standards for the composition of plastics that allow for transparency in labeling so that producers and consumers can be aware of composition, while banning the addition of harmful classes of chemicals and polymers to all plastics. Consumers also need safe recycling or disposal methods. Finally, we must address microplastics in our water and soil.
Our NGO status gave us the privilege of submitting testimony. A few countries at the negotiations were advocating for total consensus decision-making, which would essentially allow any one country to veto any measure. We expressed our history of consensus decision-making, informing the delegates that our experience has shown us that discernment and listening to all voices will lead to choices made for the common good. Acknowledging that a 100% consensus of the member countries is not always possible, we asserted that allowing for the option of an issue being decided by a two-thirds majority after all efforts to reach a consensus have been exhausted, the rights of minority opinion would be protected, incentives for compromise would be ensured, and the INC could move towards the common good.
By the end of the fifth day, the goal for INC-2 was achieved. The delegates left with a mandate to create a working draft of the plastics treaty that can be negotiated at future meetings. At the same time that we work to reduce our plastic consumption as individuals and as a congregation, our sisters continue to advocate for global system solutions to cut back on plastic production.
Trees for Tacna
In an effort to offset the carbon emissions of the congregational office, Sister Patty Johnson, a member of our congregational leadership team, “stumbled” into piloting the Trees for Tacna program alongside the Catholic Climate Covenant, Catholic Climate Action Projects, and the Fe y Alegría (Faith and Joy) School in Tacna, Peru.
Our sisters have worked at Fe y Alegría since 1973. When Sister Patty heard about the “Environmental Cadet” program at the school, she knew she wanted to find a way to support it.
She learned of a scientific study from Ica, Peru, regarding which trees best grow in the local climate and had a significant impact on reducing desertification. The deep-rooted huarango is one such tree. Huarango trees provide shade and even food once they’re fully grown. They require very little water, but like all trees, they pull carbon out of the atmosphere. This sparked the idea for the Trees for Tacna program.
Sister Agripina Morales, who is getting her master’s degree in environmental science while teaching at Fe y Alegría, had a group of her students lay out a plan for what they could do with the mud-packed area around the school, in addition to the trees, to make it a place where the kids could play. They planted their version of grass, put up a transparent tarp that would provide shade and painted murals about Laudato Si’ on the walls.
Originally, providing huarango trees to Fe y Alegría was just going to be funded by a congregational donation to offset the carbon use of the congregational office and the Congregational Leadership Team’s travel. But then Sister Patty learned about Catholic Climate Action Projects (CathCAP), a way for individuals and groups to offset some of their carbon footprints. By partnering with CathCAP, anyone can now donate to support Trees for Tacna.
“It’s a great opportunity for people to address their carbon footprint in a way that’s maybe a little less typical than buying carbon offsets,” said Sister Patty. “This gives sisters and partners a way to help an area where we have been ministering for years. We have lots of bridges there.”
On the CathCAP website, you can calculate your carbon footprint for various trips you take or other ways you use fossil fuels. It will then suggest a donation amount to offset this carbon expenditure.
This story appeared in the 2023 issue of Carondelet magazine. Join our mailing list.