Imagine sitting in a crowded theater as someone shouts, “Fire!” Most people would consider it urgent enough at least to turn from their seat and see the commotion for themselves. Others would bolt from their seats and head immediately for the door. Would you be the one who could not be bothered by a hysterical report and stay glued to the screen for the duration?

The current debate on climate change is playing out in a similar way. On Sunday in New York City, Catholic prelates were joined by religious leaders from around the world to pray at a Mass celebrated by New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan. Their intention was to praise God, build solidarity among people and focus attention on climate change. Scotland’s Cardinal Keith O’Brien said society has become “immune from what is urgent.” He cited the global financial crisis, whose urgency prompted bold, quick solutions in response. But where is the urgency on climate change and poverty?

Cardinal O’Brien linked the two because poor people around the world will likely suffer most in a warmer world. It is expected that coastal areas will become flooded (causing migration) and droughts will be more frequent and severe.

Most people, though not all, accept the scientific evidence of rising global temperatures. But there is less agreement on what to do about climate change.

A good start was the Sept. 20 Mass, which preceded a United Nations meeting on Tuesday that drew world leaders for a day of speeches on the topic. Prayer before hot air? Not necessarily.

Leaders of nations that are the biggest producers of greenhouse gases, which scientists agree are contributing to the rise in temperatures, spoke about the seriousness of the problem. They pledged to work together at another major meeting in Denmark this December.

The good intentions precede the real difficulty in finding agreement on proposals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Plans will call for pain to the world’s economies at a time when they can least afford more stress.

But for now, Catholics are leading people in prayer and reflection on the good gifts of God’s creation and the need to care wisely for it. The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, an initiative associated with the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, has developed resources and information at

Proceeding from prayer and reflection on Catholic teaching, people are beginning to grapple with solutions. It remains to be seen whether actions by inspaniduals and governments begin to mitigate climate change before its effects become dire, and more urgent, than today.