One way to Live the Change: Green Roofs

By Catherine Juliano

Catherine Juliano is a math and political science major at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She is assisting our communications coordinator this summer as an intern.


Recently, I became aware of my university’s comprehensive plan to construct green roofs to combat climate change. In fact, the largest such roof at any university has been installed on the roof of the Joyce Center, which is 79,096 square feet. (Pictured) It is part of a larger sustainability plan that Notre Dame has to halve its carbon footprint by 2030, all in response to the Pope’s 2015 Laudato Si encyclical. I am proud to be a Notre Dame student for many reasons, but as a climate activist, Notre Dame’s commitment warms my heart.

The “green roof” is not a new idea, but it is one we should be talking about. In the slate gray concrete jungles that we call cities, on buildings nestled between the church-like Gothic stone of many colleges and universities, and even on all of the commercial, industrial, and residential buildings over 2000m in the city of Toronto, green roof design is being implemented to combat the smog and heat we are creating through widespread carbon emissions. With their vegetative coverings, these roofs help control rising temperatures, and they make air cleaner. They reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because the plants on the roofs absorb carbon in their leaves and tissues. Of course, this measure alone does not solve the problem of global warming, but it certainly helps. Did you know that if your building has a green roof, if uses less air conditioning because the plants absorb and reflect heat? It has a reverse effect in winter because the roof serves as a kind of insulation. With the increased storms we are seeing, green roofs can soak up rainwater and reduce runoff and flooding. So while we wait for our politicians to legislate impactfully so that we can effectively reduce our insatiable consumption of electricity and oil, of SUVs, lawnmowers, snowblowers, and methane releasing cow meat and milk (among many other sources of carbon emissions), we can cry out in this meaningful way to protect our planet. What if every college and university across the world constructed at least one green roof? What kind of sea change might that make?

At the end of the Canticle of the Creatures, St. Francis proclaims that “Sister Mother Earth… sustains and govern us” and “produces varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” Here, Francis could very well have been talking about a green roof. He was, no doubt, an ecological mystic who honored God and all of His creation. Francis was also courageous. Beyond the birdbaths and garden statues, which in many ways over-simplify his life, Francis was remarkable because he did what was difficult. He was a war veteran who chose a life of poverty and simplicity, sleeping outside with his friars and wearing a burlap tunic. He walked from Assisi to Rome to deliver his rule to Pope Innocent III. He calmed a ferocious wolf in the city of Gubbio. He even went to Eqypt during the 5th Crusades to speak peacefully about Christianity with the Sultan. In other words, he had courage, and the reason he had it was because God gave him the strength to walk in His glory.

Imagine flowers, vegetables, and herbs on many rooftops. See the people, coming together, gardening the new land in an effort to combat climate change. The sunlight falls on their backs, a gift from the sun itself, which has traveled 93 million miles to be there. The gardeners didn’t bring the sun or even the scent of the magnificent flowers attracting birds and bees. The miracles of the earth: God does that. We are gardeners, responsible for the pruning and weeding that help things grow. God is in us, working through us, giving us His power to take our own steps. We are responsible for this earth that God has given us. We can use the power of nature itself to combat climate change, and with Francis’ inspiration, we can do it with courage and love – “for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose” (Phil. 2:13).

Published in: on July 27, 2019 at 9:30 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for sharing a hopeful and practical response to our current climate problems. (and well-written). Maureen O’Connor


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