Catholics, the Environment, and What to Do

By Catholic Rural Life on September 19, 2013

Stewardship of Creation

In our recent eBulletin (Sept. 18), we included an item about a U.S. House hearing on climate change. We mentioned that a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee heard from two cabinet-level officials about efforts to combat climate change. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz testified on behalf of the Administration’s climate initiatives and clean energy programs.

Republican members of the subcommittee were more skeptical, to put it lightly, than their Democrat counterparts in accepting the position of the Administration that a climate plan of action was urgently needed. The cabinet officials said they were not only acting on behalf of the President, but carrying out their responsibilities as directed by Congress when creating their missions and authority. Still, there was resistance from some House members that anything really needed to be done at all about the environment or more specifically, climate change.

But I don’t mean to set this up as a political debate — important as that is. I see this more as an opportunity to remind us as people of faith that we need to give thoughtful consideration to the environment — and if need be, change what we do as stewards of God’s creation.
The urgency in what we must do is swelled by the constant flow of research about climate change and its impacts. (The degree and intensity of impacts can be debated; it is clear that impacts are happening and will continue long into the future.) Our bulletin item about the House hearing included news about the release of a new world map showing areas most susceptible to climate change. Scientists said that this new map is expected to help governments, environmental agencies and donors identify regions that would be best served by investments in programs such as the creation of protected areas, restoration efforts and other conservation activities.
[Here’s a quick snapshot of what the map reveals: South and southeast Asia, western and central Europe, eastern South America and southern Australia are the most vulnerable regions in the world. On the other hand, north and southwestern Africa, northern Australia and southern South America are shown to be the least vulnerable regions. North America falls somewhere in between in terms of vulnerability; you can guess where the United States stands in terms of greenhouse gas emissions.]
So, what is a good American Catholic to do?! It may be that until it becomes painfully obvious that the world – and the United States in particular – is in deep trouble with the climate, our society in general – including our fellow Catholics – will not likely reflect on how their individual and collective actions are a significant source of the problem of climate change.
Based on the experience of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change in widening and deepening Catholic engagement on the issue of climate change for the past six years (NCRLC is an active participant), we can say a few things with a fair degree of certainty:
— Leadership at all levels is vital to moving Catholics to embrace an ethic of self-reflection and restraint. A synod on the environment, sustainability, or caring for creation, for example, would have a huge impact just as the documents of Vatican II transformed the Church. We also need to hear more bishops and more pastors speaking out about this issue.
— The U.S. Catholic community needs to hear from or form associations of Catholic climate scientists, educators, deacons, religious orders, and others on this issue.
Jeff Ziegler, writing for Catholic World Report, has provided a detailed review of what recent popes and Catholic teachers have said about the environment — and our call to act. Ziegler contacted scholars and Catholic writers who have reflected on papal environmental teaching and asked: What are the most important ways in which Catholic teaching on the environment challenges, and even calls to conversion, the typical Catholic in the United States today?
He also asked how, in their thoughtful judgment, does Catholic teaching converge with, and diverge from, the concerns of the contemporary environmental movement in wealthy nations? What are some practical steps that Catholics in wealthy nations can take as they seek to heed Catholic teaching on the environment?
Here are some of the ideas I liked:
— New religious language and religious images are needed to help Catholics retrieve ancient traditions about how to be better stewards of creation, live more simple and sustainable lives, and pry open our hearts, minds and bodies to the needs of both creation and poor people.
— There is a need to better integrate environmental messages and themes into our liturgical life so all may more easily make the connection between matter and spirit, and come to appreciate that they are dependent upon one another.
— Grassroots leadership is needed as well. We are thankful for the great work of the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change in pouring time and resources into developing programs and projects that engage local groups, especially young people. They are the future of the Church and will certainly see the impacts of climate change more clearly than older generations.
Of course, also check-out our NCRLC online “Faith-Based Study Guide on Climate Change”
These informative resources are both practical and liturgical steps in what to do about reducing our impacts on the environment.

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