April 22 is Earth Day. For us as citizens, this is a day to take stock of what we are doing to our air, water and natural resources. For us as people of faith, this is also an opportunity to celebrate the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. Indeed, the whole month of April is aptly suited for celebrating our planet and all that it provides for our sustenance.
Earth Day is not strictly a celebration, of course, because we would quickly sober to the reality of how we treat our home and what mess we may be leaving for generations to come. There’s also the question of how we share the earth’s resources. Pope Francis in his universal prayer intention for April put it this way: “That governments may foster the protection of creation and the just distribution of natural resources.”
By and large, Catholic Rural Life members are deeply concerned about the effects of global warming and how climate change is starting to ravage our planet. We are compelled by our conscience to take action on this deeply moral challenge, although we realize there’s only so much we can do as individuals. It is really a change in our economy and culture that is needed.
Last week’s release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change latest report (see EcoWatch news item) gave many their first glimpse into how climate change might impact the foods we rely on for our daily nutrition.
Rather than place another spotlight on extreme weather, this latest report exposed how food and resource wars are serious potential outcomes of the world’s changing climate. A warmer world causing some important crops to fail or severely reduce their yield will no doubt result in battles for food and water. (Or is there reason to believe that the nations of today’s disparate world will suddenly start sharing what little is available?!)
Many faith groups, such as Interfaith Power and Light, continue to call upon and awaken our nation’s elected officials, as well as all civic and business leaders and households, to the urgent need for immediate and effective action. I remember a couple years ago that the call was to “choose life, so that you and your children may live” (Deut. 30:19).
It seems evident to me that a carbon tax is needed. But I also realize that is a “non-starter” as they say in the make-up of today’s Congress. Perhaps the next best action is to call for a phase-out all fossil fuel subsidies. That should greatly help to shift our power supplies from oil, coal and natural gas to wind, solar, geothermal and other renewable energy sources.
Before getting too far into policy matters, perhaps it is necessary to remind ourselves about the moral principles of a faithful people. As best we can, we strive to end human suffering – and certainly avoid causing it! If our heavy use of fossil fuels releases excessive greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, thereby warming the earth more than it is now, then we are causing pain and suffering for many.
The harm is becoming clear: increasing storms, floods, droughts, crop failures, diseases, and water and food shortages. In time, this will lead to a breakdown in political, economic, social and ecological systems. Do we not have a moral obligation to rapidly reduce our carbon pollution to minimize these disproportionate impacts?
At Catholic Rural Life, we are guided by the moral principle to protect the Earth, which is the source of all life. Our work on behalf of farm and environmental conservation is well known by many. Our long-time members also know that we have been doing this, well, for a long time! Virtually all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions proclaim that we have a moral obligation to be good stewards of the Earth and all of its creatures. To disrupt the “web of life” is a grave moral failure that we have somehow pushed to the side.
We will find our capacity for repentance? How do we inspire hope in a future where we week forgiveness from the errors of our past, repair the damage we have done, and share in the act of healing the Earth? I want to believe our faith traditions and spiritual teachings can guide us to find the power to act with courage and conviction to create a brighter, more secure and sustainable future for all of us, our children and all future generations.
So this Earth Day – or Earth month or Earth year – let us commit ourselves to creating a brighter future. Let us understand again that this creation of earth, air, fire and water in the swirling mass of a planet — and then placing it in ideal distance from the sun – meant that human life could flourish. We thank God for that. Now we must return to a life on this Earth in a much greater sense of gratitude and, I believe, a more perfect union in the form of Christ.