Editor’s Note: In preparation for Earth Day 2010, which will be celebrated next Thursday, April 22, Fr. Mike McCue, OSFS, director of De Sales Servie Works in Camden, NJ, offers the following reflection. Francis de Sales had a particular appreciation for the beauty of the earth as a reflection of the love God has for all of creation. This appreciation lead to one of his most famous statements on how God reveals Godself in creation, “We pray best before beauty.” Fr. Mike notes that human behavior can have a negative impact on the beauty of creation. For more information on De Sales Service Works and the work it is doing in Camden, or to learn about how you can volunteer, please visit www.oblates.org/dsw.
“God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” Gen 1:31“The brutal consumption of Creation begins where God is not, where matter is henceforth only material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the whole is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone…I think, therefore, that true and effective initiatives to prevent the waste and destruction of Creation can be implemented and developed, understood and lived, only where Creation is considered as beginning with God.”-Pope Benedict XVI, August 2008
This year marks the 40th Earth Day. I can remember the first one, as a 4th grader at Featherstone Elementary School, cleaning out the woods around our school. Cleaning up trash, and not littering in the first place, are important things. But on this 40th Earth Day, we can be very aware that much more is at stake in concern for the environment than bagging up litter and hauling away old tires. There is a consensus among scientific observers that human production of greenhouse gasses will cause significant and disruptive climate changes.
Catholic social teaching looks at the moral implications of the ways that societies structure themselves, paying particular attention to how structures affect people. One of the basic principles of Catholic social teaching deals with the area of how we use and care for the earth that God has given us as our home. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops summarize this principle of Catholic social teaching:Care for God’s Creation:We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith. We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.
The moral and ethical dimensions include the reality that people are affected by decisions about how to care for the earth. In addition, these decisions affect the poor, the unborn, and the aged: vulnerable people who are often without resources in a disproportionate way.
This is a commonsense principle that comes from a realization that we can damage the systems of the earth and compromise the health and safety of people. I assert that this is a common sense thing, but in our country, it is one that gets politicized and therefore over-simplified and caricatured. It is often seen as the concern of hippies in sandals and “love beads” and is therefore able to be dismissed as utopian and silly. Additionally, environmental concerns are often placed at odds with economic concerns, offering false dichotomies.Living in Camden, NJ, I have come to a strong awareness of the effects of careless
use of the earth on communities. This type of thing can be experienced in any
industrial city, any place inhabited by many generations of people. Much of this city can be described as “brownfield” damaged by decades of industrial use that did
not consider the long-term consequences of contamination, sloppy disposal, and use
of toxic substances. (A brownfield is defined under NJ state law
(N.J.S.A. 58:10B-23.d) as “any former or current commercial or industrial site that is currently vacant or underutilized and on which there has been, or there is suspected to have been, a discharge of a contaminant.”)
There is a selfishness and laziness in a focus on profit that blocks consideration of people and of consequences for future generations of the community. These companies have left our city for other sites, leaving behind a dangerous legacy. Again, as is the case with so many poor urban areas, parts of Camden are also known for poor air quality. Pollution in Camden comes from various industries in the south part of the city. These include a trash-to-steam power plant, and sewage treatment and scrap metal disposal facilities. These are not located in suburbs with affluent and politically connected residents, but in a poor, often politically disorganized town.Below I quote from a group called the Catholic Coalition Climate Change
. This organization gathers Catholic moral teaching and resources on the topic. What follows is their very clear application of Catholic social teaching to this issue, under three topics: prudence, concern for the poor, and attention to the common good.
“Prudence is intelligence applied to our actions … a thoughtful, deliberate, and reasoned basis for taking or avoiding action to achieve a moral good.” U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, U.S.C.C.B.
The Coalition accepts overwhelming scientific consensus about climate change. There is nearly unanimous agreement that human actions are creating a warming planet. As stewards of all creation, we must identify wise, careful actions that will reverse this climate change and avoid its potentially dangerous impact on all life—especially human life.
State and local Catholic leaders can play a central role in bringing together scientists, theologians, business and labor leaders, government officials, human service providers and other stakeholders to shape a wise and careful approach consistent with our principles. With such leadership, the Catholic community will answer God’s call to be faithful stewards.“Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions; it means being committed to making joint decisions after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.”
“… any successful strategy must also reflect the genuine participation and concerns of those most affected and least able to bear the burdens … [this] is a moral and political necessity …” —U.S.C.C.B.
Natural disasters take the greatest toll on poor people. Inadequate transportation, lack of insurance, poor housing and little if any cash reserves put them on the edge of the precipice. To survive severe storms, prolonged droughts, extended heat waves and other climate-related events, these vulnerable sisters and brothers must receive assistance—both public and private.
The Coalition seeks to find constructive ways to approach climate change from the bottom up. We strive to bring the voice of the poor to the public debate about climate change and ensure that resources are available to the most vulnerable.
The Common Good
“Responses to global climate change should reflect our interdependence and common responsibility for the future of our planet. Individual nations must measure their own self-interest against the greater common good and contribute equitably to global solutions.” —U.S.C.C.B.
Climate change provides an opportunity to act with courage and creativity as individuals, as people of faith, as a nation. As a wealthy nation and as the top contributor to greenhouse gases, we in the United States must help to shape responses that serve not only our own interests but those the of the entire human family. The Coalition assists the Catholic community in linking personal stewardship and care for creation with our moral responsibilities to practice solidarity.
A Final Quote from Pope Benedict