Social Justice: We must all do our part to care for the earth

By Barbara Budde

Columnist

When I was a child growing up in Detroit, it was the fifth largest city in the country. The automobile industry was booming, but there were costs. I remember I could never see the city skyline because it was cloaked in smog, and we could not swim in the Detroit River or eat the fish from the river because of pollution. Over the years when I have gone back to visit, the skyline was brilliantly outlined whenever the sun was out and I saw children playing in the river and people fishing once again. This is because of legislation like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

In the late 1980s Pope John Paul II began to articulate the church’s concern for the environment. As in everything, his concern was completely centered on the human person. We need to care for God’s creation because God entrusted it to us and because if we pollute the air, land and water then we will make the earth uninhabitable for human life. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation" (2415).

Care for Creation has become an important teaching of the church because there is a growing recognition that we will undermine our primary teaching on preserving the life and dignity of every human person if we do not begin to care for this planet we call home.

In 2006, with the support of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change was formed. This organization exists to help dioceses, parishes and individual Catholics with resources to help us live out our call to care for creation and particularly to care for our neighbor in need. What we know is that the climate is changing and that persons who contribute least to environmental degradation are those who are suffering most. Islands in the Pacific Ocean are disappearing as ocean levels rise. Drought that is deeper and more severe than ours here in Texas plagues areas in Africa where there is neither electricity nor phone service.

During Lent we are called to conversion and while this great season is drawing to a close, we can still use these closing weeks to examine our lives and our consciences about our attitudes and behaviors regarding climate change. What bills are our political representatives considering in terms of the environment? What can we do to change our individual habits? Do we regularly recycle? Do we use the most energy efficient light bulbs and appliances? Have we examined ways to use our car less? Do we know about environmentally friendly ways to keep our homes and gardens pest free? Do we use too many toxins in our home?

What can we do as a community? Do we know how much our electricity is dependent on fuels that may cause air and water pollution? Are we willing to pay more for non-polluting sources of energy? Are we willing to give money so the poor can afford more expensive electricity? Are we willing to advocate at the state and national levels for legislation that will slow environmental decay? Are we willing to own our individual and collective responsibility to care for creation and the poor?

The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change has resources on church teachings and on ways to decrease our carbon footprint. Visit
www.catholicclimatecovenant.org to see what individuals can do, what parishes can do and what we can all do to better care for this beautiful creation God has entrusted to our care.

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