Mercy for our Common Home
Climate change is happening now. Its effects are devastating for poor and vulnerable people around the world. And it is only going to get worse. Global warming is already transforming our planet. The failure to address climate change will cause a continued rise in temperature with devastating effects, including the loss of crops, reduced availability of water and catastrophic storms, putting three billion people at risk. While poor and vulnerable people in developing countries have contributed the least to the problem, they are hit the hardest. It is essential that wealthier nations help people in the developing world adapt. (From Catholic Relief Services)
Hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor (Pope Francis)
Show Mercy to our Common Home
Excerpts from the message of Pope Francis for the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation (Sept. 1, 2016) (full text available at http://en.radiovaticana.va)
It is … encouraging that throughout the world … initiatives promoting environmental justice, concern for the poor and responsible social commitment have been bringing together people, especially young people, from diverse religious backgrounds… As people of faith and goodwill, we should be united in showing mercy to the earth as our common home and cherishing the world in which we live as a place for sharing and communion.
With this Message, I renew my dialogue… about the sufferings of the poor and the devastation of the environment. God gave us a bountiful garden, but we have turned it into a polluted wasteland of “debris, desolation and filth” (Laudato Si’, 161). We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior…..
Global warming continues, due in part to human activity: 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 will likely be warmer still. This is leading to ever more severe droughts, floods, fires and extreme weather events. Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.
As an integral ecology emphasizes, human beings are deeply connected with all of creation. When we mistreat nature, we also mistreat human beings. At the same time, each creature has its own intrinsic value that must be respected. Let us hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (LS 49), and do our best to ensure an appropriate and timely response.
God gave us the earth “to till and to keep” (Gen 2:15) in a balanced and respectful way. To till too much, to keep too little, is to sin…. Let us learn to implore God’s mercy for those sins against creation that we have not hitherto acknowledged and confessed. Let us likewise commit ourselves to taking concrete steps towards ecological conversion, which requires a clear recognition of our responsibility to ourselves, our neighbors, creation and the Creator (LS 10 & 229)….
This in turn must translate into concrete ways of thinking and acting that are more respectful of creation. For example: “avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices” (LS 211). We must not think that these efforts are too small to improve our world.
In the same way, the resolve to live differently should affect our various contributions to shaping the culture and society in which we live. Indeed, “care for nature is part of a lifestyle which includes the capacity for living together and communion” (LS 228). Economics and politics, society and culture cannot be dominated by thinking only of the short-term and immediate financial or electoral gains. Instead, they urgently need to be redirected to the common good, which includes sustainability and care for creation.
One concrete case is the “ecological debt” between the global north and south (LS 51-2). Repaying it would require treating the environments of poorer nations with care and providing the financial resources and technical assistance needed to help them deal with climate change and promote sustainable development.
The protection of our common home requires a growing global political consensus. Along these lines, I am gratified that, in December 2015, [the world] approved the Paris agreement on climate change, which set the demanding yet fundamental goal of halting the rise of the global temperature. Now governments are obliged to honors the commitments they made, while businesses must also responsibly do their part. It is up to citizens to insist that this happen, and indeed to advocate for even more ambitious goals.
To paraphrase Saint James, we can say that mercy without works is dead … In our rapidly changing and increasingly globalized world, many new forms of poverty are appearing. In response to them, we need to be creative in developing new and practical forms of charitable outreach as concrete expressions of the way of mercy.
The Christian life involves the practice of the traditional seven corporal and seven spiritual works of mercy. We usually think of the works of mercy individually and in relation to a specific initiative… But if we look at the works of mercy as a whole, we see that the object of mercy is human life itself and everything it embraces.
Obviously “human life itself and everything it embraces” includes care for our common home. So let me propose a complement to the two traditional sets of seven: may the works of mercy also include care for our common home.
As a spiritual work of mercy, care for our common home calls for a “grateful contemplation of God’s world” (LS 214) which “allows us to discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us” (LS 85). As a corporal work of mercy, care for our common home requires “simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” and “makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (LS 230-31).
The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, # 13)
Where in Scripture do we Hear the Call to Care for Creation?
In the very beginning of time, God created all that is, and proclaimed it good (Genesis 1:1–31). He instructs us to “cultivate and care” for creation (Genesis 2:15). God also tells Moses to make sure the Israelites let their land lie fallow every 6 years, giving the land itself a Sabbath, or time to rest (Leviticus 25:4–5). The Scriptures brim with reminders that creation belongs to God and reveals his goodness (Romans 1:19–20, 1 Corinthians 10:26), which invites us to respect our Creator by caring for nature.
Effects of Climate Change in the World
Climate change seems to be behind a severe drought that has led crops to wilt across seven countries in southern Africa, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, and a related drought has devastated East Africa and the Horn of Africa (South Sudan, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia) and is expected to continue this year. The result is acute malnutrition for 1.3 million children in this part of the world.
New research, just published in the bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, concludes that human-caused climate change exacerbated El Niño’s intensity and significantly reduced rainfall in parts of Ethiopia and southern Africa. The researchers calculated that human contributions to global warming reduced water runoff in southern Africa by 48 percent and concluded that these human contributions “have contributed to substantial food crises.” (By Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times, 04/16/2017)
10 Things in Your Home Linked to Climate Change
(from Catholic Relief Services)
- Overfishing is causing up to 59 species of fish to become extinct in the Philippines.
- Some farmers in Guatemala lost up to 85% of their coffee plants because of coffee leaf rust.
- When junk mail gets trashed, 51 million metric tons of greenhouse gases are created, more air pollution than all cars registered in New York City and Los Angeles combined.
- Driving cars release 3.3 trillion pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
- 12 million barrels of oil are used to manufacture the 30 million plastic bags Americans use each year.
- 1 in 6 species of animals around the world from land to sea could become extinct over the next century.
- Some 780 million people around the world lack access to clean water.
- More than half of the world’s chocolate production is sourced in West African countries like Ghana, where rising temperature can cause crop failures.
- With the potential for more natural disasters, more households on coastlines could be at risk for destruction.
- The number of people displaced by natural disasters, including floods, storms and droughts, has averaged 22.5 million a year and is growing.
“Everything is interconnected. . . . We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, #138, 139)
Responding to Pope Francis Call to Action
- Learn more about climate change (catholicclimatecovenant.org, www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/environment).
- Advocate for our Earth and its people (catholicclimatecovenant.org).
- Plant a tree in your community.
- Support farmers and their families.
- Attend a farmers’ market.
- Support ethical trade (crs.org/).
- Make lifestyle changes (global/17-ways-to-reduce-your-carbon-footprint/.