Today I'm looking at paragraphs 17-21 of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, Chapter One: What is happening to our common home (the entire text can be accessed by clicking here). It's the beginning of a frank assessment of what's actually happening to our environment before getting into the theology and philosophy that could be helpful in determining how to prevent further damage to the only home we have.
Right off the bat in paragraph 18, Pope Francis and friends name "rapidification" as a factor contributing to the planet's problems. Basically, change is happening more rapidly than we or the earth can actually adapt, and keeping up to the pace is stressing everyone and everything. (How many people do you know who say that life is too busy, or that they're moving too fast for their liking?)
For too long, we have gone along with an "irrational confidence in progress and human abilities." The good news is that some of us are starting to see the problems caused by thinking human beings know everything we need to know, and by living in such a hurry all the time. I'll never forget attending a talk by Canadian scientist and TV personality, David Suzuki, in 1989, when he talked about the fallacy of perpetual growth. For me, it was the beginning of critical thinking about the pace of North American life and the different kinds of cancerous-perpetual-growth-pollution appearing around the globe.
Pope Francis is inviting us to review things that we would rather ignore or "sweep under the carpet" in order to "become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it (paragraph 19)." In other words, to continue the theme from last Sunday, we must become more mindful of how our lives impact our planet, its many species, and ourselves. Our ignorance about our lifestyles' repercussions has created problems to which we can no longer turn a blind eye.
The Pope starts by focusing on pollution, naming the many kinds of pollution with which we live (and die -- too often "no measures are taken until after people's health has been irreversibly affected" (paragraph 21)). He points out that the technology we think will save us isn't always capable of seeing the interconnectedness between all things, and as a result, may solve one problem only to replace it with another that was unforeseen! For example, genetically modified crops have produced bigger yields to feed the earth, but have also created disasters for species that are part of the food chain living in or around those crops. And food chains are often linked in unexpected ways...
The most quoted line I noticed in media coverage when the encyclical letter came out in June appears in paragraph 21: "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." Media outlets all over the world pounced on that line. And it's not just that we find litter in the landscapes we love. The muck from our over-industrialized way of life has found its way into our skies, sea and soil.
It's hard to tell a star from space junk at night. The barges of garbage that have been dumped in our oceans have created the Pacific Gyre, a massive area of plastic bits that float in the area of Midway Island and starve sea life that mistake the trash for food. In the compost I create to enrich the soil in my gardens, I find plastic fruit stickers that take forever to biodegrade, or candy wrappers that blew into the fall leaf collection necessary for making compost. And the tissues in our bodies accumulate the chemical residues of drugs, fertilizers, and flame retardants that get into our water, air and soil -- no wonder the incidence of different forms of cancer seems to be increasing.
It's depressing; I won't lie. But what's more depressing is that so many of us sweep it all under the carpet and go on as if nothing is wrong. We have the power to stop creating so much "filth" by choosing to live more simply, using what we have as well as we can, and demanding that the products we choose are recyclable, or better yet, wasteless (I'm thinking of the endless over-packaging of so many store items). We can avoid single use items like plastic grocery bags, whose average life use is usually only 12 minutes (I refuse to buy groceries if I don't have my reusable bags with me). We can pick up litter even if it isn't ours, as a sign of our love and respect for the earth. These are little things, but if everyone on the planet got in on the act, the mess wouldn't be so overwhelming.
So how are you going to make less of a mess of our planet in the week ahead? How can you encourage those around you to create less garbage and trouble for our sister, Mother Earth?
A while back, we had a little movie night, my family and I, and we learned a few things. The movie was a little Canadian made documentary called "The Clean Bin Project," and I've posted its trailer below (there's also a thought-provoking blog that you can access by clicking here). Grant and Jen challenge each other to see who can produce the least amount of garbage, and their results are quite amazing. Not sure if the movie is available in your neck of the woods, but I'd encourage you to check it out if you can, and do whatever you can to reduce the waste you produce.
We can prevent our earth from garnering more filth, but we all need to do our part. We need to look under our personal carpets and become aware of how we contribute to the suffering on our planet, making that suffering our own rather than pretending it doesn't exist.
As Chris Jordan, the artist in the movie trailer above, says, when we feel something, we act. Pope Francis is inviting us all to feel the suffering caused by the human-made filth that is despoiling creation. He's calling a spade a spade. And I'm maybe jumping the gun a little and inviting us all to reduce our own wastefulness, starting now. What's one less thing you can waste this week?
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)
Next up: #6... The elephants in the room