Sunday, August 30, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #6... The elephants in the room

Life magazine's celebration of the "Throwaway Life"
August 1, 1955
A "throwaway culture," climate change, and the common good -- all in four paragraphs. Pope Francis and his encyclical writer friends certainly know how to pack their punches. Laudato Si, the latest encyclical, is designed to name the elephants in our earth's rooms (that is, environmental issues that we'd rather ignore) and get us thinking about what we need to do to save our planet and as many of its species as we can. The extinction of species in particular has been on my mind since I heard some frightening stats this week about how many creatures are disappearing daily because of the activities of one particular species -- ours.

This Sunday's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (paragraphs 22-26 -- you can access the entire document by clicking here) looks briefly at the way many of the world's industrial systems (that create things to satisfy our needs and wants) are linear rather than circular. Unlike biologically sound ecosystem cycles, most of our human-made production methods are unable to "absorb and reuse waste and by-products," simply because recycling/reuse hasn't been built in, and a lot of us don't bother to reduce our consumption by using only what we need (and our wants are clearly too much for the planet to handle on its own).

When it comes to reducing, reusing and recycling as much as possible -- well, we have a long way to go to counteract our throwaway culture, which was first celebrated by a Life magazine article 60 years ago, picturing a family delightedly throwing disposable articles into the air because of all the convenience they offered. And we are still suckers for convenience. Paper towels, plastic bags, single use coffee cups, disposable water bottles, the list goes on...

Chuck Brodsky, a folksinger I heard at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival three weeks ago, sang a wonderful, tongue-in-cheek song, pointing out the fact that really, we can't throw anything "away":
....That old TV quit on me brother
Ten years ago so I got me another
The first one's sittin' out by the porch swing
With the stove and the 'fridge and a bunch of other things.
Take 'em out back, dump 'em in the river,
Take 'em out back, throw 'em in the woods,
Take 'em out back, chuck 'em down the hillside,
Keep the front yard looking good.... 
Of course, this approach to waste management is why Francis and friends pointed out that particular elephant when they wrote that the earth is starting to look like "an immense pile of filth." Only when our production loops become a full circle including the three Rs -- reduce, reuse, and recycle -- will we have a solution to the problems created by our throwaway culture. We probably shouldn't even be creating or using those things for which the loop can't be closed. There's no question -- wasteless living requires a huge amount of thought and effort!

Having addressed the throwaway culture elephant, Francis and friends turn their attention to the climate change elephant. Explaining that "the climate is a common good... a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life," the encyclical calls us to "recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat... the human causes" which aggravate climate change (paragraph 23).

It's been a few years since we learned that 97% of scientists agree that our climate is changing because of human use and abuse of greenhouse gases, creating a vicious cycle that is messing with our weather patterns. Our scientist pope names the issues clearly in paragraph 24 and following, explaining that it is the poor who live in areas most affected by dangerous weather, which will only worsen if we continue with our present rates of production and consumption. Environmental degradation means that people become desperate to find ways to migrate -- and this week's horrific story of our 71 brothers and sisters found dead in a truck in Austria should be reason enough to want to preserve peoples' homelands from both violence and climate disasters.

This weekend's 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is a good time to rethink our lifestyles and "develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced." We need to increase our use of renewable energies, cut greenhouse gas emissions, and reduce energy waste, and get rid of all the elephants in the room.
Wednesday at Maligne Lake

My husband and I went camping this week (not the best use of fossil fuels, I'll admit) in Jasper National Park. I love breathing the fresh mountain air and seeing the sun on the lakes -- but neither of those things were quite right this time around. The droughts being experienced in Western North America this summer because of climate change have caused a huge forest fire in the state of Washington, almost 600 km south, and on Wednesday, we could hardly see the mountains for the smoke. Of course, that's nothing compared to what people in Washington are experiencing. What scared me was when Lee commented, "If we don't reduce climate change, our air could be like this permanently, as it is in places in China."

So this week, let's see how many times we can cut back on our creation of greenhouse gases by using alternate transportation (feet, bicycles, transit) and using less energy, period. Our sister, Mother Earth, and all her children (not just the human ones) are depending on us to change. The only species I would like to see extinct are these elephants in the room.

A prayer for our earth

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: #7... What are you made of?

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