Sunday, October 4, 2015

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #11... Toward stronger action

Here's a thought: if we didn't have air conditioning, you can bet we'd be a lot more concerned about global climate change. This idea hit me between the eyes the day that I first read the section on Weak Responses (paragraphs 53-59) in Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home (which can be accessed by clicking here). I had just finished it when I heard a news report about 2000 people dying in a heatwave that hit Karachi and other cities in the southern provinces of Pakistan. It's much harder to ignore the climate crisis when you don't have air conditioning -- and when it's in your own backyard.

The fact is, it IS here in our backyard, but in North America we've been able to blame the worst impacts thus far on freak weather events, ignoring the fact that perhaps the 100-year-storms causing flooding or crop damage are happening every few years instead of once a century. And the forest fires! Our sister, Mother Earth, is crying out, trying to wake us up, but are we blowing her storms and disasters off as coincidences -- at our peril?

Pope Francis puts it plainly: "Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years," and even with our ever-increasing technological and intellectual advances, we are lacking the caring culture needed to address the earth's issues, and the leadership to bring about change -- though I would argue that the fact that the Pope himself has brought the issues forward in Laudato Si is a small step in the right direction.

But will it be enough? As he says in paragraph 53, "The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice." We need a solid plan that the entire population will buy into, with international law to back it up. Otherwise, the strongest voices (of the economy and politicians looking to save their seats) win.

And we see this over and over again. Climate summits have been happening every year since 1995, and not one of them has brought about serious change. I am ashamed that my Canadian government has been one of the worst when it comes to reneging on its promises toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and, by our bad example, encouraging other countries to do the same. I'm ashamed -- and angry -- and grieving.

Especially when I see something like this from Development and Peace:

Our sister, Mebrhati, calls on God for rain, Abba Solomon calls everyone to "change this climate change," and Pope Francis points out that
"the alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently, the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented" (paragraph 54).
Reminds me of Joe Oliver, a previous Minister of Natural Resources here in Canada, who labelled everyone with an ounce of desire to protect the environment (from poorly planned pipelines) as radicals. It never ceases to frustrate me when people with economic interests in resources get snarky at people who care about the environment, pointing out that without such-and-such a resource, life won't be so cozy or convenient. But those of us who care for the environment are only too aware of the hassles of protecting it, and are willing to put up with more hardship and inconvenience. Unfortunately, if our environment continues to decline, none of our sacrifices will matter. The fact that our family gave up one of our two cars has meant that we can't all do whatever we want whenever we want and miss some events and activities, but life is not about convenience in most parts of the world! Most of our brothers and sisters on this planet don't have one vehicle, let alone two or more... Should we?

Paragraph 55 looks at the fact that while some countries have made significant progress toward ecological sensitivity, "harmful habits of consumption" haven't changed. And Pope Francis and his team actually mention "the increasing use and power of air-conditioning" as an example. What about the empty but idling diesel half-ton that choked Shadow and me on our walk this week? What about the three empty plastic water bottles we picked off the side of the hill? The last sentence says, "An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive." Sometimes it feels like the encyclical is pussyfooting around. Such behaviour just plain IS self-destructive. We are killing ourselves and creation by taking the good things God has given us for granted, wasting them and the earth in the process.

I'm feeling depressed, can you tell? Too many human beings have made financial gain the bottom line, says paragraph 56, not exactly in those words (the Pope and writers say it better, but this moodling is already getting too long). We "deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is," leaving the environment defenceless before market forces. (Or politics -- the election time spent this week arguing about the niqab distraction should have been used to find out what our politicians intend to do about climate change, or any number of other issues!)

Paragraph 57 is even less cheerful, raising the spectre of wars, nuclear and biological, once resources become scarce (I'll let you read that part for yourself) and concluding, "What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?"

But as various people in the Bible say over and over again, "be not afraid." Paragraph 58 reminds us that human beings have been able to reverse some of the negative planetary impacts we have had in the past, accomplishing small things that prove that "men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity, and care cannot help but well up within us, since we were made for love."

We don't leave this section on a positive note, however. The last paragraph (59) warns us against "the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters complacency and a cheerful recklessness." It's not enough to buy all the 'green-washed' cleaning products off the store shelves -- and forget about changing the rest of our lives. The planet will probably continue as it is for some time, leaving us with the illusion that things are fine and our little actions are making a difference, but if we continue "carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption... delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen," nothing actually changes. It's the big changes that we need to make that will save us.

On this feast day of Saint Francis, I can easily imagine him standing with the Pope, encouraging us all to "Wake up, for creation's sake!" The Weak Responses section that we've just read, written by the most famous Francis of our era is calling us toward stronger action -- for Mebrhati, Solomon, ourselves, and future generations. Could we live with one less vehicle in our lives? Could we turn off the air conditioning and lower the thermostat in the winter? Shop less? Share more? Spend more personal effort instead of taking consumer culture's quick, cheap, and easy ways out?

What am I taking for granted that I can appreciate more -- or do without?

What sacrifices am I willing to make to save our planet?

Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section below. Discussion can challenge us to act!

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: #12... Gratitude, not greed

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