Sunday, April 24, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #36... "Truly, much can be done!"

It's too early for pear blossoms!
I've noticed, in my reading of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, that the Pope isn't one for using exclamation marks. His encyclical quotes people who use them often enough, and he has included many exclamatory scriptural quotations, but for the most part, his letter is fairly solemn. The title of this reflection is his third of only three exclamations... and it is our reason for hope in spite of the many difficulties facing our planet.

This Sunday we're looking at paragraphs 178 to 181 of Laudato Si, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down. I think these paragraphs are particularly relevant given that 175 countries signed the Paris Climate Agreement this week. Did you know that Canada is among the top ten CO2 emitters, creating 2% of the world's greenhouse gases, though our country is 38th in population?

Paragraph 178 addresses a concern that arises when it comes to any Climate Agreement. The Paris Agreement has been adopted in order to keep our planet's temperature increase below 2 degrees (over pre-industrial levels) due to global climate change. Pope Francis notes that the world's politics are too focused on immediate results, market dynamics and short-term growth, and that politicians are afraid to adopt measures that might upset the public for fear of losing their government positions. But as the encyclical says, "True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good." These days, our politicians need to be prophets who are willing to go against market forces, think outside the box and come up with better ideas than the old ways that are destabilizing our climate.

Such prophets are already among us, did you know? Paragraph 179 talks about them:
,,, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy... local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instil a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples.
And they should be rooted in every person on the planet, enabling us all to work together to pressure our governments for "decisive political action." We can all be prophets!

But things have broken down somewhere -- and I think I know where. If we ask the average Andrew or Alicia about the last time they contacted their government officials about environmental concerns, we'll likely get a blank look. Having been brainwashed into believing that independence is better than interdependence, too many of us have forgotten that our leaders will only respond if enough voices are raised. We forget our own prophetic role in calling them to bring about the radical changes needed, never raising our voices to demand decisive political action, so our leaders assume we're happy with the status quo.

But clearly, the status quo isn't working. My pear tree doesn't usually bloom until May 12, but it's blooming almost three weeks early this year. A wildfire ran through the Wolf Willow/Rio Terrace ravines here in our Edmonton river valley Friday night because everything is so dry when really, there should still be snow on the ground. Climate change is happening here in Edmonton -- and everywhere else -- and it's time we take it seriously and demand that our leaders do the same -- to ratify the Paris Climate Agreement by exceeding its targets and setting an example for all of the top ten emitters to follow.

Of course, it isn't easy to be a prophet -- especially when many people in Alberta's energy-based economy have already lost jobs. Of course, the unemployment we are seeing is a sign that we need to come up with a different employment model since the world is realizing that fossil fuels are a literal dead end for our earth. Paragraph 180 of Laudato Si is packed with ideas that might drive a different model for employment. How many local industries could arise from the points below?

  • increased energy conservation
  • better industrial production to maximize energy efficiency and minimize raw materials
  • reduction of energy inefficient, polluting products (and, I would hope, an end to planned obsolescence)
  • improvement of transport systems
  • construction and repair of buildings for high energy efficiency and low pollution
  • reduced consumption (through consumer education)
  • improved waste disposal and recycling
  • protection of species
  • diversification of agriculture through crop rotation
  • improvement of rural infrastructure
  • better organization of local and national markets
  • improved irrigation 
  • the development of sustainable agricultural techniques
  • cooperation and community organization to defend small producers
  • preservation of local ecosystems
"Truly, much can be done!" say Pope Francis and his encyclical writing team at the end of paragraph 180. If humanity turns its focus away from fossil fuel industries and develops capabilities in the areas noted above, how long would unemployment be a problem? Perhaps it would continue in the short-term, but we need to start thinking longer-term for the sake of future generations. What is the saying? Short-term pain for long-term gain.

Which leads us right into paragraph 181. It says that we need continuity when it comes to handling climate change: "...environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government's term." 

Our leaders don't want to be prophets. Often, standing up for what is right and just means bucking political trends and asking for change from the public, the people they're trying to keep happy. What I've noticed lately, though, is that the public seems to be way ahead of our political leaders in looking for change when it comes to climate policy. Politicians in Canada are still talking about pipelines, but many of their constituents are dreaming about alternate energy sources instead -- have you noticed?

Unfortunately, dreaming isn't enough. We need to demand change. With a phone call, a letter, an email, or a text message, since our leaders can't read our minds. And we also have to be willing to sacrifice convenience to bring change about. Can we live on less if it means more people can share jobs until the energy sector evolves? Can we drive less and walk or take public transportation more to cut down on greenhouse gases? How about buying locally instead of creating demand for items that travel long distances and use many fossil fuels to get to us? Having local vacations instead of tropical ones? Conserving every last bit of energy that we don't need to use by turning things off instead of leaving them running if we leave the room (I'm working on this one -- too often I walk away in the middle of writing these Laudato Si reflections and get sidetracked by other things, only to come back later and realize that energy was a-wasting...)

As prophetic participants in a world that needs to change, what will we do in the weeks and months ahead?

As Pope Francis says, "Truly, much can be done!" 

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: Ten important questions

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