“We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” ~ Pope Francis
I’ve been following Earthbeat’s feature series, Digging Into Laudado Si’, as a way of observing the 5th anniversary of Pope Francis’ environmental justice encyclical addressed to the entire human family.
The above quote is taken from paragraph 36 of chapter III, Loss of Biodiversity, which reads in full:
“Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.”
Coincidentally, this reading comes a short time after my previous blog post on biodiversity loss/endangered species. It also comes a few days following a letter I sent to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (Division of Water Resources) on behalf of our Eco-Justice team. The purpose of the letter was to make public comment on a complex 921 page permit request by the investment group creating the largest master plan development in North Carolina on the outskirts of Pittsboro and along the Haw River. Please visit the Haw River Assembly website to learn the particular concerns regarding this permit request.
I mention the permit request because the process of negotiating for and constructing this kind of mega-development is a microcosm of the kind of global concerns that are specifically addressed in the Pope’s plea for an “integral ecology” that is needed to care for “our common home.” By integral ecology Pope Francis means the interconnectedness of all things living and non-living. However, for integral ecology to function we (the human family) need to embrace an integral economy. This is the essence of an intriguing article by Daniel P. Horan a Franciscan friar and assistant professor of systematic theology and spirituality at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.
In ‘What we need is an ‘integral economy’ he writes:
Within the context of the United States, we find ourselves at an important time of decision-making, particularly as it pertains to the kind of principles we wish to support and the civil leaders we elect to enact and protect them. Often “the economy” is listed as a voting priority for many citizens. However, most people are really only talking about their own financial security and personal future.
But what if an “integral economy,” shaped by the Christian vision of an “integral ecology,” was our voting priority? What if we sought seriously to put into practice the holistic vision of God’s creation the church teaches in Laudato Si’?
Maybe then we could shift our focus from financial bottom lines and self-preservative measures toward a way of sharing “our common home” that takes into consideration the whole of creation from the Christian perspective in shaping the policies and practices that govern our society.
Our penchant for short term “financial bottom lines and self-preservative measures” that friar Horan points to is also the human weakness that the Pope is referring to when he warns: “We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.”
The global pandemic, as dark as it is, has shined a light on the surplus of systemic terrible injustices (ecological being but one) that have prevailed prior to this viral plague that has now in many cases only exacerbated them. The pandemic has also forced an aging American population with pre-existing medical conditions (this strikes close to home) to think long and hard about our vulnerability and mortality as we scurry to reopen the secular economy while simultaneously rushing headlong toward 100,000 COVID-19 deaths by Memorial Day.
As we who are the living body of Christ in the year of our Lord 2020 (50 years after the first Earth Day and 5 years after Laudato Si’) contemplate our own mortality, may we first confess our sins of commission and omission. And then let us pray that at the end of this life’s journey our headstone could not be inscribed with the words:
Here lies [your name]
S/he was a silent witness to terrible injustices
while obtaining significant benefits
by making the rest of humanity, present and future,
pay the extremely high cost of environmental deterioration.
I’ll conclude by encouraging you to read the article by Gina McCarthy, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator and now president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in which she challenges us all to speak up, stand up and act up. Here’s one paragraph from the article:
“As we celebrate the fifth anniversary of the pope’s encyclical, it is my hope that faith and religious organizations will use this day as a time to remind their congregations and all of those in a position of leadership in the public and private sectors of their obligation to put people — not polluters or profits — at the forefront of every decision they make. And I would hope that the day could be a chance to remind all of us that we cannot take our world for granted. We must speak up, stand up and act up if we hope to protect the people we love and the places we live. We must demand our right to clean air, safe drinking water and healthy, safe places to live, work and play.”
Can I have an AMEN!