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Care for God's Creation

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November 7, 2011

Even the Vatican is going green. With the installation of solar panels on the roof of the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Vatican began selling power back to the Roman electric grid in November 2008.

Concern for the environment is one of the newer dimensions of Catholic social teaching, paralleling the growing awareness in society as a whole. Prior to the industrial revolution, human impact on the environment was limited and localized. With the growth of economies, the use of fossil fuels, and the demand for consumer goods, the amount of natural resources people pulled from the planet rose substantially.

In 1971, Pope Paul VI commented on the trend in an Apostolic Letter: "Man is suddenly becoming aware that by an ill considered exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of the degradation. Not only is the material environment becoming a permanent menace - pollution and refuse, new illnesses and absolute destructive capacity - but the human framework is no longer under man's control, thus creating an environment for tomorrow which may well be intolerable. This is a wide-ranging social problem which concerns the entire human family. (21)" Octogesima Adveniens  (On the Eightieth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum)

In the latter half of the 20th Century, environmental pollution began to catch up with the inhabitants of the planet:

Environmental Disasters

One of the early environmental disaster to capture the attention of the world occurred in London in 1952. The combination of pollutants, fog and an inversion layer killed 4,000 Londoners in early December of that year. Most of the dead were the young and the elderly.

A very large part of our Catholic concern for environmental protection stems from the impact of pollution on the poor and vulnerable. For instance, thousands of poor died in Bhopal, India, in 1984 because they could afford to live no where else than near a chemical manufacturing plant. As with London, most of the dead where young or elderly. Many pregnant women also died at Bhopal

Environmental harm, however, impacts everyone on the planet, no matter your socio-economic status. The air pollution in major metropolitan areas hurts everyone, rich and poor alike. Nuclear accidents both frightened (the Three Mile Island nuclear core meltdown) and killed people (Chernobyl). And catastrophes like the Exxon Valdez devastate wildlife population and despoil landscapes.

The common good is the guiding principal in the care of creation - and it includes the good of future generations as well.

Global Changes

Drastic changes in the earth's climate are taking place, but there is still some debate as to the cause. The consensus of scientists says it is caused by humans increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Others say that the increase is due to a naturally occurring cycle in the earth's ecosystem that will soon self correct.

It is true that the planet God has given us a planet has a tremendous capacity for self-healing, as well as natural cycles such as Ice Ages.

Common Sense Approaches

But debate about the causes of global warming aside, the same actions society would take to combat human-caused warming will benefit our economies and our health anyway.. As with all economic development a proper balance between cost and benefit must take place..

Cleaner and more efficient power plants, trucks, and automobiles are a great way to combat global warming. Affordable mass transportation helps people get to work and recreational facilities. Preservations of forest provide for a healthier ecosystem and more efficient natural cleansing of CO2 - not to mention the potential medicines adapted from plant and wildlife specifies in the rain forest. And slowing or reversing the melting of the polar ice caps will prevent the flooding of low-lying lands around the world.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has resources available on climate change and health. It is also part of a coalition - the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change - which provides educational resources and advocacy tools dealing specifically with climate change.

Stewardship

Central to the USCCB's focus is this notion of stewardship - protecting, nurturing and utilizing the gifts God gave to us. A steward, in the Gospel story, not only protects his master's resources but also utilizes them in a way that gives due credit to the master.

Environmentally, we are called to use the gifts of the planet, but do so in a way that respects the common good and honors God's creation.