September 10, 2021

What the Environmental Crisis Asks of Us

NOAA sea level trends

Education, action and more equitable use of resources are the way forward

By Father Al Fritsch, S.J.

Q: What can we possibly do to counter this environmental crisis facing our planet?

Father Al Fritsch SJ
Father Fritsch

A:  The current environmental condition of the world affects each and every individual person of faith. It is not enough to leave response to technical experts who address the urgency of climate change and who propose a path to a renewable energy economy. All citizens must be involved and participate to some degree.

This is of particular importance in Kentucky, since our Commonwealth has for years been foremost in fossil fuel production, the emissions of which have caused part of the climate change problem. Let’s listen to the call to action by Pope Francis in his encyclical Laudato Si’.

The first thing all people of faith must do is to be knowledgeable of existing global and local conditions. Pope Francis affirms that the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together, and we must attend to both sets of conditions and the causes that bring about degradation. Denial of these existing problems is virtually impossible, but saying these difficulties aren’t of human causation is frequently heard. The hard truth is that humans are to blame and are required to make reparation in some way.

The second area of concrete activity is for all to do their part in enhancing a damaged environment. Many suggestions have been offered over the past half century, and a majority of people do something, either by sorting recyclables or refraining from blatant wasteful practices. However, we know that more must be done: in moderating use of electronic devices, potential installment of solar energy, reduced travel, or through carpooling or taking public transportation. The list of “green” practices is varied and offer many physical and economic benefits. It’s important to become involved and likewise to encourage others.

The third and most difficult area of environmental activity by people of faith relates to the need to share resources, especially with those with essential needs. This renewal of the human as well as physical environment is a necessity, as recent popes have affirmed; they have emphasized that creation is for all of us, not just to a privileged few.

We are starkly reminded that today, less than 1 percent of people own over half the wealth of the world, while a billion others are destitute, lacking food or lodging security. In addition, climate change is affecting still more of lower income folks and driving them to destitution. Yet, addressing the problem of super-wealth is neglected by many Americans of all political persuasions. Recall that one of our Founders, Ben Franklin, wanted limits on individual wealth; so should we.

Pope Francis in Laudato Si’ speaks of the impact of present imbalances causing the premature death of many of the poor, along with conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources and other critical problems. He also says in his book “Let Us Dream” that “We must redesign the economy so that it can offer every person access to a dignified existence while protecting and regenerating the natural world.”

As citizens in a democracy, we must confront this growing inequality, see it as part of the environmental renewal called for, and be willing to pressure legislators who are often beholden to the super-rich. Let’s support non-violent action, including fair taxes for all; with added income from undertaxed wealthy this country could repair and maintain our physical infrastructure and expand renewable energy (solar, wind, hydropower, geothermal, and tidal) sources.

An engaged citizenry must speak and apply pressure politically to bring about needed changes, which includes expanded social benefits in health, education and jobs. To continue the status quo with its current inequalities cries to heaven for change; we must both listen and respond as part of our civic and religious duty to champion social justice.

All people have a right to Earth’s resources. Retention and private use of excessive amounts of wealth, which should be taxed and shared, weakens our basis of participative democratic government. Through sharing resources, we will be able to become equal partners in the important tasks ahead. Those of us advocating radical sharing of resources need to overcome the fear of popularist bad-mouthing and threats from the powerful. Yes, the process calls for countercultural discussion and willingness to live simply, so that all can simply live.

We need to reflect in a closer interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles: “they shared out the proceeds among themselves according to what each one needed” (2:45). Today, with instant communications the entire world is our community, applying this Scriptural example demands an expanded global vision. Let’s pray we all move in that direction.

 

Father Al Fritsch, S.J. is pastor of St. Elizabeth in Ravenna and parish priest of Our Lady of the Mountains in Stanton.

 

Featured image by giorgiogp2 via WikimediaCommons.