A recent letter to the editor of a Catholic newspaper has attracted my attention. The letter is titled “Love What God Found Good”. In it the writer asks a variety of questions regarding what the Church has done about preserving our environment.
In addition to posing these questions, the writer also goes on and makes various statements in her letter that I find truly odd; leading me to believe that she may be getting caught up in some new age movement and falling into the errors of pantheism. But that is for another occasion.
Focussing on her questions regarding what the Church has done, or is doing, about preserving the environment. Here are her questions from her letter to the editor:
- What has the Catholic Church done to create a sense of awareness in the cultures of nations who are, at the root, proving to be anti-life?
- Is there a religion that has appreciated that the Earth is the primary sacred community; that the human species is only one of many species?
- Does the wisdom of our Catholic Social Action include emphasis on the sacredness of the Earth?
The most recent and obvious action the Church has taken was widely reported in many secular publications at the time. The Vatican, under the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI, has turned itself into the ‘greenest’ nation in the world. The Vatican has installed about 2700 solar panels. These panels collectively produce about 200 watts of electricity per person. That’s more electricity per capita than any other nation in the world. By comparison Germany produces just 80 watts per inhabitant.
As a result of the solar panels and various other smaller projects of the Vatican, 20% of the Vatican’s electricity needs are now being supplied from these ‘green’ sources and they have in turn led to the Vatican reducing its carbon emissions by about 305 tons. Impressive I say and definitely an effective way for the Church to communicate the importance she places on preserving the environment.
Of course some will, and have, argued that this was easy for the Vatican, given how small it is. This is however disingenuous, to say the least. Not only is the Vatican small in the number of people and area of land, it is also equally small in terms of the number of resources it has at its disposal to accomplish this task. If the Vatican can achieve what it has with the little it has, then every other Nation should proportionally also be able to achieve the same results.
The Pope has not stopped with solar power. As part of his increasing desire to lead by example and to show his, and the Church’s, concern for the neighbourhood, the Pope has also indicated that he wishes to replace the current ‘pope-mobile’ with a solar powered version. This surely leaves no doubt whatsoever about the message that the Church is sending to the rest of the world through its actions.
The Church has however not only led the way by example. It has also spoken repeatedly on the subject. The list of encyclicals and other documents on the subject over the centuries are many and I won’t list them here. The following two do however provide a good indication of the Church’s never ending teaching on this subject.
In 1987, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in the encyclical, “Sollicitudo Rei Socialis”:
“Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world...
The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate - animals, plants, the natural elements - simply as one wishes, according to one s own economic needs. On the contrary, one must take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system, which is precisely the cosmos.
The second consideration is based on the realisation - which is perhaps more urgent - that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come.
The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialised zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialisation is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.”
Again in 1991, as just another example of the Church speaking out on the subject, Blessed Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical “Centesimus Annus”:
“In his desire to have and to enjoy rather than to be and to grow, man consumes the resources of the earth and his own life in an excessive and disordered way... (man) forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray... In this regard, humanity today must be conscious of its duties and obligations towards future generations.”
Given the abundance of Church teaching on the subject and given the Church’s own excellent example in this regard, I don’t think that the questions we should be posing on environmentalism should be directed at the Church. The questions should really be directed at each one of us as individuals. Let us account for how we have responded to the example and teaching of the Church. Let us account for how we as lay people are placing demands on the government to act responsibly with our environment. Let us show how we have each in our own homes done our little bit to preserve our environment.