Environmental sins

  • March 7, 2008

{mosimage}It is hardly news that the environmental crisis has become accepted as one of the greatest challenges facing the Earth. As such, it is not just a political, scientific or even economic issue. It is a moral question of the first magnitude.

The Catholic Church arrived late to this realization, but it has arrived nonetheless. Particularly with Pope Benedict XVI, the church has begun to delve into its own rich theological traditions to demonstrate to Christians that they owe responsibility not just to those other humans who are in need, but to the entire planet.

The Canadian bishops have addressed environmental questions several times in recent years, most notably with their 2003 statement on the Christian ecological imperative. Now, the social affairs commission of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops has followed up that document with a new statement (see Page 11 for the story). While some of it might seem like the kind of grandfatherly advice found on the Nature channel (Who would disagree that “humanity is part of the physical and ecological balance”?), the bishops build on their earlier statement by stressing the collective responsibility of all citizens, even if they are talking primarily to Catholics.

The bishops make special reference to the Kyoto accord, quoting the United Nations 2007 Human Development Report which cited Canada “as an ‘extreme case’ of a nation that is disregarding its commitments.” The bishops come to a clear conclusion: “We have violated the laws of life.”

While refraining from posing detailed solutions (correctly leaving that to the laity), the bishops point out that our collective lifestyle of mass consumption cannot go on. Nor can our governments continue to use the excuse of public debt to avoid tough measures to curb pollution.

“Our current leaders wish to avoid bequeathing a crushing burden of debt to our descendants,” the bishops observe. “After spending beyond our means, it would be unreasonable of us to expect them to pay the price. But a damaged environment represents a debt incomparably greater and more difficult to replace.”

The bishops note that politicians can muster the will to deal with national security issues, even if that involves massive spending on defence. But, they add, the political leadership fails to deal with what could ultimately become an even greater security challenge — our deteriorating environment.

Here it must be noted that we do get the political leadership we deserve. Alberta just massively re-elected its Conservative government; a government that ran on a slow and timid response to the looming environmental disasters in the oil sands. And polls show that the federal Conservatives have not paid a price for their own weak-kneed legislative approach to reducing greenhouse gases.

The bishops remind us that our faith calls us to a conversion to a deeper faith in Christ, one that recognizes our wounded relationships with “nature, our sisters and brothers, and the Creator of life.” There is no better time for such a conversion than the present.

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