Facing the crisis

  • October 25, 2006

It is very easy to forget that Christianity has something to teach us about our responsibility toward the environment. After all, ecotheology was not invented by Jesus of Nazareth, nor did humanity in first-century AD have the potential to destroy the planet.

But we do today. And we should draw on our Christian tradition for moral guidance on this issue at least as much as we do on sexual morality.

As the Canadian bishops said in their October 2003 pastoral statement on the environment, “God’s glory is revealed in the natural world, yet we humans are presently destroying creation. In this light, the ecological crisis is also a profoundly religious crisis. In destroying creation we are limiting our ability to know and love God. ‘The ecological crisis is a moral issue’ and ‘the responsibility of everyone,’ says Pope John Paul II. ‘Care for the environment is not an option. In the Christian perspective, it forms an integral part of our personal life and of life in society. Not to care for the environment is to ignore the Creator’s plan for all of creation and results in an alienation of the human person’” (Pastoral Letter on the Christian Ecological Imperative, Social Affairs Commission, Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, no. 3).

Canada is facing a crossroads today when it comes to environmental degradation. We have now admitted that our commitment to the Kyoto Agreement to reduce production of greenhouse gases is just so much hot air. The Liberal environmental program has been shown to be completely ineffective by the federal auditor general. And the booming Oil Sands development in Alberta, as bountiful as it is to the Canadian economy, is an environmental catastrophe and a national shame.

We have looked to our political leadership in vain for action on this front. The Conservatives were gleeful in pointing out the inadequacies of their predecessors in Ottawa. Yet their own plan, introduced this month by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, will not reduce harmful pollution by one kilogram. At best it will slow down the increase in the amount of gases we emit.

The heart of the plan, as explained by Harper in Vancouver, is to develop with industry and the provincial governments mandatory levels of pollutants that can be emitted with each unit of production, the so-called “intensity-based” system. While this is moderately useful, we will continue to move further away from our Kyoto targets.

The fatal flaw of the Conservatives’ proposed legislation is that it refuses to tackle the elephant in the environmental livingroom: consumption. As long as Canadians continue on their orgy of consumption of high-energy using goods, whether in the form of SUVs or over-packaged goods of all sorts (bottled water comes to mind), we will continue to poison the planet at an alarming pace.

This qualifies as social sin on a grand scale. We can do better, much better, as Christians and responsible citizens of planet Earth.

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