Editorial: Environmental sin

  • November 21, 2019

Thou shalt not commit ecocide.

Pope Francis is moving full (solar-powered) steam ahead with plans to chisel ecological sins into the official teaching of the Church. With good reason, he is determined to make Christians more observant of their moral obligation to demonstrate love of God and neighbour by adopting lifestyles that respect Creation and preserve our common home for future generations.

The Pope can’t impose a carbon tax to penalize wasteful ways, so he will quite rightly emphasize the spiritual cost of ecological wrongdoing, of acting directly or indirectly in ways that harm the planet when it is clear that doing so is morally wrong. He sounds determined to make Christians realize that offences against the environment, against Creation, are sins against God.

“We have to introduce — we are thinking about it — in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the sin against ecology, the sin against our common home, because it’s a duty,” said the Pope, speaking Nov. 8 to a gathering of lawyers in the Vatican.

He called sins against the environment “ecocide.” More than polluting or abusing the planet, the Pope said ecocide is the “massive contamination of the air, of the land and water resources, large-scale destruction of flora and fauna, and any action capable of producing an ecological disaster or destroying an ecosystem.”

The concept of ecological sin gained ground during October’s Synod of Bishops on the Amazon. In their report to the Pope, the synod bishops referred to sins against God and future generations that are manifest in “acts and habits of pollution and destruction of the harmony of the environment.” 

They called for a moral conversion that would require Christians to realize that ecological sins “of commission or omission” are real and serious.

Assigning moral responsibility to individuals, rather than waiting for government or big business to save the planet, will ruffle some feathers. It has become impossible to speak about climate change without begetting some eye rolls. But the Pope is right. The strong moral case for acting to save the planet needs to be emphasized.

Doing so now is in keeping with a theme Pope Francis introduced in his 2015 encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’. The planet is suffering, he said, because the developed world has been seduced by a culture of excessive consumerism that is powered by a pervasive reliance on carbon fuels. A moral awakening is required, he wrote, to wean society from its addiction to excessive quantities of goods, comforts and services that come at the cost of despoiling the atmosphere, forests and oceans, and exploiting the world’s poor.

Recognizing and curtailing this runaway materialism and the “ecocide” it may foreshadow — classifying it as a sin — is an important first step in renewing mankind’s sacred vocation to be stewards of God’s creation. 

Thou shalt not commit ecocide. Amen to that.

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