Earth issues 101

By  Simon Appolloni, Catholic Register Special
  • September 17, 2005
September is upon us and with it the important responsibility of getting our young brood back to school to learn their ABCs. But what about our own responsibility for continued learning?

September is upon us and with it the important responsibility of getting our young brood back to school to learn their ABCs. But what about our own responsibility for continued learning?

For two years now, our bishops have been reminding us that "Life on earth is plagued by an unprecedented accelerating ecological crisis," in their momentous pastoral letter on the Christian ecological imperative, "You Love All That Exists" All Things Are Yours, God, Lover of LifeÖ”

The pastoral letter aptly states that we need to engage in the issues.

Hurricane Katrina stands as a wake-up call for Christians of all ages that we have a great deal to learn. In fact, we're still pretty much at the back of the class along with the rest of humanity when it comes to our knowledge and actions toward creation, according to ecotheologians.

The case is made in a recent Worldwatch report which states that the clearing of trees, filling of wetlands, engineering of rivers, not to mention very warm water temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico and rising sea levels (due to global warming) had left the area around New Orleans abnormally vulnerable to the forces of nature.

In other words, we are not innocent in this tragedy. "Our actions have frayed the natural safety nets that healthy ecosystems provide," writes Sandra Postel, director of the Global Water Policy Project and Worldwatch Institute Senior Fellow.

Worldwatch president Christopher Flavin states more bluntly, "If the world continues on its current course - massively altering the natural world and further increasing fossil fuel consumption - future generations may face a chain of disasters that make Katrina-scale catastrophes a common feature of life in the 21st century."

Though theologians differ in opinions on why we continue to destroy the Earth - a matter far too complex to discuss here - a commonly accepted explanation they share with environmentalists is that we just aren't connecting the dots on environmental issues and we do not realize how our actions, or inactions, contribute daily to Earth's destruction.

But there's hope. Our bishops conclude in their pastoral letter, "All serious solutions to the ecological crisis demand that human beings change our thinking, relationships and behaviours in order to recognize the interconnectedness of all creation."

So, as self-appointed truant officer, I call on all Christians, young and old, this school year, to hit the books, so to speak, and become more informed on what is unquestionably the most primordial subject we need to study: creation, the world around us and how to live with it and not against it.

Adapted from our bishops' pastoral, the list below can serve as a framework to get moving in the right direction, whether as individuals or as a parish or school group:

  • Set up a study group on ecology in your church or school.

  • Attend environmental seminars or workshops in your area. For those in the Greater Toronto Area, attend the 2005 Planet in Focus' international environmental film and video festival. In its sixth season, the festival will screen more than 70 thought-provoking films that touch on environmental/human issues. For those concerned about our addiction to fossil fuels, watch especially The End of Suburbia. The festival runs Sept. 28 to Oct. 2. For showing times, locations and prices, call (416) 531-4689 or visit

  • Engage in actions designed to minimize your ecological footprint. Some groups have begun to practise the 5Rs: reverence, reduce, repair, reuse and recycle, at home, in the garden, while shopping, as well as at church or school. For a wide range of practical ideas, refer to the guide prepared by the Ecology and Theology Working Group of the Anglican diocese of Ottawa, October 2002, Renewing our Relationship with the Earth: A Guide to What you and your Church can do. See

  • Participate actively in the 2005-2006 advocacy campaign of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace and Kairos. This year, both organizations are jointly running a campaign that, among other things, calls for the protection of water at its source and for an end to our love affair with the very environmentally unfriendly bottled water. See and

  • Assess the energy use of your church. Obtain a copy of the Energy Workbook for Religious Buildings and consider energy audits and retrofits for your worship space. See

    (Appolloni is a Contributing Editor to The Catholic Register and a member of the Elliot Allen Institute for Theology and Ecology.)

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