The Common Good

Environment

At Inaugural Mass, Pope Francis Calls for Defending Environment, Poor

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis issued a powerful call for the protection of the environment and of society’s most vulnerable during his formal installation Mass at the Vatican, while qualifying his papal power as a “service” to the church and to humanity.

The pope on Tuesday celebrated a solemn Mass in St. Peter’s Square in front of an estimated 200,000 people, as well as political and religious leaders from all over the world.

During the Mass, Francis received the symbols of his papal authority over the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics: the pallium, a lamb’s wool stole that recalls Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and the “ring of the fisherman.”

In keeping with the low-key style that has been the hallmark of his pontificate so far, Francis presided over a somewhat simpler, and definitely shorter, rite than the one that marked the start of Benedict XVI’s reign in 2005.

Francis was slowly driven around a sun-drenched St. Peter’s Square in an open-top car, shunning the bulletproof, air-conditioned popemobile preferred by his predecessors. At one point, he asked to stop the car and got out to bless a disabled person.

In his homily, delivered in Italian, Francis described the church’s mission as “respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.”

+Continue Reading

God’s Earth is Crying Out; God’s People, Responding, Must Prepare for Jail

God’s creation is in danger; and to call upon the powers of the world to heal it, God’s people are prepared to go to jail. 

Perhaps most famously in our recent history, the startling sight of a religious leader in jail was embodied in the willingness of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., to go to jail more than 20 times in order to embody his religious commitment to racial justice, peace, and nonviolence.

As we approach the Holy Week of Christianity and Passover, we should be aware that this tradition goes back thousands of years. The movement of ancient Israelites seeking freedom from a lethal Pharaoh began even before Moses, when two midwives – the Bible carefully records  their names, Shifra and Puah – refused to murder the boy-babies of the Israelites as Pharaoh had commanded. The recollection of that moment is the first recorded instance of nonviolent civil disobedience.

When that cruel and arrogant Pharaoh, addicted to his own power, refused freedom to his nation’s slaves, his arrogance forced the Earth itself to arise in what we call the Plagues – ecological disasters like undrinkable water, swarms of frogs and locusts, the climate calamity of unprecedented hailstorms. 

Passover has kept alive and lively the memory of that uprising. So it is not surprising that the Gospels record that just before the week of Passover, Jesus led a protest against the behavior of the Roman Empire, its local authorities, and a Temple he and his followers thought had become corrupted from its sacred purpose. 

To protest against the Empire of his era, Jesus chose a time that was both appropriate and dangerous, since Passover celebrates the fall of Pharaoh. His challenge resulted in his arrest and imprisonment, and then his torture and execution.  

Both Judaism and Christianity can trace their origins to acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. Indeed, for several centuries of Imperial Rome, the very persistence of Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity were collective acts of civil disobedience. 

Today, religious folk face modern plagues imposed upon our countries and our planet by a new kind of Pharaoh.

+Continue Reading

The Washington Post is Wrong on Keystone XL

The day after the Washington Post announced it was moving its top environmental reporter off the green beat to cover politics at the White House, this op-ed went up toeing an uncomfortably familiar line: by speaking out against the Keystone XL pipeline, environmentalists are “missing the climate-endangered forest for the trees.”

Leaving aside for a moment the uncomfortable irony of being reprimanded for missing the big fight by an outlet that is reshuffling focus on that very front: the editorial board, respectfully, is wrong. Not that it doesn’t have a point, but that point is concrete and incremental – and misses the entire meaning of the forest of protests over the last 18 months.

+Continue Reading

Climate Rallies and a Golfing President

This past Sunday an estimated 35,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., to push for legislative action in response to climate change. In addition to speaking out against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the “Forward on Climate” rally organizers urged President Barack Obama to limit U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and transition to larger levels of renewable energy. In addition to the mass assembly near the White House, environmental groups held similar rallies in cities across the nation, including a significant turnout in Los Angeles. All together, some have described the events of the past weekend as the largest collection of climate change rallies in U.S. history.

The president has recently emerged as a potentially strong ally in the struggle against climate change, for his inaugural address included a renewed commitment to environmental leadership, as he stated: "We will respond to the threat of climate change knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” 

President Obama also addressed ecological concerns during his State of the Union speech, as he said: “We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it's too late." While conversation surrounding climate change was notably absent during his recent re-election campaign, the president appears to be making environmental concerns a top priority for his second term of office.

While President Obama seems to be a more visible environmental advocate, many are doubtful of his sincerity and question whether such statements are motivated by political calculation rather than genuine policy priorities. For example, in what can be described as a thought-provoking twist of irony, while thousands marched past the White House to move the president “Forward on Climate,” he was out golfing, which just so happens to be a sport that many environmentalists perceive as an ecological tragedy.  

+Continue Reading

Ashes and Hope

Lent is a time when we try to identify with our own weakness, so since we are about to start the Church’s penitent season, it was shocking to read Virgilio Elizondo’s account of how a people generally considered weak on the geopolitical stage – poor Mexicans and Chicanos – do not treat Ash Wednesday as a day of penitence at all.

“For the masses of the people, it has little to do with the beginning of Lent. Lent as a season of self-sacrifice is not really of special interest to the people: the entire year is a time of suffering and abnegation. On Ash Wednesday Mexican-Americans renew their cultic communion with mother earth. For them the earth has always been sacred and they retain a fundamental identity with it. The earth supports and regenerates life; itis life.”

What a beautiful and unexpected connection!

+Continue Reading

On Scripture: Climate Change and Setting the World on Fire

It was Earth Day, 1988. I was in my fifth grade “Earth Science” class, a place where one might expect to talk about the importance of caring for the earth. But this was not what we were talking about that day. At least, we weren’t talking about it until one student asked our teacher about the hole in the ozone layer and whether or not she should stop using hairspray. Our science teacher replied by saying that hairspray wasn’t a problem because the end of the world was coming and the whole earth would be consumed by fire anyway.
 
While my science teacher did not speak for all people of faith, she also was not a lone voice in the crowd. Caring for the earth is not something Christian churches in the West have been particularly good at. We were late coming to the conversation and have been slow in mobilizing our efforts. This is ironic considering that the foundational stories of our faith, the first words in the book we call holy, commission us to be caretakers of every living thing. In a world where climate change is evidenced in super storms, wildfires, heat waves, droughts and floods, it is urgent that people of faith return to our first responsibility of being stewards of the world in which we live.

+Continue Reading

Video: ‘Developing Tar Sands Means Losing Control of the Climate’

“If we fully develop the tar sands, we will certainly lose control of the climate. We will get to a point where we can not walk back from the cliff,” says climate scientist Dr. John Abraham. The Keystone XL pipeline is the lynchpin to developing the tar sands in Alberta.

I’ve been paying attention to the Keystone pipeline development since 2011 when it was under review by the State Department. I joined a group of religious leaders to deliver thousands of petitions to Dr. Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary of State for Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs, asking her to to stop the pipeline. I said to her, “If this decision about the pipeline was made purely based on the climate science, we wouldn’t be here having this discussion.” She didn’t disagree. The exploitation of tar sands will significantly worsen the climate.

Now, new scientific data shows that developing the tar sands (and the pipeline to carry it) is worse than previously known. The video above shows climate scientists countering the notion that the climate impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are small compared to total U.S. global greenhouse gas emissions. Nathan Lemphers, a Senior Policy Analyst with the Pembina Institute, details how the Keystone XL is a critical ingredient to significant expansion of tar sands. He dispels the myth being promoted by the tar sands oil industry that tar sands development is inevitable with our without Keystone XL. That’s not true. All other routes are similarly being blocked.

+Continue Reading

A Path Forward on Climate, Or, Obeying God

President Barack Obama’s Inauguration Address this week included a bold statement about his vision for addressing climate change. In fact, he redefined the issue of environmental protection as not only morally important but a command from God. After the vacuum of discussion of climate change during the presidential campaign, this proclamation came as a welcome surprise.

Most analyses of Obama’s speech point to the fact that the reason he was able to say what he did is that American public opinion has solidified behind these ideas. Plenty of polls will tell you that the number of Americans who accept the reality of climate change has soared in recent years, perhaps partly due to the natural disasters the president mentioned.

+Continue Reading

A Little Climate Change Pleasure Reading

This winter, fiction revealed truth about climate change.  

As a teacher, I relish the escape provided by pleasure reading before I return to the classroom for the next semester at Warren Wilson College, where I teach environmental education. 

In December, without reading reviews or making a list, I visited my independent bookstore, Malaprop’s and purchased two books: Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior (2012) and Lauren Groff’s Arcadia (2012). I’m a long-time Kingsolver fan and bought her book as a gift, with the goal of reading it before wrapping it. And the cover of Arcadia, with its teal VW bus and field of sunflowers, drew me into purchasing what I thought was my second random choice for recreational reading. 

Both books, it turns out, integrated climate change into the plotline, weaving scientific truths about global warming into the lives of fictional characters. And just as compelling, both works of fiction featured spiritual community at the center of critical decisions about the future of the land and its inhabitants. 

Of note, critics have bemoaned the lack of fiction centered on climate change, a paucity that seemed to mirror our public denial of this scientific reality. In a 2010 blog on openDemocracy, professor and author Andrew Dobson even outlined the components of a  “climate-change novel” that include a grim future, characters who explore ethical choices around global warming, and (no surprise here) extreme weather events. He ended his piece with this challenge: “So there’s the recipe. Who’s going to write the book?” 

+Continue Reading