Catechesis of Creation – Guest Post: Tom Collingwood

A CRISIS IN CREATION

The current debates over environmental issues too often provide little in the way of a faith perspective for understanding and acting to address those issues. CREATIO is initiating with this introductory article a “Crisis in Creation” series to present a Catholic ethic for viewing nature.

CREATIO associates are a wide range of professionals from climatologists, theologians, clergy, outdoor educators, naturalists, biologists, farmers, physiologists and psychologists that reflect a diverse range of information pertaining to creation. We all have a common denominator in that, as Christians we seek the truth about environmental issues and practical actions to care for God’s creation. Most recently we delivered a symposium at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro on “Jesus and Nature”. As a follow up to that conference it was concluded that there was a need for an information dissemination vehicle to provide regular articles on a faith based ethic for the environment.

The aim of these essays is to offer a variety of concepts, ideas, references perceptions and initiatives to aid in defining the Church’s response to the environment and provide needed direction for others to understand environment problems, needs and solutions to act on environmental issues. While these articles are intended for all, a particular readership we hope to inspire is what could be called the “next generation”. These would be the young adults and students that are involved in educational studies on ecology, outdoor education, outreach and environmental missions. As with other areas of our faith there is a need for a “catechism” of information to act in the world on our faith.

The issue of global warming and a myriad of other environmental problems are constantly being highlighted in the news media. The questions to ask ourselves are: What does it all mean? How serious are environmental issues? What should be our response? To answer those questions requires developing a faith based ethic that can provide an impetus and direction. The Church, including specific individuals such as Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, many Catholic clergy, layman and scientists as well as Sacred Scripture all contribute to a “creation” ethic. All these sources will be explored within this series.

A need for a faith response to creation

In 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report titled The World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity classified the major environmental degradations facing the planet that provides an overview of what needs to be addressed. This was a diverse group representing numerous fields that listed six degradations or problems for the environment of which there was a broad based consensus:

  • Atmosphere. – The major concerns are air pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain and global warming from green house gases (GHG) mostly CO2.
  • Water resources – This is a concern for both fresh and salt water environments in terms of quality of water and sustainability of the water supply. Emphasis was also placed on natural fisheries depletion and the rise in sea levels.
  • Soil resources – The concern is soil quality to include top soil depletion and erosion which is also linked to water resources all of which have food production implications.
  • Deforestation- The concern is over the effects of deforestation linked to species loss and lessened CO2 absorption and oxygen creation from forests.
  • Global waste management – The concern here is over disposal of nuclear and chemical by products but also human sanitary waste control.
  • Species extinction – While species loss has occurred throughout the history of the world the concern is about the accelerated pace especially affecting “keystone” species (critical species within the food chain) due to habitat loss from the other degradation areas, especially deforestation.

The Church’s concern over these environmental issues has been discussed and addressed at many levels over the last couple of decades. Both John Paul II and Benedict the XVI elaborated many times that the underlying priority of all efforts for environmental integrity, energy justice and care for creation is a concern for the dignity and well being of the human person. The challenge in addressing the need for economic development, environmental protection, the problems of over consumerism and over utilization of energy resources while maintaining respect for the needs and dignity of human persons is complicated to say the least.

There are many perspectives and methods when considering what could be a faith response to these six degradations. There is the “mitigation” approach that emphasizes working to minimize the causes of an environmental problem. An example would be dealing directly at a macro level with the assumed causes of flooding by global warming and rising sea levels by regulating fossil fuel use at a national and international level to lower CO2 emissions. Another approach is “adaptation” for addressing the consequences of an environmental problem (especially on human beings) at a local/manageable level. Using the preceding flooding example this would involve investing in flood prevention strategies such as levees and/or relocation of populations from high risk areas.

Another perspective if that of “stewardship”. Most will agree that the individual human dimension is a critical factor. The term stewardship at its core means “to care for”. There is an emerging recognition that developing a stewardship ethic and lifestyle can facilitate individuals to understand, appreciate and consequently be more prone to care for creation. Likewise, by being aware of the faith basis for stewardship, a faith basis for action in one’s lifestyle can emerge. As Pope John Paul II stated …”society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at lifestyle.”

Ultimately with any approach that is taken it must address the needs of the human person. There can be no nature ecology without a human ecology. There must be a balance. Pope Benedict XVI states “the degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence: consequently, when ‘human ecology is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits”. Pope Francis, in turn, has continued the tradition that began with Pope John Paul II, strengthened by Pope Benedict XVI and now is being extended and developed by him that human ecology and a healthy environment together are necessary for authentic human fulfillment. As he has stated “Care of creation is not just something God spoke of at the dawn of history: he entrusts it to each of us as part of his plan”.

 

This article provides a brief overview of the nature of a faith based response to the needs of creation. Succeeding articles will address a number of topics to assist readers to develop a faith based ethic and perspective on creation. More detailed essays will address scriptural, theological, historical, ecological and scientific information so that readers can develop a broad base for first understanding environmental issues then secondly act to apply actions.

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