Love the world and help heal it
Christians have a duty to care for the environment, writes Archbishop Stephen Brislin
IN SIMPLICITY and stillness the Christ-child was born in a manger in Bethlehem. It was an event that, to all intents and purposes, passed unnoticed by a world concerned about its own business. Only a handful of shepherds had a revelation that something of great importance had happened and so rushed to see the newborn child.
The birth of Jesus is the mystery of Incarnation – the fundamental belief of Christians that God took on human flesh and lived like all of us, but without sin. The Incarnation is an act of solidarity with each and every person, a closeness and intimacy of God with his people.
The Incarnation changes relationships and was the beginning of the restoration of what creation was always meant to be: “The sucking child shall play over the hole of the asp and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder’s den. They shall not hurt or destroy.” (Is 11:7-9).
The world was created in harmony and interdependence based on peace. Christmas celebrates the possibility of the reversal of division, hatred and selfishness brought into the world by sin and the restoration of peace between God and all creation.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his message for the World Day of Peace in 2010, made the appeal: “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation.”
Referring to Pope John Paul II’S statement of 1990 that we are facing an ecological crisis, Benedict asks: “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?
“Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of environmental refugees…? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?
“All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development.”
The Incarnation of Christ, rather than make a Christian withdraw from society and involvement in the history of the world, places an obligation on each of us to make Christ present by expressing our own solidarity with our fellow humanbeings.
It is a call, a summons, to give witness to our faith in action. We cannot remain indifferent in the face of such exploitation of creation which threatens peace and, indeed, the future of the world itself. From a Christian perspective, protection of the environment is an urgent obligation for the following reasons:
God commanded man and woman: “…Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all living things that move on the earth.” (Gen 1:28). The true meaning of this command is a summons to responsibility, to stewardship as co-workers of God. The earth has been given to us to use and sustain livelihood but, in turn, we are meant to care for it and cultivate it.
“Stewardship will not be guided by short-sightedness or selfish pursuits: rather it will take into account the fact that all created goods are directed to the good of all humanity,” said Pope John Paul II in Nairobi in 1985.
The relationship between God, human beings and the natural environment is indivisible. We cannot love God without loving what he created – respecting the harmony and balance of the whole of his creation.
We cannot love our fellow human beings without protecting the good things of the earth created by God that are vital for their sustenance.
We cannot love the environment without giving praise to the God who created it.
To build a world of peace we need to protect the environment. It is all too evident that the rampant exploitation of the world’s resources is bringing hardship to millions of people by endangering the supply of some natural resources not only to those alive today, but also to future generations. Numerous conflicts arise over the struggle for scarce resources – not only in distant lands, but on our very doorstep.”
Recently, SA hosted COP 17, the UN climate negotiations. There were some positive outcomes. The People’s Republic of China – the biggest polluter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – indicated that it was now willing to commit to a legally binding agreement to reduce GHGS.
According to Oxfam, an important page was turned on discussion of the legal forms of a future agreement with the EU, US, Brazil, SA, India and China merging towards a common understanding.
However, according to the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the conference failed to address the fundamental requirement: to limit dangerous climate change.
The overall responsibility for this failure rests with a few governments: the US, Japan, Russia and Canada. Furthermore, the WWF states: “Governments reached a weak agreement that established a Green Climate Fund with little money, postponed major decisions on the content of the Kyoto Protocol, and made an unclear commitment to a global agreement from 2020 that could leave us legally bound to 4º of global warming.”
Last year governments agreed to keep global temperatures from rising above 2º. Most of civil society has been left feeling disappointed and betrayed by governments who place a perceived – but mistaken – national “interest” over and above that of the future of the world.
The ecological crisis is not isolated from other crises of humanity. Ultimately they point to a moral crisis that requires a rethinking of a number of issues.
Underlying the lack of will to take decisive action on climate change are a number of factors:
Fear: politicians fear that decisive action, which will mean changing lifestyles, may lead to their being voted out of power. There is also fear in a highly competitive and globalised world that national interests will be compromised and that the influence and power of the nation will be diminished or lost.
Greed: does not respect the understanding that the earth and everything it contains belongs to all peoples and nations.
Greed leads to the massive exploitation of the world’s goods that we have seen and continue to see, to say nothing of the exploitation of people.
Greed maintains and increases the growing chasm between rich and poor which is certainly a cause of hostility.
Consumerism, belonging to a waste and throw-away society rather than re-using where possible. In our own country, especially, there is little consciousness of the need to recycle.
Individualism militates against the acceptance of mutual responsibility for the world and to work for the common good. Instead, individual or sectarian interests are sought and a myopic view develops even while the interdependence of all nations and peoples of the world is clear today, more than ever!
Each and every person has a responsibility to the environment and to limit climate change. There is something that you can do:
Take responsibility to change your own attitude. Develop good practices, such as recycling, not littering, limiting energy use, and where possible using renewable energy. Do not think that climate change is a myth promoted by “treehuggers”.
Sober, rational scientists are not only concerned, but alarmed at what is happening. Broaden your view to understand the inter-relatedness of issues. Environmental consciousness is not about “being green”.
It is about people’s lives and futures, it is about food production and food prices, it is about poverty and the gap between the haves and have-nots, it is about the sustainability of the world and what we hand on to future generations – it is about justice.
Become involved in whatever way you can. Politicians, bankers, industrialists and business people are not going to solve this problem alone. Civil society has a pivotal role to play and we cannot shirk that responsibility.
Governments, and others, who make decisions regarding our world need to be held accountable. If you are a politician, banker, industrialist or business person, put what you are doing at the service of humankind and the common good – abandon working for self-interest.
Pope Benedict has called for justice and peace education for all young people. Ultimately, education must lead to moral change so that the underlying causes of the massive abuse and misuse of the world and its goods can be addressed.
In returning to integrity, fairness, sharing, putting people first rather than profits and working for the common good, we will be motivated to protect creation.
As we celebrate this Christmas, and recall the transformation offered to humankind through the Incarnation of Christ, may it be for all of us a time of blessing and holiness.
As we recall the simplicity of his birth, that he came for the good of all, that he came to unite people, may we too respond generously and positively to the challenges facing our world.
Brislin is the Catholic archbishop of Cape Town.
ENVIRONMENTAL EMPHASIS: Pope Benedict XVI says that to cultivate peace, people have to protect creation. He asks: ‘Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of environmental refugees? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources?’