Love the world and help heal it

Chris­tians have a duty to care for the environment, writes Arch­bishop Stephen Bris­lin

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - ISSUES -

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?’

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