Cli­mate, Life and Re­spon­si­bil­ity

Cherokee County Herald - - VIEWPOINTS - By Kathryn Jean Lopez

The head­lines Fri­day morn­ing seemed to say it all: Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump had an­nounced that the United States is pulling out of the Paris Cli­mate Ac­cord. On the side of one of the na­tional pa­pers was a story about Ap­ple and al­tered re­al­ity. Down at the bot­tom was an ar­ti­cle about study­ing Klin­gon. Sim­i­larly, on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” I learned ev­ery­thing there must be to know about ethics and celebrity cov­er­age, via the Jen­nifer Gar­ner-Ben Af­fleck di­vorce. It all seemed to point to one over­ar­ch­ing theme: dis­trac­tion.

Add some other “d” words: dis­con­nect; dis­ar­ray; dan­ger; de­pres­sion; de­spair. And maybe we’re be­gin­ning to see why Amer­i­cans voted for Trump as some­thing dif­fer­ent.

So, about Paris. Whether you en­thu­si­as­ti­cally agree with his move or ar­dently op­pose it, con­sider this: Don’t al­low the pres­i­dent’s de­ci­sion to let you off easy.

Just about a week ago, the pres­i­dent and the first lady vis­ited Pope Fran­cis at the Vat­i­can. Among the gifts ex­changed: The pon­tiff gave the Trump a copy of “Laudato, Si,” his let­ter on cre- ation. It’s widely de­scribed as deal­ing with cli­mate change, which in many ways, misses the point en­tirely. In that let­ter, the pope urges us to see all of cre­ation as wor­thy of good stew­ard­ship. The oceans and the skies, yes, but the hu­man body and soul, too.

In “Laudato Si,” Pope Fran­cis cites the pope emer­i­tus, Bene­dict. “He ob­served that the world can­not be an­a­lyzed by iso­lat­ing only one of its as­pects, since ‘the book of na­ture is one and in­di­vis­i­ble,’ and in­cludes the en­vi­ron­ment, life, sex­u­al­ity, the fam­ily, so­cial re­la­tions, and so forth. It fol­lows that ‘ the de­te­ri­o­ra­tion of na­ture is closely con­nected to the cul­ture which shapes hu­man co­ex­is­tence.’ Pope Bene­dict asked us to rec­og­nize that the nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment has been gravely dam­aged by our ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­ior. The so­cial en­vi­ron­ment has also suf­fered dam­age. Both are ul­ti­mately due to the same evil: the no­tion that there are no in­dis­putable truths to guide our lives, and hence hu­man free­dom is lim­it­less.”

Fran­cis con­tin­ued: “Bene­dict urged us to re­al­ize that cre­ation is harmed ‘ where we our­selves have the fi­nal word, where ev­ery­thing is sim­ply our prop­erty and we use it for our­selves alone. The mis­use of cre­ation be­gins when we no longer rec­og­nize any higher in­stance than our­selves, when we see noth­ing else but our­selves.’”

He also writes about his name­sake, Saint Fran­cis: “I be­lieve that Saint Fran­cis is the ex­am­ple par ex­cel­lence of care for the vul­ner­a­ble and of an in­te­gral ecol­ogy lived out joy­fully and au­then­ti­cally. He is the pa­tron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecol­ogy, and he is also much loved by nonChris­tians. He was par­tic­u­larly con­cerned for God’s cre­ation and for the poor and out­cast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his gen­er­ous self-giv­ing, his open­heart­ed­ness. He was a mys­tic and a pil­grim who lived in sim­plic­ity and in won­der­ful har­mony with God, with others, with na­ture and with him­self. He shows us just how in­sep­a­ra­ble the bond is be­tween con­cern for na­ture, jus­tice for the poor, com­mit­ment to so­ci­ety, and in­te­rior peace.”

In the way Pope Fran­cis lays it out: All of cre­ation is an in­vi­ta­tion to see how “God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his in­fi­nite beauty and good­ness.”

The point is: The Paris opt-out is not just about a cli­mate treaty. As has been noted be­fore this col­umn, even en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists in the left had their prob­lems with this ac­cord. The out­rage in re­sponse to Trump’s de­ci­sion may once again ex­pose our peren­nial prob­lem: see­ing the fed­eral govern­ment and ne­bu­lous in­ter­na­tional forces as the source of our sal­va­tion. The de­ci­sions you and I make to­day have a power that is much greater than we re­al­ize.

What­ever your view of Trump’s move, it could pro­vide an op­por­tu­nity to con­sider how we can be­gin again, not wed­ded to po­lit­i­cal agen­das, but with an in­sis­tence on us­ing our free­dom to its great­est po­ten­tial. The cli­mate treaty wasn’t ever go­ing to make us look around and see ev­ery­thing as a gift call­ing us to bet­ter stew­ard­ship. If the pres­i­dent reads the en­cycli­cal, he might see some­thing that could do that, how­ever. A na­tion of peo­ple who claim to care about some of the most fun­da­men­tal things would do well to lead the way, free of dis­trac­tion and de­spair.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is se­nior fel­low at the Na­tional Re­view In­sti­tute, ed­i­tor-at­large of Na­tional Re­view On­line and found­ing di­rec­tor of Catholic Voices USA. She can be con­tacted at klopez@ na­tion­al­re­view.com.

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