September 16-23 is Catholic Week for the Environment
Last month, Australians learned how seriously the Pacific Island nations take climate change, and what they expect from Australia and from other developed nations. At a time when the Australian Government fears the long-term effects of Chinese diplomacy in the Pacific on Australian security, it has discovered that many of the Island leaders are more afraid of the shorter term effects on their survival of Australian irresponsibility on climate change.
The urgency with which the Island nations addressed climate change evoked Pope Francis’ pleas to take seriously the threat to our environment. It is important enough to him to set aside this month for the Catholic Church to reflect and act in response to it. In his Encyclical Laudato Si’ he insisted that action to protect the environment and to address climate change is as much an issue of justice as is providing shelter and food for the poor. The effects of neglecting and exploiting the environment fall heaviest on the poor. They also threaten the future of the planet and betrays the trust by which we hold our world for our children and grandchildren.
Pope Francis offers a vision of an interrelated world in which what we do well or badly in one of our relationships will affect all our other relationships. Our environment is not part of the world; it is our whole and only world. If we exploit and pollute the natural world, we shall also foul and put at risk our entire human world.
This vision is challenging but it is also reassuring. Many of us find it difficult to make care for the environment a personal priority because there seems to be such a large gap between anything we can do and the large realities of the environment – global warming, desertification, rising sea levels, the tension between the need for power and the threat to the environment posed by fossil fuels, and so on. But when we see the world as a network of relationships in which all is interconnected, we can work at seeking integrity in the relationships that shape our own lives.
From this perspective, our commitment to address the big environmental issues of our day begins with the small details of our daily life. We attend to the power we use, to the packaging we accept, to composting our food scraps for the growing of herbs, and to the ways we travel, for example. Attention to small details is not an attempt to look good but an expression of respect. Like the disciplines of fasting and of prayer that have traditionally undergirded a life lived to God, they form the matrix of a life that takes the environment seriously. As we pay attention to small things, we can recognise more clearly the character of our culture with its generous and reckless elements, its extravagance and its modesty, its destructive and its healing elements.
Personal attention to our domestic life, however, opens out into the larger relationships to people and to groups that are part of our lives. We begin to see the links between the neglect of the environment and the neglect of Indigenous Australians, people who seek protection and people who are disadvantaged. We begin to long for integral justice.
At Jesuit Social Services we have made this commitment to embody respect for our environment in all our processes and policies. It is a work in progress, involving review of the way we live, purchase and act in all our programs. We hope that it will contribute in some small way to encourage urgency in our society and nation.
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.