The Catholic perspective on the environment

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Caring for the environment is a moral issue, a Catholic leader said in a recent speech shared with U.S. Catholic.

Guest blog post by Patrick Carolan

The basis of Catholic concern over climate change is exemplified in psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that it holds.” In response to the wonderful gift that God has given us of clean air, life-sustaining water, fruits from the land’s harvests and even nourishment from the sea, we are called to not only honor God for these many blessings but to also do so by honoring his creation.

It is because we value our relationship with God and God’s creation that climate change is for us Catholics a profoundly spiritual, ethical, and moral issue. Climate change is not about economic theory or political platform; it is most certainly not about partisan politics or concessions to special interest groups on either side of the argument.

Climate change is about our responsibility as God’s children and people of faith to care for each other and future generations by caring for all of God’s wondrous creation.

Pope John Paul II said: “We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the wellbeing of future generations.”

In a statement issued by the USCCB called “Renewing the earth,” our call is to be stewards of the earth. In it, the bishops pointed out that as stewards, “we seek to explore the links between concern for the person and for the earth and for natural ecology and social ecology. The web of life is One.”

In a January 2010 address Pope Benedict 16 stated, “If we wish to build true peace, how can we separate or even set at odds, the protection of the environment and the protection of human life.”

The human contribution to climate change represents one of the clearest examples of how human activity can be damaging to God’s wondrous creation. We need to recover the spiritual values that respect God’s creation. For those of us in economically developed countries, we have a duty to examine the ethics of responsible usage of God’s resources.

These resources do not belong exclusively to us, they belong to God and therefore are to be treated with reverence and used prudently. As Children of God and brother and sister with each other, we need to be more prudent in the use of Gods resources so that we can share the gifts of God’s creation more fully with the poor and marginalized.

In the Bible we are called to love God, and care for each other and all of God’s creation. If we improperly or disproportionately use the fruit of God’s earth, we not only dishonor him but also we ultimately endanger the livelihood of our poor and marginalized siblings who most depend on God’s creation.

As a result, what was once an individual decision now becomes a moral issue since it is the poor and marginalized who will tragically suffer the worst of the consequences, while not having contributed to climate change. Catholic social teaching calls on us to first consider how our actions and policies affect the poor, marginalized, and most vulnerable people. As God’s children, we must never forget our moral obligation to our brothers and sisters in need.

In his 1990 World peace day message pope John Paul II stated, “There is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflict, and injustices among people and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources which leads to a progressive decline in the quality of life. The sense of precariousness and insecurity that such a situation engenders is a seedbed for collective selfishness, disregard for others and dishonesty.”

As part of the Franciscan tradition we emphasize “thisness,” the unique specialness of each particular living and nonliving thing, which is loved individually and particularly by God. Every tree every pond, every member of every species is unique and special to God.

I would like to close with these words from Pope Benedict in his World Day of Peace message in 2008: “Prudence does not mean failing to accept responsibilities and postponing decisions. It means being committed to making joint decisions and pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthen that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative Love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying.”


Patrick Carolan is executive director of the Franciscan Action Network.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.