Pope Francis never met Marjory Stoneman Douglas, the intrepid environmentalist and defender of the Everglades in Florida, but if they had a chance to converse, they surely would have found much common ground in their fierce advocacy for Mother Earth. Unfortunately, the world came to know Douglas through the terrible tragedy of gun violence at the high school in Parkland, Florida that bears her name. In a sadly ironic way, the great loss of life in the Parkland shooting is the appalling consequence of what the Pope calls our “throw-away culture” in which everything, including human life, seems easily disposable because of selfish interests that defy the essential morality of care for the common good.
Political attitudes that think nothing of selling off the wilderness for corporate gain also defend the mindless acquisition of assault rifles as some kind of weird manifestation of freedom. It’s not. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Governance in a free society should be all about protecting everyone’s right to life, since without that first and most fundamental protection, we cannot enjoy our freedom. Freedom does not mean that I have the right to acquire as much as I want at the expense of everyone else. Rather, freedom means that we all work together cooperatively and with a shared vision to build a society rooted in fairness and justice for all, and in that kind of Good Society we can enjoy great freedom.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas urged her students to, “Be a nuisance where it counts.” Pope Francis seems to take that good advice to a new level, particularly on topics that truly irritate politicians who wish he would just be quiet, like the rights of immigrants, care for the poor, and environmental justice.
In the opening paragraphs of his magnificent 2015 encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis states the moral case for environmental justice quite clearly:
“Our Sister, Mother Earth, …. cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.”
Scott Pruitt, the chief administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, obviously has not read, or does not care about, the words of Pope Francis and the fundamental teachings of the Catholic Church on “care for God’s creation,” one of the seven tenets of Catholic social teaching. While Secretary Pruitt is not Catholic, he does profess to be “pro-life” but his policies and political positions on environmental protection are a direct affront to the preservation of human life and all life on this planet. While Pruitt has been embroiled in a breathtaking array of scandals, any one of which would nullify his appointment in any other administration, the real scandal of Pruitt’s continuing appointment is not his excessive greed and self-dealing, but rather, the many ways in which he is systematically destroying environmental protections.
Pruitt is a notorious climate change denier, has made “climate science” a dirty phrase at the EPA, and scientists are leaving the agency in record numbers. He has replaced scientists on advisory boards with industry representatives. Among the many damaging reversals of environmental protections he is leading at the behest of President Trump, some of the most damning include relaxation of rules requiring companies (oil, gas, power,automobile manufacturers, e.g.) to act to protect the environment by controlling the flow of harmful toxins from their products into the air and water; permitting offshore drilling and opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling, reduction of protected lands at Bears Ears in Utah to allow more development, and perhaps worst of all, withdrawal from the Paris Accords that are the global community’s most important commitment to saving this planet. He appointed Susan Combs, a vocal opponent of the Endangered Species Act, as the Interior Department Secretary of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. How can somebody who opposes protection for fish and wildlife even agree to take such a position? The moral vacuum of such decisions is appalling.
“We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, play the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.” (Laudato Si #36)
Law and policy forcing actions to protect the environment have actually proven effective over the last half century. Bald eagles are one example of a species restored after coming close to extinction. The Potomac River is getting closer to being safe for swimming. The Chesapeake Bay is showing signs of restoration after years of decline. And yet, with all the signs of progress, the current administration would return this nation and our planet to a time when the rivers and bays were more polluted, the air less breathable, the forests destroyed to build more shopping plazas and condos. Rolling back the clock on environmental protection will never make America great again, and in fact, it will hasten the destruction of the entire planet. Global climate change is real, and the consequences in droughts, wildfires, floods, increasingly violent hurricanes and destructive weather patterns are all a harbinger of a grim future if we allow climate science deniers to continue to hold office.
“I urgently appeal…for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all…We require a new and universal solidarity…All of us can cooperate as instruments of god for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” — Pope Francis, #14 in the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si, On Care for our Common Home
Let’s make sure that every day is Earth Day. Be that nuisance for what is right. Insist that our government officials act with moral sensibility in doing what is necessary and essential to ensure environmental protection as a matter of justice not only for ourselves, but to ensure that future generations will be able to enjoy the fullness of human life and all life on our small planet.
TRINITY STUDENT GOVERNMENT IS HOSTING A SCREENING OF “RIVER BLUE” ON THURSDAY AT 6:30 PM
SGA President Gabrielle Clary writes: River Blue is a film about the fashion industry’s impact on our water resources. We are working with Fashion Revolution and Free the Slaves, two non-profit organizations that focus on human rights and environmental sustainability. After the film, there will be a panel discussion. The panel includes two reps from the World Bank, a DC government rep , and an Anacostia River historian. If you have time in your day on Thursday feel free to come to Social Hall to join the event. The flyer is below. If you know of any other guests that would like to come, the link to RSVP is also attached below.