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HomeOpinionOp-EdFront Porch | Repairers of creation: the challenge of environmental justice

Front Porch | Repairers of creation: the challenge of environmental justice

“Island nations in the Caribbean are fast becoming influential test beds for innovative climate action, such as investing in decentralized renewable energy.”

– UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

 “Earth reminded us of a Christmas tree ornament hanging in the blackness of space. As we got farther and farther away it diminished in size. Finally, it shrank to the size of a marble, the most beautiful marble you can imagine. That beautiful, warm, living object looked so fragile, so delicate…Seeing this has to change a person, has to make a person appreciate the creation of God and the love of God”. – Astronaut James Irwin

In the Jewish and Christian traditions there is a vast body of theological reflection on the brokenness of creation because of human sinfulness. Both traditions also insist on human responsibility in helping to repair and to restore creation.

The liberal Jewish notion “tikkum olam” refers to the responsibility of humans in helping to redress the problems of the world through personal and collective action.

This vision is a summons to the promotion of social and environmental justice, which are inextricably linked. From Genesis to Psalms to the Christian Gospels to the Letters of Paul, the love and divinity of God is revealed in the created order.

The created order is now threatened by mass pollution and the existential threat of a warming planet, both of which will result in vast and dire consequences for the environment and for animals and humans, collectively posing the most complex social questions of the times and in the history of the world.

Humanity can now destroy our planetary home through nuclear annihilation and an ever warming climate, both of which have the potential to unleash Armageddon.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes the link between faith and caring for creation:

“We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan, it is a requirement of our faith.

“We are called to protect people and the planet, living our faith in relationship with all of God’s creation. This environmental challenge has fundamental moral and ethical dimensions that cannot be ignored.”

Encyclical

In his encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home”, Pope Francis urges:

“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.

“… Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”

The climate emergency of a warming planet caused by human activity, caused mostly by the first world and emerging economies risk devastating the poorer and the more vulnerable citizens of the world.

Our heating planet will lead to even more massive refugee flows, more intense battles for natural resources, the potential for wars and conflicts, and vicious xenophobia across the globe.

Environmental justice concerns how the most vulnerable countries and peoples are affected by the lifestyles of many richer countries, which are failing to help to repair the creation they are destroying through hyper materialism and the avarice of global conglomerates.

Among the most vulnerable countries in the world are Small Island Developing States such as in the Caribbean.

The Bahamas is especially vulnerable, though we contribute very little to a heating planet. We are home to approximately 14 percent of the world’s coral reefs “and to the Andros Barrier Reef, one of the world’s largest barrier reefs”.

With rising sea levels coastal cities throughout the planet are threatened. While many cities in the world and the region are coastal, the entire Bahamas archipelago is a coastal zone.

It is not only our land and marine resources that are threatened. The Bahamian people are threatened, including less developed islands and settlements such as Ragged Island, Acklins and potentially vulnerable communities.

 Principles

In “On Care for Our Common Home”, Pope Francis blends the principles of the common good and environmental stewardship.

“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us.

“We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.

“Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit.”

During the recent CARICOM heads of government meeting in St. Lucia, United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres addressed pollution by plastics and the global climate emergency and the devastating effects on the Caribbean.

Addressing the heads he declared: “You are our important allies in the fight against climate disruption. We hear your voices loud and clear in the negotiation halls.

“You have been stalwart advocates for a 1.5-degree threshold for over a decade, pushing leaders to devise new models of economic development and affordable, reliable energy access.

“Island nations in the Caribbean are fast becoming influential test beds for innovative climate action, such as investing in decentralized renewable energy.”

The secretary general continued: “This will not only yield more economically sustainable sources of electricity, but it will provide clean energy solutions.

 “… Around eight million tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually. In the Caribbean, you see the impacts of this pollution.

“We need to fight climate change, we need to fight also against the degradation of oceans that unfortunately we have not been able to stop.

“We all have to act on a daily basis to counter these grave threats to marine ecosystems and the tourism sector — that are so central to your economies.”

 Pressure

Guterres stressed: “From plastic pollution to coastline erosion, more frequent extreme weather events, sea level rise and biodiversity loss, Caribbean states face immense pressure due to the actions that are committed, essentially, by others.

“I highly commend the leadership of CARICOM heads in presenting a bold vision to make the Caribbean the world’s first Climate Resilient Zone.”

In 2005 the late Archbishop Lawrence Burke, S.J., who was then the ordinary of Kingston, Jamaica, was president of the Antilles Episcopal Conference when the pastoral letter, Caring for the Earth – Our Responsibility, An Invitation to Action was issued.

The call to responsibility and action detailed myriad aspects of the climate crises, which have worsened in the intervening 14 years.

“This rise [in temperature] could impact disproportionately on poor countries. Global warming and consequent sea level rise, higher sea surface temperatures, increased precipitation, changes in wind and ocean currents, can have a serious impact on the sustainable development of Caribbean Small Island Developing States.

“Low lying states depend on the protective barriers of coral reefs, sea grass beds and mangroves which offer protection to coastlands, anchorages, beaches, buildings and coastal infrastructure.

“Global warming and its subsequent increase in sea levels will also compromise these states’ ability to provide food directly (fisheries), and indirectly, through salt water intrusion, will impact negatively on employment, (e.g. tourism, fishing, recreation) and building materials.”

The letter continued: “The natural protection of coastal defenses from reefs and mangroves will be needed most in the face of sea level rise and in the escalation in the frequency and intensity of tropical storms and hurricanes, to which we are highly vulnerable.

“ … Along with sea level rise, global warming brings with it coastal flooding, salt water intrusion into ground wells, changes in weather patterns, increase in frequency and severity of thunder storms and increases in diseases such as malaria.

“ … It is predicted that the Caribbean will get wetter dry seasons and drier rainy seasons. Overall there may be less rainfall and therefore higher levels of drought. Rainfall levels in the region have been dropping consistently for years, but when it does rain it is torrential and damaging.”

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