Taking Responsibility for God's Creatures
Oct 4, 2018
Amid all the brouhaha over Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing and finally making trade peace with Mexico and Canada, another piece of news failed to get the attention it deserves. The news item simply states that a study by the Trump Administration (it doesn’t say who or what office therein) has determined that the global mean temperature will rise by 7 degrees Fahrenheit by the year 2100. If true, that is devastating.
Given the times we are in, you could chalk it up to “fake news” or “alternate facts.” We do know that global warming is occurring and the climate is changing. We do argue about how responsible human beings are.
Three years ago Pope Francis wrote a magnificent encyclical on the imperative of caring for our common home, the earth. Most people have not read it, and most people aren’t doing anything different than they used to. And so the situation is getting worse.
The Arctic ice is melting fast; so is the Greenland ice cap. So is the Antarctic ice. The oceans are becoming less saline and their temperatures warmer. Sea levels are rising. This has a big impact on the climate and us, too.
In 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. In 2012, as I was leaving New York to drive back to St. Louis, Hurricane Sandy came ashore, flooding Manhattan and demolishing large sections of New Jersey and Long Island. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew destroyed 90% of the infrastructure of the southern parts of Haiti. Last year was a big wake-up call: Hurricane Irma hit Naples and south Florida; Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico; and Hurricane Harvey brought a biblical flood to Houston. This year is going a little easy on us with just Hurricane Florence so far, but she wasn’t easy on the Carolinas. These were unusual, large super-storms.
In the Pacific, there are super typhoons. Right now, Super Typhoon Kong Rey is heading toward southern Japan, China, and Korea. In 2013, Typhoon Haiyan devastated the Philippines; it was stronger than Katrina and Sandy combined.
Tornadoes, too, are getting bigger and showing up where they didn’t use to. We all remember Joplin in 2011, when children were sucked out of cars by the wind and patients out of hospital windows.
Even if climate change isn’t our doing, we can still do something to slow it down, and we should.
If sea levels rise and Miami is underwater in 20 years, that is our doing. But this climate debacle has a worse effect. The people of Miami can move to Orlando, and the people of Manhattan can move to Paramus. The animals cannot. There is no Noah’s Ark. Animals are critically dependent on their unique environments and the climate.
If animals go extinct now, it is not their doing, but ours.
Scientists have determined that before humans evolved, less than a single species per million went extinct annually. Now the rate is 100 to 1,000 species lost per million per year, mostly due to human-caused habitat destruction and climate change.
Pope Francis wrote in Laudato Si:
32. The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
33. It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
The world will be a much poorer and uglier place without frogs, tropical birds, polar bears, and those other species critically endangered. We will have diminished God’s creation.
God Himself revealed to us in the Book of Sirach 42:22-24
How beautiful are all his works,
delightful to gaze upon and a joy to behold!
Everything lives and abides forever;
and to meet each need all things are preserved.
All of them differ, one from another,
yet none of them has he made in vain.
As a species, we humans have the power to save them like Noah had, not by building a huge ark but by doing the simple things involved in living a different way than we are now. It is all part of choosing life. So choose abundant life to the full.