Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Ecological Crisis: In Search of a Solution

Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness—both individual and collective—are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence. (Pope John Paul II, 1989)

There are those who argue that America would be foolhardy to suffer under a self-imposed cap and trade policy in an effort to limit green house gas emissions when China has been building new coal-fired plants at a rate of three per month and, it is estimated will, by 2020, generate roughly the same amount of electricity from coal as the United States does from all sources combined. Why should we saddle ourselves with what amounts to a tax on CO2 emissions when China, and for that matter India, and probably other developing countries will continue to use cheap coal?

The irony of the argument for doing nothing, although it recognizes the reality of an interconnected and therefore, interdependent world, is that it is promulgated by global warming deniers. These people, represented aggressively by the Heartland Institute, among others, with support from major players in US industry, have all along denied the human element in global warming, but in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence to the contrary are now changing tactics. Basically, their argument boils down to, They're doing it. Why shouldn't we? To label this argument juvenile is to give it more credit than it is due. These people are not ignorant of the facts, they simply choose to distort or ignore them in order to further the ends of complicit industrial partners who can't imagine a future in which their bottom line isn't the promised land to which all humanity aspires.

Let's face the facts. The United States, a country just two hundred and thirty-three years old, has pumped more green house gases into the environment cumulatively since 1850 than any other country, including the combined countries of the European Union. America's cumulative contribution to GHG emissions is four times that of China, and fifteen times that of India. China did overtake the US in 2007 as the World's largest emitter of CO2 from fuel combustion, but the per capita CO2 emission in the US is five times that of China. In 2007, the United States alone generated 20% of world CO2 emissions, despite a population of less than 5% of the global total.

The United States has been an industrial powerhouse creating a standard of living for its citizens that is the envy of the world. America's scientific and technological achievements are second to none. Americans on the whole, are one of the World's most generous people. It is now time for America to translate its productivity, its science and technology, and its generosity into comprehensive, wide-ranging action to rescue our imperiled planet.

In his 1989 message, Pope John Paul II made the point that "the newly industrialized States cannot... be asked to apply restrictive environmental standards to their emerging industries unless the industrialized States first apply them within their own boundaries. At the same time, countries in the process of industrialization are not morally free to repeat the errors made in the past by others, and recklessly continue to damage the environment through industrial pollutants, radical deforestation, or unlimited exploitation of non-renewable resources."

The Pope points out that "The earth is ultimately A COMMON HERITAGE, THE FRUITS OF WHICH ARE FOR THE BENEFIT OF ALL. God destined the earth and all it contains for the use of every individual and all peoples (Gaudium et Spes, 69). It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence. Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness—both individual and collective—are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence.

The Pope goes on to say that "There is an order in the universe which must be respected, and that the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IS A MORAL ISSUE. Even men and women without any particular religious conviction, but with an acute sense of their responsibilities for the common good, recognize their obligation to contribute to the restoration of a healthy environment. All the more should men and women who believe in God the Creator, and who are thus convinced that there is a well-defined unity and order in the world, feel called to address the problem. Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty towards nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith." Evangelical Christian leaders have published their own call to action on global warming.

Pope John Paul II conveys both the critical need for action to rescue the environment, but also the moral responsibility we all have for doing so. He makes it clear that countries and their leaders must work hand-in-hand to overcome the obstacles to effective action. Those obstacles include, among others, distrust, greed, selfishness, and apathy.

According to Pope John Paul II, modern society must take a serious look at its life style. This, I think, is particularly true of American society, where consumerism has been for so long now, the engine that drives the US economy. After former President George W. Bush signed into law an economic stimulus package that, among other things, provided $600 to individuals, there were some who voiced regret that people seemed to be saving the money rather than spending it. The fact that on average, the US tax payer was burdened with nine to ten thousand dollars of annual debt didn't seem to matter. Our commercial sector creates products that are designed to be thrown out, and packages them elaborately in plastic, and cardboard, and paper, and cellophane, and rubber, and we throw that out, too. If America continues to be a throw away society, we are likely to find ourselves throwing away our future.

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