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Catholics and the Environment: The Climate Change Controversy

By Deacon Keith Fournier
August 1st, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement. We are called to what I call a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and to share. For those eager to understand Catholic teaching on this vital topic, we should always begin with scripture and tradition. We have a well of teaching in the Church on our relationship to the gift of God's creation. The concern I have about some of the arguments concerning global warming is that they promote one more charged right vs. left political food fight. Sadly, they often use sometimes conflicting scientific data as fodder for the fight. We are not first political conservatives or liberals, we are first, last and all in between, Catholic.

CHESAPEAKE, VA (Catholic Online) - Among the many news or views articles published on Catholic Online which evoke impassioned responses, those which address environmental concerns seem to generate the most frustration - from otherwise regular readers.

Just this morning, I received a comment from someone with the handle scottr which was addressed to me, expressing his frustration with an article which I did not write. The article was entitled IT'S ALREADY TOO LATE: Sea level rise dooms American cities even if emissions stop

First, in the interest of full disclosure, I edited the comment from scottr, deleting my name as the subject being addressed because I did not write the article to which he objected. However, I think the readers comment and my response can be valuable in addressing the concern which he raised. It also presents me with another opportunity to weigh in on the issues related to this vital area of stewardship.

Below are the comment and my response. It is followed by a restatement of my own approach to this vital area of concern.

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Comment from scottr:

How long are you going to repel your otherwise faithful readers with this drivel. You just published not long ago that sea levels are not rising and that temperatures are not either for the last 20 yrs. I just came from Alaska yesterday. Visited the glaciers. I loved the alarming talks on the glaciers receding because of global warming. However, the maps they used showed that the melting started long before the industrial revolution. It started at the end of the last mini ice age. The last mini ice age is well documented by the church and others. After an ice age, things warm up. Those how study history know that our warming trend is not much different than previous warming trends.

Today we just have humans that can place concrete on the ground and say this is my land. So if nature fluctuates and my house is in danger, it can't be that I am a moron for building in a flood prone area or the like. it has to be someone else's fault. Way back when, if the lake level rose or shrunk, you packed up and moved. Today, we have to be paid for that. It has to be someone else's fault. Remember when forest fires used to burn until they burned out? They emit much more pollution than you can imagine.

The level that God pollutes on (VOC, PM10, CO2, etc) is God like by comparison to our levels. Please stop the propaganda. Good stewardship, yes. Send man back to living in caves, can't happen unless you kill off most all the population first. Oh, that's right, that is what the liberals are trying to do. that's what abortion and contraception are for. As Catholics we have to evaluate the whole picture. As liberals, you only have to look at what is best for you. Please stop the propaganda. it is a sad laugh at your expense. Trust that God made the earth dynamic and made fuels for us to use to sustain ourselves. Remember, creation was good!

Response from Deacon Keith Fournier:

To: Scottr: I did not write the article you are commenting upon. In fact, I do not agree with its supposition. In fact, I disagree with what I believe is its alarmist approach. I have written several articles on what I believe is a Catholic Way of being properly "green". Scottr, this is one of those areas where Catholics and other Christians can and do disagree among themselves. It is a matter of prudential judgement. I would welcome an article from you if you desire to express your own position.

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Now, I will weigh in once again on the climate change controversy and restate my own position.

Our obligation to live a proper stewardship of the environment is grounded in our obligation to - and solidarity with - one another. It begins with the understanding that we have been given to one another as gifts. In addition, creation is a gift, entrusted to us together as a human community. That brings with it responsibilities which we must find a way to share.

Years ago, as a very young man, my return home to the faith was greatly influenced by Francis of Assisi. The simple approach of Francis of Assisi, receiving creation as a gift and living in a relational way with creatio, still challenges me all these years later.  It is about more than romance or piety, it speaks to reality.

In a letter on the environment released on January 1, 2010, Pope Emeritus Benedict explained, "There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. On the other hand, a correct understanding of the relationship between man and the environment will not end by absolutizing nature or by considering it more important than the human person."

"If the Church's magisterium expresses grave misgivings about notions of the environment inspired by ecocentrism and biocentrism, it is because such notions eliminate the difference of identity and worth between the human person and other living things."

"In the name of a supposedly egalitarian vision of the "dignity" of all living creatures, such notions end up abolishing the distinctiveness and superior role of human beings. They also open the way to a new pantheism tinged with neo-paganism, which would see the source of man's salvation in nature alone, understood in purely naturalistic terms."

With characteristic clarity, His Holiness Benedict XVI encouraged a proper approach to a relationship with creation and exposed the dangers within certain streams of contemporary environmentalism.

Catholic Online has published many articles which offer a point/counterpoint on the controversial topic of climate change or global warming. I did not write any of them. I do not share some of the alarm sounded over climate change.  In fact, I disagree with some of what I believe is an overreaction expressed in some of those articles.

However, I do believe we have an obligation to care for the creation. It is a gift and has been given to us with a stewardship attached. We have also abused creation.Our stewardship over this gift of creation is a part of our Baptismal obligation and our call to discipleship.  Because what is called global warming or climate change is one of those areas where the exercise of prudential judgment can find good Catholics and other Christians differing with one another. When we do, we should do so with charity.

The Catholic Church has been green for a lot longer than any modern environmental movement. We are called to what I call a relational environmentalism; one of stewardship with the earth which God has made and entrusted to us to care for and to share. For those eager to understand Catholic teaching on this vital topic, we should always begin with scripture and tradition.

We have a well of teaching in the Church on our relationship to the gift of God's creation. The concern I have about some of the arguments concerning global warming is that they promote one more charged right vs. left political food fight.

Sadly, they often use sometimes conflicting scientific data as fodder for the fight. We are not first political conservatives or liberals, we are first, last and all in between, Catholic.

In addition to affirming our obligations as stewards of the gift of creation, the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Catholic Church warns about a misguided approach. For example in paragraph # 463 we read, 'A correct understanding of the environment prevents the utilitarian reduction of nature to a mere object to be manipulated and exploited.'

'At the same time, it must not absolutize nature and place it above the dignity of the human person himself. In this latter case, one can go so far as to divinize nature or the earth, as can readily be seen in certain ecological movements that seek to gain an internationally guaranteed institutional status for their beliefs.'

'The Magisterium finds the motivation for its opposition to a concept of the environment based on ecocentrism and on biocentrism in the fact that "it is being proposed that the ontological and axiological difference between men and other living beings be eliminated, since the biosphere is considered a biotic unity of undifferentiated value. Thus man's superior responsibility can be eliminated in favor of an egalitarian consideration of the 'dignity' of all living beings'.

Some in what is called the green movement have lost their way. The most obvious example is the inherent contradiction of worrying about polluting the atmosphere with toxic chemicals while at the same time supporting making toxic chemicals available to be ingested by mothers, including girls, in order to kill the children in their womb. We need a new way of being green, a Catholic way.

We need a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace and fundamentally relational. We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, our common home, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use.

The recent popes have articulated a vision of what they call a human ecology. This is a great term which should be thoroughly explored by those who are rightly concerned with this vital area. I suggest that Catholics, who truly want to inform their own thinking on this sometimes controversial topic of climate change, spend time prayerfully reading and reflecting on their insights.Also, that they read the sections in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. We should begin with the teaching of the Church as we exercise prudential judgment in evaluating this entire area of legitimate concern.

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