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Sunday, December 25, 2011

God and sinners, reconciled

Let the heavens be glad and the earth rejoice;
let the sea and what fills it resound;
let the plains be joyful and all that is in them!
Then shall all the trees of the forest exult.
R. Today is born our Savior, Christ the Lord.
(Responsorial Psalm, 96: 1-2, 2-3, 11-12, 13, Midnight Mass)

This painting by Lorenzo Lotto (1480–1556) reminds us that Christ’s cross is not detached from His crib of hope. As the Christmas hymn refrains, God and sinners require reconciliation. And so today, on the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, we celebrate the great moment when God came among us, visibly—born to Mary in poverty.

At Christmas—especially the powerful liturgies of Midnight Mass, from which I’ve just returned—the sinful nature of man is contrasted with the self-revealing humility and stunning love of our Creator. Indeed, while celebrating the birth of Christ, we cannot forget exactly why we sinners needed, and need, his salvific entry into human history.

Modern culture doesn’t encourage talk of sin, but I often refer to the sinful nature of man to explain why I have a job. As an environmental regulator, I am employed to ensure that people do what needs to be done to be good stewards of a tender natural order. Sin, however, often makes people do otherwise.

This struck home a few weeks back when at work I attended a presentation on the latest issue confronting many environmental regulators: hydrofracking.

Hydrofracking is a method to free up natural gas from shale deposits deep underground. The process requires water—lots of it—that is enhanced with chemicals and injected deep below the earth’s surface. The resulting pressure opens new pathways for natural gas to escape, be collected, and used for human consumption.

Proponents of the process celebrate hydrofracking’s ability to offer homemade, relatively clean natural gas, rather than importing it from overseas—especially from politically volatile regions. The jobs and the resource it produces are real—which benefit many.

But not everyone is celebrating.
Photo: Flicker/Adrian Kinloch

Critics of the process—ecologists across the globe and many who live in areas where high levels of natural gas deposits have captured the attention of energy companies—claim that fracking contaminates drinking water aquifers, pollutes surface waters, and generally makes life unpleasant. You’ll hear the word “poisoning” often from critics of hydrofracking, and perhaps for good reason.

In the upper mid-Atlantic region of the United States, in an area known as the Marcellus Shale deposits, local governments and homegrown activists are seeking to reign in the damage being done from fracking and things are heating up as people get impatient.

And so we have the classic conflict between jobs, energy, and profits versus local ecologies, homeowners’ rights, and public health—and it’s all making lots of news.

One significant problem is that environmental regulators seem to be in catch-up mode with the natural gas industry.

For instance, because so much water is needed for high-pressure injection, companies are hiring a good many local haulers who may or may not be trained in disposing of the collected, soiled water. Or the occasional hauler may struggle with ethics. And that’s where sin comes in: It is conceivable that local truckers may seek to forego long drives to water treatment facilities because dumping their contents into a local stream allows them to make more runs and pocket more money than they could if they followed the rules.

Then there’s the science behind the interplay of fracking with drinking water aquifers. A recent EPA report seems to justify the concerns of many neighboring residents of fracking operations, but more research is needed to know how to better regulate the industry.

I could go on—and I will as the story unfolds. But for now, I’d like pull back to the topic of the day: Christmas.

Photo: Flicker/Thomas Hawk
The need for a savior—for our King of Kings—is apparent when we witness firsthand the weakness of other human beings, and of ourselves. Sometimes evil seems to be unstoppable, or it seems to lurk within what should be a positive development for local economies.

But Christmas reminds us that sin has a divine, invincible opponent. As the Holy Father noted in his Christmas Eve homily:
For the people of pre-Christian times, whose response to the terrors and contradictions of the world was to fear that God himself might not be good either, that he too might well be cruel and arbitrary, this was a real “epiphany”, the great light that has appeared to us: God is pure goodness. Today too, people who are no longer able to recognize God through faith are asking whether the ultimate power that underpins and sustains the world is truly good, or whether evil is just as powerful and primordial as the good and the beautiful which we encounter in radiant moments in our world. “The kindness and love of God our Saviour for mankind were revealed”: this is the new, consoling certainty that is granted to us at Christmas. In all three Christmas Masses, the liturgy quotes a passage from the Prophet Isaiah, which describes the epiphany that took place at Christmas in greater detail: “A child is born for us, a son given to us and dominion is laid on his shoulders; and this is the name they give him: Wonder-Counsellor, Mighty-God, Eternal-Father, Prince-of-Peace. Wide is his dominion in a peace that has no end” (Is 9:5f.).
And so let we sinners rejoice at the coming of Christ into human history, because as this environmental regulator can attest to from the shortcomings of others—and most especially my own—we need Christ.

And for all those suffering from the ills of fracking, let us again pay heed to the Holy Father’s Christmas homily:
And let us also pray especially at this hour for all who have to celebrate Christmas in poverty, in suffering, as migrants, that a ray of God’s kindness may shine upon them, that they – and we – may be touched by the kindness that God chose to bring into the world through the birth of his Son in a stable. Amen.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Archbishop Dolan, Frankincense, and marriage

While I was busy with Christmas preparations and year-end parish and diocesan work, a few big news items came along that need to be acknowledged.

The happiest of news is that this week, the Holy Father accepted a miracle attributed to Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha (1656-1880), placing her on the list for elevation to sainthood. Bl. Tekakwitha is the patron for all things ecological, and we are much in need of her intercession.

 I also came across insights on a growing environmental issue here in the US—one that, like what I'll be discussing below, has something to say about our need for a Savior. More on that in an upcoming post.

For now: Kudos to Archbishop Timothy Dolan for eloquently explaining the Holy Father’s ecological mindfulness. Here’s a sampling:
As the Holy Father teaches, just as disturbing the environment outside of us has dire consequences, so does contradicting the inner ecology of our very person harm ourselves and others.
Sadly, at the very time more and more people are realizing that the environment of nature and creation demands respect and protection, fewer and fewer people acknowledge that the ecology inherent in the human person needs reverence as well.
When the environment of the human person is “polluted” by disobedience to the natural law protecting it, there is, literally, “hell to pay,” for that individual, and for the common good.
As I’ve posted about herein (here, here, and here, for instance) the use of the term “human ecology” continues to unpacked by Church leaders—and rightly so. It is one that can help evangelize, catechize, and, thus, save souls.

Two recent news stories—one cultural, one ecological—make this point.

A report out on marriage by PEW Research Center notes that just under “half of all adults in the United States—a record low—are currently married, and the median age at first marriage has never been higher for brides (26.5 years) and grooms (28.7).”

The report isn’t all bad news, but it does seem to show a cultural change in the way we in America view this ancient cultural foundation—which mirrors trends in other Western cultures, too. What are the societal impacts of all this? The report doesn’t dig deep into that question, but this line is telling:
Younger generations are more likely than those ages 50 and older to hold the view that marriage is becoming obsolete. Some 44% of blacks say marriage is becoming obsolete, compared with 36% of whites. Adults with college degrees (27%) are much less likely than those with a high school diploma or less (45%) to agree that marriage is becoming obsolete.
Interestingly, the report later notes that just under half of those who say that marriage is becoming obsolete also said they would like to be married. Clearly, a cultural conversation of epic proportions is taking place, a dialogue that is convincing people that a new age of freedom is approaching and that the old ways are dying. This, of course, is a lie. The only age that’s growing is a culture of death, one which seeks to undo the place and beauty of committed relationships between men and women.

In the eco-world, a Christmas report on the apparent demise of Frankincense shows us a natural-world example of what happens when cultures cooperate with death. Particularly, this is an example of what happens when people take what they want at unhealthy rates from unhealthy ecosystems. The reported reasons for the decline in the resin-producing trees are many, which demonstrates the interlocking nature of ecology and man’s impact on it.

In short, whether you’re speaking of Frankincense or marriage, there are ecologies in nature (human and natural) that we humans must respect. This “must” is not some sort of ethical nicety, but a hardwired reality in the fabric of the cosmos. We ignore such laws at our peril.

Which is why, quite obviously, we need help in saving ourselves and our ecology. And so we pray,

O come, O come, Thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times did'st give the Law,
In cloud, and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Our purchases and our prayers

Published November 2011

In December 1958, Pope John XXIII denounced China’s treatment of Roman Catholics. At a consistory for the elevation of cardinals, the Holy Father noted, "For a long time Catholics throughout China have been living under the most difficult circumstances.

Missionaries, archbishops, and bishops have been accused of false crimes, thrown into prison, and finally sent into exile. Even bishops who are Chinese by birth have been put into places of confinement, and not a few have been expelled."

Little has changed in five decades. Last year, Father Bernardo Cervellera, an observer of relations between Rome and China, pointed to a number of troubling activities. He noted that in many ways "we are back in the 1950s.”

Also troubling are China’s ecological and public health issues. Massive levels of pollution continue to be a deadly byproduct of the nation’s hyper-industrialization, which has grown out of the West’s love of paying low, low prices.

When we add everything up, we soon realize that something is wrong with China. And so we ask ourselves, should we be enabling these great ills?

No, we shouldn’t, which is why Catholics should stop buying religious goods from China. Low prices for crucifixes and statues are helpful to those here of little means, but the price being paid by the real people, families, and ecology of China is quite high. And remember, some of those real people are Chinese Catholics faithful to Rome, even if in doing so they find themselves persecuted.

In another troubled region there is a group of men and women who may provide us with a different sort of alternative to China’s factories—besides, of course, the important buy-American option.

The Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans is a business community rooted in the Holy Land that abides by “fair trade” philosophies and business practices. In part, that means they’re environmentally friendly. “Fair trade” means they seek to do business in a sustainable manner in areas where economies have failed the poor.

Originally comprised of mostly Christian families, the BFTA now has many Muslims working for and alongside Christians to make Christian religious items and many other goods, like jewelry, fine embroidery, soaps, and more. There’s a website below to browse and order from these women and men who seek to provide unique merchandise at competitive prices—and in so doing help maintain a healthy standard of living for places like Bethlehem and other areas of the Holy Land.

Suzan Sahori, the executive director of the BFTA, explained to me some of the struggles that the group faces: “Restrictions from nearby governments and the importing of very cheap replicas from foreign governments have caused a huge financial burden for the local artisans. While they continue to produce high quality handmade treasures, they are being outsold and undersold by cheap labor.”

Sahori mentioned the Israeli separation wall and other realities that make production and sales difficult for the artisans. But she noted optimism in her certainty that the principals of fair trade policies, as well as international support, can help. In time, she hopes that many small successes will show a growing audience how the fair trade practices can continue to benefit places like Bethlehem.

You and I can help this work. Our purchases and (especially) our prayers will go far to help the Bethlehem Fair Trade Artisans help their homes and families. Indeed, we should pray fervently for the intercession of St. Joseph, not just for these artisans in Bethlehem but also for the factory workers in China; both groups struggle for dignity and a fair wage in an uncertain world.

Our boycott of Chinese religious goods and our purchases from the BFTA can discourage bad practices while encouraging good. And our prayers for both peoples will be in good hands with the patron of workers. Moreover, such prayers will remind us that we share a common humanity and the same Lord, who came among us to shepherd home the many peoples of the human race.

Visit the BFTA web site here.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Immaculate Conception: A reminder of God's primacy

Father, the image of the Virgin is found in the Church. Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts her readiness of faith. Prepare once again a world for your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Carbon, climate, and ongoing criticism

First, I’d like to thank Ian from the Catholic Laboratory for interviewing me as part of his series on the Catholic engagement of science. Visit his site here and access the interview here. It was an honor to chat about the Catholic perspective of ecology for his listeners.

One topic discussed was, of course, climate change. Since recording this podcast, a few items on the topic have come to light that are worth sharing.

One is a recent study published by the United States Department of the Interior. It looks at how the natural world stores carbon. This is knowledge that may very well be helpful in understanding how we can live and work on Earth in better balance with the created order.

According to the Department of Interior:
“This report will give tools to the policymakers, land managers and the public to make sound decisions, such as whether to restore wetlands, harvest trees, develop agricultural lands, or consider no-till farming practices,” said [Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J.] Hayes. For example, a community might need to decide whether to convert grasslands and forests to croplands or urban areas to meet the demands of a growing population. Such decisions have varying consequences related to carbon sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions.
Changes in carbon storage are driven by both short- and long-term changes to the landscape. In the Great Plains, carbon storage is expected to increase based on near-future land use and management practices such as decreased timber harvesting and changes to crop management, including expanded fertilizer applications and no-till farming. The rate of increase is projected to slow somewhat over time due to climate change and land-use transitions such as grasslands or forests conversion to croplands or urban areas.
For engineers, planners and regulators, this is a meaningful study. For all of us, it simply shows that we are not always at war with nature, and vice versa.

Sadly, Catholic leaders are often criticized when they speak of such science. While I’ve posted on this just recently, I have to once again note my dismay at how some of my brothers and sisters in Christ are responding to Catholic concerns on ecology—especially climate change.

Here we get to another item in the news: As reported by Vatican Radio, Caritas Internationalis President Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga described any failure of recent climate talks in Durban, South Africa as “moral apartheid.”

In his impassioned homily on the Second Sunday of Advent, given at Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban, Cardinal Maradiaga preached the following:
The first Reading already called on us to “Console my people, console them”. Barely a week ago, torrential downpours caused a great deal of suffering and death in Durban. Don’t we realise that the climate is out of control? How long will countless people have to go on dying before adequate decisions are taken? It’s true that in faith we wait “for the new heavens and the new earth” as the second Reading told us, but this does not mean indifference or complicity with those who destroy this land where we live. “Living holy and saintly lives” means living in justice with creation and the environment, and especially with the poor people who are the primary victims of this serious problem. In the desert John “cried out” the need to prepare a way for the Lord. Today, in the desert of our planet Earth, and in the desert of our hearts, the same voice is ringing out. This conference of delegates from so many countries cannot remain as a voice silenced by economic power. It’s a voice that cries out and calls on us to: “Prepare a way for the Lord, make his paths straight.” At least for the moment, we should set aside our lists of pending tasks to listen to this voice that is clamouring within us: “Console my people, console them.” Powerful nations of the world, we are expecting from you the courageous decisions the world needs to live in peace and solidarity.
He then goes on to explore the personal, inner struggles each of us have in clearing a path for God, but his focus returns to the issues of the human suffering caused by a changing climate, and, thus, the importance of the UN climate conference.

News of the homily did not sit well with some. Postings at the Catholic World News site, for instance, were mostly critical of the Cardinal, and harshly so.

Here’s a sampling:
  • Your Eminence, the climate has always been and will always be out of control! The entire program of those who claim we are ruining the climate is to limit development by limiting energy production -- this is the worst thing that can happen to poor people. The people behind the panic are the anti-population, anti-development nihilists who are no friends of the poor.
  • The more Cardinals talk this way about socio-political topics, the less trust I put in their judgment. Cardinals would do better to build up the Faith and restore Tradition rather than offering oblations to every sacred cow of this benighted age.
  • Well, when it comes to green issues, count me an advocate of moral apartheid. It is becoming increasingly difficult to take seriously much of anything that comes out of the Vatican on economic or environmental affairs.
Once again we see the unfortunate and unnecessary war between political ideologies fouling the dialogue between faith and reason. I know that this is to be expected in our fallen world and with our fallen human nature, but I don’t have to like it.

I discuss some of this in the Catholic Laboratory interview, but I’ll repeat a brief bit here. Our understanding of anthropomorphic climate change is as about as sound as one can get in the world of science. And what the science implies is this: Existing patterns of water and food supplies will alter as does the climate, and this will bring hardship to populations that can’t easily move with such shifts. The science is also telling us that weather patters, thermal energy, and moisture concentrations will also shift as does the climate. Again, this will cause harm to people. Harm will also come from rising levels of the world's oceans, seas, bays, and estuaries—rises that are already being recorded and noticed.

One can understand some of the points made by critics of Cardinal Maradiaga’s homily. It is not appropriate to equate individual weather events with climate. But it seems that what the Cardinal was referring to is not individual events, but patterns of events experienced and communicated to him by many in his care. And climate is about patterns.

I commend the Cardinal for his homily and his passion. As a good pastor who has most certainly learned at thing or two from his time hearing confessions, sometimes we really can see the patterns of sin in the world. And when we do, we must respond, repent, and change our ways so that we can prepare the way for the Lord—even if such repenting, changing, and preparing is painful.

And so here at this contentious intersection of faith, reason, carbon, and climate, I’ll end on a happy note—with an Irish blessing sent to me just today by a wonderful woman in my parish. In her Christmas note to me she wrote this, which I wish now to you, to Cardinal Maradiaga, and to those who criticize him:
May life gently lead you through its lush fields of good fortune, and always may God fill your heart with peace and understanding.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Isaiah and the nature of holiness

I’m back from Rome and have much to share from news in the eco-world. But before getting mired in anything too scientific, let's first look to today’s Mass readings—especially this passage of Isaiah, which is rich with natural imagery. Clearly, this inspired author meant to convey the important place of the created world in God’s plan.

Reading the prophet’s words reminds me of a moment I had while in Rome. After five days in the city—with its often frantic sounds and bustle—I was delighted to visit the Abbey of Tre Fontane, the site of St. Paul’s beheading. While it is home to a terrible event in our history, it is nonetheless a wonderfully peaceful oasis, as this picture attempts to show. Such is the nature of holy places. Indeed, as Isaiah tells us, where God is present . . .
The desert and the parched land will exult;
the steppe will rejoice and bloom.
They will bloom with abundant flowers,
and rejoice with joyful song.
The glory of Lebanon will be given to them,
the splendor of Carmel and Sharon;
They will see the glory of the LORD,
the splendor of our God.
Strengthen the hands that are feeble,
make firm the knees that are weak,
Say to those whose hearts are frightened:
Be strong, fear not!
Here is your God,
he comes with vindication;
With divine recompense
he comes to save you.
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened,
the ears of the deaf be cleared;
Then will the lame leap like a stag,
then the tongue of the mute will sing.
Streams will burst forth in the desert,
and rivers in the steppe.
The burning sands will become pools,
and the thirsty ground, springs of water;
The abode where jackals lurk
will be a marsh for the reed and papyrus.
A highway will be there,
called the holy way;
No one unclean may pass over it,
nor fools go astray on it.
No lion will be there,
nor beast of prey go up to be met upon it.
It is for those with a journey to make,
and on it the redeemed will walk.
Those whom the LORD has ransomed will return
and enter Zion singing,
crowned with everlasting joy;
They will meet with joy and gladness,
sorrow and mourning will flee.
Is 35:1-10

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Off to Rome

There will be a brief hiatus of posting until the first week of December. I'll be in Rome for about a week, and unless something big comes up, this will be it until my return.

This trip will include several opportunities to hear the Holy Father, including his Wednesday Audience, the first in the Season of Advent 2011. So stay tuned for much more, because besides my research in Rome, I have some key events coming up, and you, dear readers, will be the first to hear of them.

For now, here's something to mull over in my absence. It's the video version of a 2009 column just after Benedict XVI issued Caritas in Veritate. If you want to sum up what Catholic ecology is all about, these five minutes may help you do just that.

Buon divertimento!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Whatever happened to Happy Thanksgiving?

All day today—the day before the American holiday of Thanksgiving—I was greeted with the words Have a good holiday, or Enjoy your holiday. This isn't entirely new. I've noticed such generic Thanksgiving wishes for the past few years.

This has me wondering: Whatever happened to Happy Thanksgiving?

While I can understand (if not agree with) the term Happy Holidays as a substitute for Merry Christmas, I am perplexed that Thanksgiving seems to have become a term to avoid.

Case in point: An otherwise cheerful young waitress at lunch today seemed embarrassed and befuddled with my Thanksgiving wishes. She mumbled her echo of my words, but not comfortably.

Has the growing shadow of Godlessness hidden the beauty and the unitive graces of the Thanksgiving holiday? Are we no longer thankful for the great gift of creation and, indeed, our very lives?

I suppose given the increasing numbers of broken homes, the idyllic concept of Thanksgiving dinner is, for many, not possible. But there may be another problem: If we’re going to give thanks as a people, the question becomes, to whom? Since the obvious answer is to God, it seems that our desire to thank God is on the decline. If this really is what’s happening, then we are a people loosing hope.

And so this Thanksgiving, as we Americans pause during our routine weekly schedules to frantically cook, dine, and rekindle old relationships (if we’re lucky enough to do so), let us remember Who it is that in the beginning created a natural order that is both stunning in its beauty and awesome in its complex—but quite simple—majesty.

May God bless you and all your loved ones, and may he watch over those who have no one and nothing this Thanksgiving Day.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Christ the King: The heart of behavioral climate change

My job required my attendance on Friday at a conference on climate change, sponsored by the University of Rhode Island Climate Change Collaborative and Rhode Island Sea Grant. It was a day well spent.

The science was solid, objective and a little scary. The blend of international and local studies made for dramatic testimony of what will be happening to our globe and to my shoreline over the next couple of decades. As if this wasn’t enough, in a brilliant stroke of collaboration with other fields, the key thrust of the day was not the natural sciences, but behavioral ones.

Dr. James Prochaska presented this latter component—and it made quite an impression.

First, a little on Dr. Prochaska: He’s clinical psychologist who directs URI’s Cancer Prevention Research Center. He’s done an enormous amount of work on smoking cessation and other health issues that can be mitigated by human behavioral changes. Moreover, it doesn’t take long to realize that he is a kind, genuine man.

I won’t go in to the details of Dr. Prochaska’s many presentations, but what struck me was his overview of what behavior change is and when it happens. Turns out, going from inaction to action isn’t the only sign of behavior change. One can begin the process even if no outward activity is evident.

According to Dr. Prochaska, the human person moves through stages as they are confronted with good reasons to change behavior—such as being presented with irrefutable information about what smoking does to your lungs and to those of the people you live with, or what happens when the temperature of the world’s oceans rise.

Also sitting in at the conference was a fellow board member of Rhode Island Interfaith Power and Light. In speaking at the breaks, we both realized that what Dr. Prochaska spoke of had much to do with what faith is about.

Indeed, listening to a behavioral scientist speak of motion from “pre-contemplation” to “contemplation” to “preparation” and onward to taking action reminded me of something Pope Benedict XVI said a few weeks back in his Message for World Food Day.

In discussing  the inequities of local and global food distribution polices, and the economics thereof, the Holy Father got to the heart of the matter by reminding us that it is the human heart that is the matter. In considering how humanity can better feed itself, the pontiff says that
it is a question of adopting an inner attitude of responsibility, able to inspire a different life style, with the necessary modest behavior and consumption, in order thereby: to promote the good of future generations in sustainable terms; the safeguard of the goods of creation; the distribution of resources and above all, the concrete commitment to the development of entire peoples and nations.
In his talk at URI, Dr. Prochaska gave a moving example of a smoking-cessation ad that resonates with what Pope Benedict urges us to remember. The ad was of a man in grief recounting all he had heard about the dangers of cigarette smoke—warnings that he, as a cigarette smoker, had ignored. He concluded his words by saying (something to the effect of) “but I didn’t think it would kill my wife,” who had died due to his secondhand smoke.

The audience (of mostly technical experts) was moved. Indeed, we found all of Dr. Prochaska’s messages to be memorable. And so I wonder, what would my fellow audience members think of what Pope Benedict XVI has to say? Because the Holy Father has been exhorting the Church and the world during his entire pontificate that the solution to man's ills is ultimately a change of heart.

I look forward to discussing all this more with Dr. Prochaska. Because while advertising and data dumping is all very good, such techniques can not change the human heart in the same profound, miraculous ways as the Holy Spirit can. Only the light of Christ’s love can re-orient our fears, sloth and self-centeredness to strength, change and self-giving. Only God, who is love, can make man whole and act for a greater good. This conversion of heart is one important benefit of acknowledging Christ as our King.

Indeed, elsewhere in his 2011 World Food Day message, the Holy Father speaks again in ways that resonate with what scientists are saying about climate change and human behavior:
The fact cannot be glossed over that despite the progress achieved to date and the promise of an economy that increasingly respects every person’s dignity, the future of the human family needs a new impetus if it is to overcome the current fragile and uncertain situation. Although we are living in a global dimension there are evident signs of the deep division between those who lack daily sustenance and those who have huge resources at their disposal, who frequently do not use them for nutritional purposes or even destroy reserves. This confirms that globalization makes us feel closer but does not establish fraternity (cf. Caritas in Veritate, n. 19). This is why it is necessary to rediscover those values engraved on the heart of every person that have always inspired their action: the sentiment of compassion and of humanity for others, the duty of solidarity and the commitment to justice must return to being the basis of all action, including what is done by the international community.
[For more on what the Holy Father has been saying about the role of man's heart in ecological protection, see especially section 7 of his 2008 Message for World Day of Peace and his welcoming address at Sydney's World Youth Day, also in 2008.]

I’ll be posting some of the talks of the URI conference as they post them. But for now, let all people of faith pray for the conversion of hearts—and that these conversions occur on a global scale. Because if we humans are responsible for the ills of a changing climate—and if we must change our ways to control the rate of planetary ills—we’d best change our inner climates first, and fast. And for that, we need help.

Almighty and merciful God,
you break the power of evil and make all things new
in your Son Jesus Christ, the King of the universe.
May all in heaven and earth
acclaim your glory and never cease to praise you.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Clean water is never inconvenient

I did it without thinking. Then I realized the fortune that I had just swept aside.

At the end of lunch with a friend discussing business, she asked the waiter for water. He brought two large glasses filled with clear ice water and a lemon slice. But because I had eaten and drank my fill, I impatiently moved the glass to my side, out of sight.

Then it hit me: All the cost, labor and infrastructure that went into allowing me to be presented with that glass of cold drinking water—and the subsequent cost of the infrastructure to convey it to a wastewater treatment facility after it would be dumped into a sink—were all wasted.

Moreover, by God’s grace I remembered that many millions needed that water. Countless men, women and children would have done anything to have it for themselves or to bring to a dehydrated, dying loved one.

This got me thinking of all the many ways that we can help others get clean water for themselves and their families. (And here, as I watch my mom get older, I think of other sons that are helplessly watching their parents suffer. How many men like me would do anything to give their moms the glass of water that I swept out of my way as if it were some inconvenience?)

So, let us take a moment and pray for the too many among us that right now are dying of thirst or of diseases spread by poor sanitation. May God give them comfort and welcome them to His Kingdom. And may He have mercy on those of us that have an abundance of clean water but do not appreciate it.

Of course, in addition to praying, we must contribute what we can so that others may live. After all, isn’t that  what Our Lord did for us, and asks of us?

To begin, visit the Catholic Relief Services home page on water and sanitation. Read, learn and the donate what you can.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ignoring the pope: when Catholics fear ecology

Photo: M.Mazur/
A November 9th story by the Catholic News Agency, “US bishop links environmental justice with pro-life cause,” has resulted in dozens of reader comments, many of which lambaste the bishops and anyone else who seeks to suggest that ecology and human life have a connection.

The comments may surprise readers of this blog, who routinely find here information about how and why the Church has and continues to speak of ecological matters. And when I say “the Church,” I mean not a mere pontifical commission or a handful of episcopal councils. I refer mostly to Benedict XVI, who has been about as clear on this matter as one can.

But as seen from the comments in the CNA story, many Catholics object to placing ecology in the realm of Church teachings—especially as a teaching about life.

Here’s a sampling of what readers shared:

Carlos writes: “Poor bishop! He needs our prayers since he can't distinguish between political correctness and the Catholic faith. Consequently, I can't accept his statements as he presented them.”

JFK writes: “Does it occur to no one but me that if one does not have life at the onset, none of these other "seamless garment" issues matter more than a single drop of rain in a hurricane? A bishop is supposed to teach (on faith and morals, presumably), sanctify, and govern his flock. With statements like this being put forth, my soul is not significantly edified or sanctified. Luckily, his statement does not fall into the realm of governance.”

TMbrune writes “Sorry I can't see the connection.............Saving babies can't be equated with taking care of the environment.   It seems to me that the church needs to worry more about aborted babies and less of the environment.   The government is already driving all of us nuts with all the regulations., making it harder for small business to survive.  They have to cut down on hiring to use use the money to implement the regulations.”

And Schreib notes “I think that the Bishops should worry more about the salvation of souls.  They seem to more worried about social justice issues. The term social justice has a communist tone to it.  Bishops should speack [sic] the truth and evangelize.”

I am more than a little taken aback by the uncharitable vitriol and, yes, ignorance on the part of so many of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I don’t know where to begin to answer such statements. Well, that’s not entirely true. I did add my two cents by noting Benedict XVI’s statement in the masthead of this blog.

For anyone who doubts the place of ecology in the Church’s defense of life—and its ability to evangelize truly by engaging an issue of the day—I suggest they skim through this portion of the Holy Father’s third encyclical, from which the masthead quote comes:
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences[122]. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments”[123]. Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society. Nature, especially in our time, is so integrated into the dynamics of society and culture that by now it hardly constitutes an independent variable. Desertification and the decline in productivity in some agricultural areas are also the result of impoverishment and underdevelopment among their inhabitants. When incentives are offered for their economic and cultural development, nature itself is protected. Moreover, how many natural resources are squandered by wars!Peace in and among peoples would also provide greater protection for nature.The hoarding of resources, especially water, can generate serious conflicts among the peoples involved. Peaceful agreement about the use of resources can protect nature and, at the same time, the well-being of the societies concerned. 
The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology”[124is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature. 
In order to protect nature, it is not enough to intervene with economic incentives or deterrents; not even an apposite education is sufficient. These are important steps, but the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development. Our duties towards the environment are linked to our duties towards the human person, considered in himself and in relation to others. It would be wrong to uphold one set of duties while trampling on the other. Herein lies a grave contradiction in our mentality and practice today: one which demeans the person, disrupts the environment and damages society.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Don’t always blame the regulators

I’m an environmental regulator that is currently embroiled in a small but insane situation thanks to government mandates and an industry that is apparently short-sighted and unimaginative. It’s a story that speaks to greater issues of government regulation, which implies a lesson for environmental oversight.

In July, I had a new entry door fitted for an upstairs bathroom. I wanted the door to be a retro-looking, ten-pane French door with smoked glass. This way light can go in and out while maintaining privacy. The contractor installed the door at night. The next morning, as the sun came streaming through the window, I noticed what you see at right. All ten panes had clear writing in the smoked glass. The writing is the text of various industry codes to assure any building inspector passing by that the glass is tempered safety glass.

Now, imagine seeing all ten panes with their laser-like points in the bottom corner. It's like ten evenly-spaced supernovae in a smoky sky. Worse, one can get close to the writing and peer in.

Now, I understand the need for some sort of code so that building inspectors can check boxes on inspection forms to note that safety glass is indeed on the premises. But the manufacturer’s method of compliance with this regulation is lazy. It makes the door ugly and unusable. (And so my contractor and painter must create some sort of fix so that the door looks good and isn’t punctured with peep holes.)

As a regulator, I work with industries all the time to help them meet our requirements, and do so in a way that makes sense—in a way that works for everyone. I guess this door manufacturer and their regulators don’t try very hard to make things work well.

Granted, sometime we regulators go overboard in our requirements. And sometimes some of us do not wish to listen to different ways of doing things—even if they are better ways. But sometimes it's the regulated community that acts inappropriately by silently complying with the letter of the law while grumbling to everyone else (which, in the case of this door, I’ve heard plenty of from salespeople).

Regulated communities have to be partners in the process of making the world a safer, cleaner, better place. When they ignore this responsibility, they not only harm themselves (and their customers) but the regulatory process itself.

If this is true for bathroom doors, imagine how much more this is the case for protecting public health and global ecosystems.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Christ: the only answer to ecological and individual poverty

A piece from about the world’s poor and their relation to the planet’s ecology contains sentiments that could have been spoken by Benedict XVI.

The author, Brian K. Murphy, sums up his thesis thus:
To take seriously the cause of the environment, including the issue of climate change, requires that we first take seriously the cause of justice itself. Only if we are able to do that will we have some cause for hope that the other challenges that lie ahead for humanity and the planet, including climate change, can also be met.
His concern is rightly with the great multitude in the world that are suffering immensely due to extreme poverty, political or social repression, and many other evils. Because these people suffer now and have no promise of a tomorrow, issues like climate change or the loss of biodiversity are not at the top of their concerns.

Mr. Murphy quotes a priest in his piece, a man who gives his life for the poor.
Some years ago I met a laconic, frayed-at-the-edges Italian priest who had spent years ministering in the sprawling marginal communities of internally displaced people in the Colombian border town of Cucuta.
He said to me, 'It is an indignity to announce the apocalypse to those already living at the end of the world'. Indeed.
This may only be a misunderstanding about the place of faith in the shadow of such suffering, and if so, this would be unfortunate. For elsewhere, Mr. Murphy makes excellent points. I hope that he and others know that when the Church speaks of ecology, she shares many of the same concerns that one finds in Mr. Murphy’s piece. Of course, the Church also preaches news that is ultimately infinitely good—words and truth that changes hearts and undoes the evil that brings about the suffering of so many. Indeed, it is only an encounter with Christ that can answer the pleas of such suffering.

This is exactly what the Church offers when she engages in modern dialogues, like the ecology. Here, for instance, is Benedict XVI in Caritas in Veritate:
The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa. This invites contemporary society to a serious review of its life-style, which, in many parts of the world, is prone to hedonism and consumerism, regardless of their harmful consequences. What is needed is an effective shift in mentality which can lead to the adoption of new life-styles “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments.” Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment, just as environmental deterioration in turn upsets relations in society. Nature, especially in our time, is so integrated into the dynamics of society and culture that by now it hardly constitutes an independent variable. Desertification and the decline in productivity in some agricultural areas are also the result of impoverishment and underdevelopment among their inhabitants. When incentives are offered for their economic and cultural development, nature itself is protected. Moreover, how many natural resources are squandered by wars! Peace in and among peoples would also provide greater protection for nature. The hoarding of resources, especially water, can generate serious conflicts among the peoples involved. Peaceful agreement about the use of resources can protect nature and, at the same time, the well-being of the societies concerned.
The Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction. There is need for what might be called a human ecology, correctly understood. The deterioration of nature is in fact closely connected to the culture that shapes human coexistence: when “human ecology” is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits. Just as human virtues are interrelated, such that the weakening of one places others at risk, so the ecological system is based on respect for a plan that affects both the health of society and its good relationship with nature.
The foundation of these words is Jesus Christ—the Word of God, the logos of the universe, the Truth, the Life and the Way. Without Christ there is no true, lasting justice. Without His presence in prayer and in sacrament there is no reorientation of the human heart. Without Him, there are only feeble attempts to live the laws written on our hearts by God.

But as we know too well, these attempts falter under the weight of sin. Our self interest, fear, pride, lusts, gluttony, sloth, envy, anger, and greed too often prevent us from doing the very things for which Mr. Murphy pleads.

In other words, without Christ, the world is damned—socially, politically and ecologically.

Thus, Catholic ecologists have a special vocation. We must use our prophetic voices to both proclaim the crises of ecosystems and to announce the Good News with great joy that a messiah has come to restore all creation. All we need to do is listen to Him, give Him our hearts, and (as His mother admonishes us, to “do whatever He tells you.”) Only then will the necessary transformations of people and the planet take place. Only then will the great multitudes be fed and the great glory of Eden be eternally restored. Because only through Him can the human heart be made whole.

Indeed, as Benedict XVI has said elsewhere, “it is not science that redeems man; man is redeemed by love.”

Monday, October 31, 2011

Northeast October snow: Should we be scared?

Photo by ronk53 (Flicker)
A record-breaking nor’easter this weekend killed over a dozen people and crushed much of the Northeast’s power grid. Millions are out of electrical service and repair estimates are days or weeks away.

That this winter storm came so early has some wondering if this is proof of climate change—if we should be worried that this is the new normal.  For others, the storm showed us that “global warming” is a big hoax. After all, why would we get so much snow so early if the world is heating up?

Both views are misguided. The latter is simplistic because climate change is not about a uniform rise in global temperatures or a narrowing of the boundaries of winter. Rather, anthropomorphic climate change postulates that increased thermal energy (caused by human pollution) will alter in odd ways how the planet distributes heat and moisture, or lack thereof. The first view is also simplistic, because weather is not climate. No one weather event—or even an isolated cluster of events—can tell you much about our climate. That’s because climate changes are measured over the long haul—over decades and centuries. Climate is measured by trends, not single events.

Sure, this was an odd storm. But for the Catholic ecologist, it was also a tragic one, and no amount of bickering over climate change is doing any good for those that are suffering without power, or those who have lost loved ones.

For these millions, and especially for the souls of those killed during the storm, we Catholics must pray on this All Hollow’s Eve that the saints in heaven seek comfort for the afflicted. And on Wednesday, All Souls Day, we must pray for all the souls lost in this storm and in all the wild weather of the past year.

May God bring peace and comfort to those who need it, and may His Holy Spirit bring understanding and wisdom to the scientists and policy makers who labor to understand just what the climate is up to.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cardinal Pell's voice welcome in climate change dialogue

Cardinal George Pell’s recently delivered concerns about the science and economics of climate change are not black-and-white, even if some news outlets (like this one) oversimplify his comments.

But while some wish to skewer Cardinal Pell for being a “climate change denier,”  in reading the actual talk that he gave to the Global Warming Policy Foundation we find a man seeking to make sense out of a complex scientific discussion that has immense implications for the poorest among us.

The cardinal’s review of the science of anthropomorphic climate change is certainly open to debate, which he admits, but his concluding words caught my attention:
The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on “the big polluters” but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only ever be partially successful.

Will the costs and the disruption be justified by the benefits? Before we can give an answer, there are some other, scientific and economic, questions that need to be addressed by governments and those advising them. As a layman, in both fields, I do not pretend to have clear answers but some others in the debate appear to be ignoring the questions and relying more on assumptions.
Many find it ironic that this talk came out about the same time that the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Group issued findings that seem to emphatically demonstrate the reality of human-induced climate change. (Alex Knapp at Forbes has a good overview of this story—even if you do have to get past the site’s advertising to read it.)

In another twist of fate, I first read about Cardinal Pell’s talk a day after I attended a climate-change policy seminar hosted by a local environmental advocacy group. The keynote speaker was not a climatologist. He was a mechanical engineer working for FM Global—a major insurance agency. His message was simple: Climate change is real enough for insurance companies to be paying attention and planning ahead. For me, this made more of an impact than the Berkeley study because it came from a company that has skin in the game—which is why they use the most advanced technologies to study the monetary and scientific data behind the headlines.

In fact, many of the speakers at this seminar made some of the same excellent points as the good cardinal: When climates change, there are costs. Who will pay for them? And how?

As Cardinal Pell warns, there are moral issues at play. For this reason I welcome all voices—especially pastoral ones—who remind us that human dignity and care for the poor must be factored in to the actuarial tables of insurance companies and the temperature studies of climate researchers.

Sure, Cardinal Pell is not a scientist (nor are many of the reporters who cover him) but he has great experience in the human condition—and that is a perspective that no dialogue can do without.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The agony in Goa continues

Mining in Goa. Photo by Abhisek Sarda
Last June I posted about the destruction taking place in Goa, India—an exceptionally beautiful corner of creation that’s being shredded by mining operations. The post was about a critic of the mining, Fr. Maverick Fernandes, the director of the Council of Social Justice and Peace for the Church in Goa. But little, if anything, seems to have changed since that post.

Hartman de Souza—a long-time artist, writer and activist in Goa—recently chronicled this ecological and human tragedy in The Hindu. It’s a piece well worth reading. In it, one image tells us much:
From the top of the rise in the village, the view eastwards, where the foothills of the Western Ghats break, where, perversely, all the mining companies abound, the sight is anything but pleasant. A skeleton of hills some kilometres long, once probably thicker with trees and water than the hills of this very village, now shorn bare, and, regardless of which part of the day you view them, standing as mute as the carcass of a giant animal left to rot in perpetual sunset.
The same author has another piece in the Deccan Herald. It too is a painful read, including a brief reference to a Catholic priest who seems to have given unwanted real estate advice to Hartmann's sister, who seeks to keep her property from the hungry mining officials that have bought the land around her. Why is she holding on?
Her reason for not selling is compelling, that she would never be able to look at herself in the mirror again knowing that she had willfully destroyed forests and trees and water. When they bought the land years ago, slaving to repay the loans they took for this, they tested soil. Geologists told them they could be billionaires overnight and pointed to where the richest lode was. They built their farmhouse on that spot.
The Hindu ran a short bio of this author and fighter for Goa. He seems quite the exceptional man and we should keep him, and the people and the ecology of Goa, in our prayers.

In learning about and praying for Goa, we should also pay heed to what unbridled industry can do when economies accelerate and demand for natural resources reaches critical levels. Gluttony, it seems, can take on terrible forms in the modern world.

While I will have other posts on Goa as I learn more—perhaps with the input of Hartmann de Souza—for now I’ll conclude (as I so often do) with words from Benedict XVI's Caritas in Veritate:
Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God's creation.
Addendum: I emailed Hartmann de Souza and he's provided the following links, and has put me in touch with others who can provide more information. So stay tuned. But for now, feel free to read this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this, and this.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Blessed John Paul II: A voice for all and for all creation

On the first feast day of Blessed John Paul the Great, we remember that his pontificate placed ecology within the vernacular of the Magisterium in new and profound ways. Explore more about John Paul II's ecological statements at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center.

May Blessed John Paul II pray for us as we seek to better steward of God's glorious creation!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Hunger and interior attitudes

Pope Benedict XVI this week issued his statement for World Food Day. As usual it had much to say, most of which went under-reported.

My friends at the Catholic Climate Covenant sent word of the statement, calling attention to the pontiff’s mention of “climate changes.” But the Holy Father modified the term with the adjective “sudden,” which may or may not be a diplomatic way of staying out of the climate-change debate. Still, he did make mention to a changing climate.

The more impressive term that the Holy Father used (and reiterated from elsewhere) is the reminder that humanity and individuals must grow with an “integral development.”

Indeed, in his thousand-or-so-word document, the pope gave a nod to the universality of Christian revelation, to the New Evangelization, and spoke specifically about “an interior attitude of responsibility, capable of inspiring a different style of life, with necessary sobriety in conduct and consumption, to thus favor the good of society.”

In other words, the document is a beautiful summary of what Catholic ecology is all about.

Moreover, what Benedict XVI said bolsters a recent statement by Archbishop Timothy Dolan regarding, in part, bringing back the full meaning of the Friday fast, which has been recommended herein, and will continue to be. The return of meatless Friday's would, as the Archbishop writes, be an external marker that relates to (and helps bring about) the very interior attitude that the Holy Father noted in his World Food Day message.

In this regard, Pope Benedict writes in a way that connects what we do with who we are. And that connects how our real choices can benefit others:
Given the magnitude of the tragedy of famine, it is not enough to invite reflection and analyze the problems, nor even the willingness to intervene. Too often these factors are useless because they are reduced to the sphere of emotions, without being capable of moving the conscience and its search for truth and goodness [ . . . ] On the contrary, the purpose of this Day should be a commitment to modify behavior and decisions, which ensure today rather than tomorrow, that every person has access to the necessary food, and that the agricultural sector has a level of investments and resources capable of giving stability to production and hence to the market. It is easy to reduce discussions to the food requirements for an increasing population, knowing well that the causes of hunger have other roots and have caused so many victims among so many Lazaruses who are not allowed to sit at the table of the rich Epulon (cf. Paul VI, Populorum Progressio, 47).
Well, there you have it. Read the document. Ask yourself, what’s my interior attitude? I know mine is far off the mark. I do not know if I can live a "different style of life, with necessary sobriety in conduct and consumption." And so I pray for the great strength to do so.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Keystone Pipeline and Occupying Hope

Courtesy of NWFblogs
It’s not every day that the Tea Party and the Sierra Club  join forces. But the growing debate over the Keystone oil pipeline expansion has done just that. Others are taking their protest to the streets.

Haven’t heard of Keystone? Wikipedia has a good summary of the proposed pipeline, and Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson at the Washington Post have an excellent summary of the eco-political debate about it. From their story comes the following snippets to show us a little of the Keystone fallout: 
In mid-October, [Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton told an audience at San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club that she and others in the administration were “inclined” to give TransCanada the permit [to construct Keystone], adding, “We’re either going to be dependent on dirty oil from the Gulf or dirty oil from Canada.”
In many ways, her comments were simply a blunt version of the argument made by TransCanada and U.S. oil producers and refiners: The pipeline will secure a more reliable source of petroleum.
Over the next months, Canadian officials continued to press for approval of the permit [. . . ] At the same time, an unlikely coalition of farmers, ranchers and other residents along the pipeline’s route from Nebraska to Texas stepped up its opposition. The Sierra Club joined with tea party activists to protest the pipeline, while Nebraska’s Republican Gov. Dave Heineman said it threatens his state’s Ogallala aquifer.
By August a group of environmental leaders [. . .] was able to enlist more than a thousand opponents willing to be arrested outside the White House, including actresses Daryl Hannah and Margot Kidder. The two-week demonstration prompted a flurry of calls between White House offices and State, sources said, as administration officials asked to be briefed about the project’s status.
[. . .]
Some major Obama donors have threatened to withhold campaign contributions unless the president kills the project; both environmental and labor activists have raised the issue with his campaign staff.
Both publicly and privately, however, Obama administration officials have told environmentalists they are better off with the president in office than without him. 
"When Americans compare the president’s record promoting clean energy and America’s energy security to those of the leading Republican candidates, who don’t even believe that climate change is an issue that we need to address and would cede the clean-energy market to China, there will be no question about who will continue our progress,” campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt wrote in an e-mail.
From this one, if massive, proposed project comes massive, if predictable, battles along eco-political-industry divides. We see such debates often. But this one seems different. It’s generating searing passion. The question is, why? What’s got everyone fired up? There are many reasons: the size of the project, the memory of the BP oil spill, the certainty that other, safer sources of energy should be our focus. But there's another facet to this story: We live in a new age of protest. The Occupy movements assembled across America and, indeed, the globe, are symptoms of unrest and anger over a crumbling world that seems to offer no real hope.

But there is hope for those who seek it.

In his second letter to the Church and the world, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI writes that 
day by day, man experiences many greater or lesser hopes, different in kind according to the different periods of his life. Sometimes one of these hopes may appear to be totally satisfying without any need for other hopes. Young people can have the hope of a great and fully satisfying love; the hope of a certain position in their profession, or of some success that will prove decisive for the rest of their lives. When these hopes are fulfilled, however, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole. It becomes evident that man has need of a hope that goes further. It becomes clear that only something infinite will suffice for him, something that will always be more than he can ever attain. In this regard our contemporary age has developed the hope of creating a perfect world that, thanks to scientific knowledge and to scientifically based politics, seemed to be achievable. Thus Biblical hope in the Kingdom of God has been displaced by hope in the kingdom of man, the hope of a better world which would be the real “Kingdom of God”. This seemed at last to be the great and realistic hope that man needs. It was capable of galvanizing—for a time—all man's energies. The great objective seemed worthy of full commitment. In the course of time, however, it has become clear that this hope is constantly receding. Above all it has become apparent that this may be a hope for a future generation, but not for me. 
[. . . ]
Let us say once again: we need the greater and lesser hopes that keep us going day by day. But these are not enough without the great hope, which must surpass everything else. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. 
People who have lost hope are standing up and marching together on the streets of the world. Some of these gatherings have turned violent—some have struck at the very truth that can offer the world true hope. While anarchist opportunists may seek to hijack the Occupy movements, among the protesters are also many human souls striving for a world of justice, goodness, equality and fairness.

But as the Keystone project reminds us, we do not live yet in the Promised Land. Here, outside Eden, the designs of men are never failsafe. A pipeline to provide oil from North America—and in so doing create jobs and release some of our attachment to the Middle East—is resisted because it may do great harm to real places, real people, and, perhaps, encourage harm to the very climate that sustains us in its global distribution of moisture and thermal energy. And indeed, the project's method of extracting oil comes with even more risks. In short, a project with so much potential for good brings with it so much potential for evil. 

What we need to remember is that all this is equally true for our political, economic and regulatory designs. There can be no new-world order, no overthrow of the current systems, that will usher in an age without human failing and many crosses.

Welcome to life in a fallen world.

Thus, we heed the Holy Father’s words above: This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain. 

Let us pray, then, that the youth of this world seek first the Kingdom of God, so that all good things may come to them and to all people. May their hopelessness and righteous anger be transformed to great joy—a joy and a peace found only when one loves God and neighbor in the most radical, hopeful and real way. 

And if there's something about the Keystone debate that I've left out, please share it in the comment section.