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Monday, February 28, 2011

Love, and China's high price for breaking laws

Those low, low prices of made-in-China goods come at a high price after all. China’s industrial hyper-activity is causing problems. In what is seen as a rather unusual note of honesty, China’s leaders are admitting that the damage being done to their country’s ecology is something they can no longer ignore.

And so we read this from the New York Times:
China’s environment minister on Monday issued an unusually stark warning about the deleterious impacts of unbridled development on the country’s air, water and soil, saying the nation’s current path could stifle long-term economic growth and feed social instability.

In an essay published on the agency’s Web site, the minister, Zhou Shengxian, said the government would take a more aggressive role in determining whether development initiatives contributed to climate change through a new system of risk assessment.

Ignoring such risks, he said, would be perilous.

“In China’s thousands of years of civilization, the conflict between humankind and nature has never been as serious as it is today,” Mr. Zhou wrote. “The depletion, deterioration and exhaustion of resources and the worsening ecological environment have become bottlenecks and grave impediments to the nation’s economic and social development.”

“We must not any longer sacrifice the environment for the sake of rapid growth and reckless roll-outs, as that would result in unsustainable growth featuring industrial overcapacity and intensive resource consumption,” said Mr. Wen during an Internet chat widely publicized by the state media.

The remarks come at a time of unrelenting environmental degradation that has accompanied double-digit economic growth. Last year, China registered 10.3 percent growth, higher than its official target.

With its increasing fixation on social stability, the Communist Party may have come to realize the benefits of balancing economic growth with the public’s demands for uncontaminated food and water. In recent weeks, there has been a cascade of damaging news about the environment, from dangerously high smog levels in the capital to a study that found 10 percent of domestically grown rice contaminated with heavy metals. 
That’s quite the statistic. 10 percent of China’s main food stay is infused with toxic heavy metals. This, my friends, is another way of saying that there are and will be for some time serious health issues for the Chinese people.

And so, we should pray for these people. Thankfully, China is working with other nations to solve some of these eco-crises. But there are lessons beyond the technical and scientific that also require attention.

Like so many other cultures, nations and peoples, our brothers and sisters in China must learn that as the laws of nature can not be broken without consequence, human dignity can not be ignored. There is an anthropology to sound ecology, and it is rooted in love of neighbor. God has hardwired laws into the universe and also into us. He has given us a mind to understand them and a heart to listen to Him. He reveals Himself to be pure love (1 John 4:8) and, as Trinity, relationship. In being made in His image comes one particularly vital law for humans—the law of love—that, when broken, causes the most serious kinds of damage to human and natural ecology.

Thank God that the government in China is seeing the consequences of unbridled human industry and answering it with what seems to be concern for basic human dignity.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

And the winner is?

General Electric (and other companies) has a scheme: Make technology look clean and glorious on television and we might overlook the price that every innovation brings.

While Catholic ecologists are ever wary of equating technology with salvation, it’s foolish to argue the good that science does. God gave us a mind to use. And use it we must to make things clean, tidy and healthy as we go about our business—remembering always our Holy Father’s words. “It is not science that redeems man; man is redeemed by love.” (Spe Salvi, section 26.)

Okay, back to GE. They do have some very, very creative commercials, and in the spirit of the American motion picture industry’s big award night this Sunday, here are my finalists for the category of Best Commercial From A Corporation Selling Eco-Technology To A World that Badly Needs It.

(Care to vote in the comment section?)

Number 1: The Line Dance


Number 2: Simple Harmony


Number 3: Dancing Elephant

And the winner is?

Friday, February 25, 2011

EPA has money. Want some?

The saying “we’re from the government and we’re here to help” usually comes in jest. But EPA means it.

Check out these eco-grant offerings for which faith communities, conservation groups and even individuals might be eligible. It's real funding for good ideas and programs . . . and you may just have one or two to offer.

Peruse the EPA grant site, and look especially at grants for the Environmental Justice Small Grants Program (the main page is here or here). There’s an environmental education grant program, too, which will be offering its 2011 allotment soon. More specific announcements include:

Environmental Fellowships: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency requests proposals for the National Network for Environmental Management Studies Fellowship Program. This fellowship program provides students with an opportunity to participate in a project directly related to their field of study.  Fields of interest include:  Environmental Policy, Regulation, and Law; Environmental Management and Administration; Environmental Science; and Public Relations and Communications.  $150K expected to be available, up to 20 awards anticipated.  Responses due 3/4/11. For more info, contact Ginger Potter at or go to: 
Refer to Sol# EPA-EED-11-01. 

Removing Market Barriers to Offshore Wind: The U.S. Department of Energy requests proposals for U.S. Offshore Wind: Removing Market Barriers.  Areas of interest include: Offshore Wind Market and Economic Analysis; Environmental Risk Reduction; Manufacturing and Supply Chain Development; Transmission Planning and Interconnection Studies; Optimized Infrastructure and Operations; Resource Characterization and Design Conditions; Impact on Electronic Equipment in the Marine Environment. $18 million expected to be available, up to 24 awards anticipated.  Letters of Intent are required and are due 3/11/11, preliminary proposals due 3/25/11, and final proposals due 6/10/11.  For more info, contact Fania Gordon at or go to: 
Refer to Sol# DE-FOA-0000414.

And there's lots more. If all this sounds a bit daunting, the EPA provides lots of assistance, too. Here’s help how you can ...
So get digging folks, and spread the word.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

True grit

The Denver Post has some good news about the people in the great American West:

A new survey has found a majority of voters in the Rocky Mountain region regard clean water, air and land that sustains wildlife as very important.

Two thirds of surveyed voters said these natural resources are fragile and must be cared for and protected.

The "Conservation in the West" survey, commissioned by Colorado College and released this morning, also found that two thirds of voters believe current laws protecting air, land and water should be strengthened or better enforced.

Even when offered an economic rationale for relaxing environmental standards, 77 percent of voters surveyed said standards that apply to major industries must be maintained. Only 18 percent favored relaxing standards in an effort to boost the economy and generate jobs.

The survey indicates most voters consider environmental protection and a strong economy to be compatible goals.
Good going to my brothers and sisters out west!

Now, I don’t follow the politics or internal slants of the Denver Post, but I do know that many news outlets (like my paper here in Rhode Island) have a tendency to veer far left on social issues. Stories about eco-loving people can fit a big-government agenda, especially in an age of growing economic warfare. After all, more and more, government-sponsored environmental protection is the target of budget-cutting fiscal conservatives.

But as a government regulator myself, I have a question: do we really need the state and federal government to regulate industries, or individuals or even local governments about keeping things clean and healthy?

Two thoughts:

First, we could say “no—we do not need government intervention.” In a perfect world, properly educated people would be responsible enough to live their lives in accordance with natural laws. We’d reuse as much as we could, under consume, recycle, not build or dump in wetlands, nor use non-toxic products—the works. And we’d do business only with companies and countries that did likewise. We’d think about our neighbor(s) and our planet when making our decisions.

Thankfully, many try to live this way—without big government telling them what to do. And indeed, government is not always the answer. It’s not uncommon for government programs (and the bureaucrats that run them) to expand their mission and scope far beyond their original intent, and fail at their tasks nonetheless. At work, I call it “empire building.” Thanks to original sin, what was once a good idea soon becomes a monster, sucking huge amounts of taxpayer money for not a lot of good.

Which brings me to my second thought: also thanks to original sin, we humans can be slobs. Oftentimes, we want whatever feels best and easiest at the moment, and we’d rather not think of the consequences. And so our fallen nature seems to require that civilization put in place environmental rules and regulations, and to designate people to enforce them (as well as to assist and encourage them to do right).

And so the rub. Thanks to the undeniable reality of original sin, we need government to keep order, but because of that same fallen human nature, government—as necessary as it is—can quickly become the problem. (And so we find yet another example of why we need God in our lives and our world.)

Bottom line: because so many of us care about the ecology and so many are also hurting economically, we best make good and temperate choices in funding what we need to—and no more—to keep our air, water and land clean for our use and for all those generations yet to come.

Monday, February 21, 2011

While the UN ponders, we pray

Today’s breaking eco-news from Nairobi sounds promising, but forgive my caution. Reuters has a lengthy account of the United Nations’ hope for better ecological and energy coordination among its member states, but this AFP report (New 'environment governance' on agenda in Nairobi) captures both the good news and the bad.

Read the report, below, then I’ll explain my hesitancy. 

NAIROBI — Environment ministers and experts gathered in Nairobi on Monday to discuss reforming "world environment governance" in order to better manage crises linked to climate change and environmental degradation.

Delegates from 140 countries, 80 of them at ministerial level, attended the 26th session of the governing council of the United Nations Environment Programme, headquartered in Nairobi.

The delegates will discuss beefing up international environmental management tools, deemed to be insufficient given the scale of the problems facing the planet.

"Notwithstanding the impressive landscape of institutions, agreements and protocols, the environmental governance landscape of the here and now is increasingly fractured and fragmented," UNEP chief Achim Steiner told the meeting.

"I am sure previous generations of environment ministers never intended this."

Any consensus on the reforms actually looks to be a long way off, despite several years of debate and even as the next UN sustainable development conference, planned for Rio de Janeiro in June 2012, looms closer.

"We need to be unaninous in saying we need a stronger and more coherent framework for world environment governance," said Henri Djombo, environment minister of the Republic of Congo (DRC) and acting chairman of the UNEP governing council.

The international community remains divided over whether it is better to reinforce existing institution, starting with UNEP, or whether a new international body should be set up.
Did you catch the opening of that last paragraph? “The international community remains divided . . .”

Now there’s an understatement.

I don’t pretend to be an expert on the UN, but I know a thing or two about government (I’ve been working for one for 22 years). I also have some knowledge of human history, and I know what it means to be a flawed human person. That’s why I applaud the honesty of this reporter and the quoted sources. While it would be easy to see great promise in the UN’s work towards a new world eco-order, some things can’t be rushed. Cultural and historical differences among nations and peoples, not to mention legitimate competitive needs (and self-interest) of political regimes, will most certainly cloud the processes of attaining these goals. Thanks to original sin, we will likely be like those builders of Babel in our attempt to attain clean energy, healthy economies and prosperity for all.

But remember: we need not seek this end by ourselves. We’d be foolish to think that we could do so. We must seek some help from the Creator.

And so the bottom line: Pay close attention to what our respective governments are doing, and, above all, pray together as one people.

Almighty and Ever Living God, you found all creation and especially we the human race worthy of salvation even when we sinned against you and against our neighbor, you came among us in true humanity, love and sacrifice as your Son, and you use creation in your continued sacramental presence. We ask you to send your Spirit of wisdom, council and awe among us, that we, the human family, may grow in unity, love and respectful stewardship of all that you brought into being and found to be very good. We ask this through the Risen Christ, Our Lord.

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us.
Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, pray for us.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Coal, and hoping for the best

Much of the Western world was built from the power of coal and the men who mined it. In many places, this is still the case.

All this makes a new study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences so meaningful. Read through the report, it has some chilling statistics on the harm brought about by the mining and use of coal. Overall, the negative costs are said to be some $500 billion. In short, the study finds that coal is dirty, dangerous and needs to be phased out. Well, it’s hard to argue with many of the findings, and it’s also difficult to be surprised.

Here’s a few points to ponder:

  • The deforestation and landscape changes associated with [mountain top removal] have impacts on carbon storage and water cycles . . .  [It is] estimated that each year, between 6 and 6.9 million tons of CO2e are emitted due to removal of forest plants and decomposition of forest litter, and possibly significantly more from the mining “spoil” and lost soil carbon.

  • Over the life cycle of coal, chemicals are emitted directly and indirectly into water supplies from mining, processing, and power plant operations. Chemicals in the waste stream include ammonia, sulfur, sulfate, nitrates, nitric acid, tars, oils, fluorides, chlorides, and other acids and metals, including sodium, iron, cyanide, plus additional unlisted chemicals

  • The nitrogen-containing emissions (from burning all fossil fuels and from agriculture) cause damages through several pathways. When combined with volatile organic compounds, they can form not only particulates but also ground-level ozone (photochemical smog). Ozone itself is corrosive to the lining of the lungs, and also acts as a local heat-trapping gas.

It's all very impressive, but something about such studies bothers me.

In Catholic theological terms, they seem rooted in a worldview called “imminent eschatology.” That is, the belief that humanity is about to see all the bad stuff that preceded our age get replaced with a whole bunch of good stuff. Moreover, such thought can often assume that it will be we humans that will bring about this new age of no worries. Think Marxism. Think giddy lawmakers who seek to legislate morality or to protect all humanity through better government regulation.

For Catholics, and others that accept the fallen state of mankind—that accept evil lurking in all human hearts and a physical world that never goes as planned—such good intentions usually sound a little suspicious.

Which to me is why the concluding hopes of this report read like a laundry list of the World of Tomorrow exhibits early in the last century.

Here’s one recommendation from the report that makes my point: To make a better world without coal, we need “a healthy energy future can include electric vehicles, plugged into cleanly powered smart grids; and healthy cities initiatives, including green buildings, roof-top gardens, public transport, and smart growth.”

Of course, the work of these authors was a considerable overview of what the numbers show about the harm brought by the coal of use; it was not a study dedicated to how to dig ourselves out of the hole we dug. (I am sure the numbers about the benefits of coal will be supplied soon enough by the coal lobby itself. And good for them for doing so.)

And so when the study states that its authors report no conflict of interest, I have no doubts that, in the commonly held sense of this term, that statement is true. But I wonder if this report is rooted in that far less obvious conflict of interest of called imminent eschatology—by this I mean that its authors implicitly assume that somewhere within us is the power to solve all our problems and make things look as a pretty and green as it does on television. Salvation from pollution is in our grasp. No?

To which I would suggest that the fault, my dear scientists, lies not in our coal usage, but in ourselves.

Such studies, while decisive works of hard science, always lack something. They can discuss with detail how to protect the human being, but they can't answer the basic questions about what it means to be human.

This is not a criticism. It's just something to remember.

Echoes of all this can be found both in my one of my favorite motion pictures, October Sky, and that powerhouse of an encyclical by Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate. Note the remarkable similarities between this Church document and the scientific study on coal. But also notice the differences in how the Church’s social doctrine handles the same problem ...

Questions linked to the care and preservation of the environment today need to give due consideration to the energy problem. The fact that some States, power groups and companies hoard non-renewable energy resources represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries. Those countries lack the economic means either to gain access to existing sources of non-renewable energy or to finance research into new alternatives . . . The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens. It should be added that at present it is possible to achieve improved energy efficiency while at the same time encouraging research into alternative forms of energy . . . This responsibility is a global one, for it is concerned not just with energy but with the whole of creation, which must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources. Human beings legitimately exercise a responsible stewardship over nature, in order to protect it, to enjoy its fruits and to cultivate it in new ways, with the assistance of advanced technologies, so that it can worthily accommodate and feed the world's population. On this earth there is room for everyone: here the entire human family must find the resources to live with dignity, through the help of nature itself—God's gift to his children—and through hard work and creativity. At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it. This means being committed to making joint decisions “after pondering responsibly the road to be taken, decisions aimed at strengthening that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”. Let us hope that the international community and individual governments will succeed in countering harmful ways of treating the environment. It is likewise incumbent upon the competent authorities to make every effort to ensure that the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations: the protection of the environment, of resources and of the climate obliges all international leaders to act jointly and to show a readiness to work in good faith, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the planet. One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use—not abuse—of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Those essential social encyclicals

This story, from the Tidings, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, provides a handy summary of over a century of Catholic social teaching, as recounted recently by a visiting Prince of the Church.

In part, we read of  ecology joining the many other issues that affect both the globe and the human person. And we find that these issues are related.

"We are the heirs and inheritors of 'Rerum Novarum,'" the 1891 encyclical by Pope Leo XIII considered the starting point of modern social teaching, said Cardinal Peter Turkson, the council's president, speaking to the annual Catholic Social Ministry Gathering.

The conference is co-sponsored by a dozen Catholic organizations, including various departments of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Catholic Charities USA, JustFaith, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, the Roundtable Association of Diocesan Social Action Directors, the Catholic Daughters of the Americas and Catholic Relief Services, among others.

Cardinal Turkson explained that his role at the Vatican is to apply "Rerum Novarum" and the related social teaching documents of the past 120 years to the current challenges of church organizations that seek to address the world's social needs.

Sometimes that means reminding organizations of the differences between political involvement and the church's social justice obligations, he said.

Church and state are distinct from one another, each serving its own sphere, he said. But the church must also "scrutinize the signs of the times" to ensure that its efforts and resources are meeting people's needs, he continued.

The former archbishop of Cape Coast, Ghana, Cardinal Turkson was warmly greeted for his speech by an audience that included dozens of Ghanaians, many wearing colorful traditional woven fabrics and elaborate head scarves of their native country. His talk was the opening plenary session of the four-day annual gathering of more than 300 social ministry workers from around the country.

He traced the history of major social teaching documents since "Rerum Novarum," noting that each arrived at a time of societal struggles in a changing world.

For example, Pope Leo's encyclical came as the Industrial Revolution reshaped a previously agrarian society. In 1931, Pope Pius XI's "Quadragesimo Anno," marking the a 40th anniversary of "Rerum Novarum," came amid the Great Depression, a worldwide economic crisis.

Subsequent social encyclicals --- Pope John XXIII's "Mater et Magistra" (1961), Pope Paul VI's "Populorum Progresso" (1967), Pope John Paul II's "Sollicitudo Rei Socialis" (1987) and "Centisimus Annus" (1991) and Pope Benedict XVI's "Caritas in Veritate" (2009) --- have aimed to address the emergence of Marxism, the fall of the Berlin Wall and Eastern Europe's political upheaval, and the contemporary struggles with globalization, underdevelopment and other "financial, economic, moral and anthropological crises."

In these documents, Cardinal Turkson said, "the insights of theology, philosophy, economics, ecology and politics have been harnessed coherently to formulate a social teaching that places the human person (his total and integral development) at the center of all world systems of thought and activity."

"The social encyclicals of the popes have fulfilled the need to actualize the same principles of the church's application of Christian faith and the charity of Christ to the various contexts of human life," he said.

In "Caritas in Veritate," Pope Benedict suggested ways "for building up the city of man with qualities closer to the city of God," the cardinal said.
You can read the rest of the story here.

For the record, the master quote of this blog, in the top banner, is from B16's Caritas in Veritate. And I can not stress the importance of reading such documents . . .  and better yet, trying to live them.

And for the record Part II: Sometimes we hear voices critical of the Church for "responding to crises too late." In so doing, the Church is accused of writing encyclicals on social justice issues long after other groups have tackled them.

Au contraire.

The Church has an eternal encyclical—a treatise on social justice that speaks to all issues as they occur. It's called the revealed world of God, and you'll find it in the Bible.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

“Guy, do good science.”

Thanks to Jerome Christenson of the Winona Daily News, here's another notable media entry about the beautiful blending of faith and reason in Catholic thought. You can view the story here, but what follows are some great bits ...
As a Jesuit, Brother Guy Consolmagno is seeking an understanding of God and the universe — through prayer and through his telescope.

Consolmagno is a research astronomer and planetary scientist at the Vatican Observatory. He will speak on “Astronomy, God, and the Search for Elegance” at 7 p.m today in Somsen Auditorium as part of Winona State University’s Big Sky series.

“Most major religions have a concept of ‘the heavens’ ... the perfect realm of the gods,” said Jennifer L.B. Anderson, WSU associate professor of geoscience and one of the organizers of the Big Sky series, and Consolmagno’s talk will address the intersection of spiritual and scientific approach to understanding the universe.

She said that within the scientific community the Vatican Observatory is highly respected as “real astrophysicists doing real scientific work.” In fact, Consolmagno said, one of the primary purposes of the observatory is to be an ongoing demonstration that the church is supportive of science and scientific research. He said that upon his appointment to the observatory in 1993, the first instruction he received was, “Guy, do good science.”

Historically, the church has fostered science and the academic life, he pointed out, and churchmen have been in the forefront of scientific advancement — in fact the originator of the Big Bang Theory of the origin of the universe was a priest.

“There is nothing in the Bible opposing evolution,” he pointed out, “but there is something in the Bible against astrology.”

Biblical literalism is a recent development, not traditional Christianity, he said.

“Until recently, most literature was poetry,” he said, and in the ancient world, using the language of poetry, not science, was “how they described the natural world.”
To apply a modern reading to a 2,000 year old text “does violence to the text,” Consolmagno said, “and that’s not me saying it, it’s Augustine saying it.”

Pope Benedict fully supports the observatory’s research and independence, both philosophically and financially — one half of 1 percent of the Vatican’s annual budget, roughly the same percentage NASA draws from the United States, he said. As a former professor, the pope understands the academic life, Consolmagno said, and in his meetings with him found Benedict to be “remarkably personable one-on-one.”

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Guilt and the high price of Valentine Roses

Warning: If you've already bought those Valentine roses, you may want to skip this. Just saying.

One of the dilemmas that any environmentalist has to deal with is guilt—our own, yes, but making others feel guilty, too. Maybe that’s one reason why ecology and being Catholic go so well together. We can never turn a blind eye to what effects our actions are having on someone else.

Well, just in time for St. Valentine’s Day, here’s some news from The Guardian to make all you buyers of very expensive roses (especially in Europe and the United Kingdom) feel, umm, guilty ...

Consumer appetite for cut-price Kenyan roses for Valentine's Day is "bleeding the country dry" by threatening the region's precarious ecology.

University of Leicester ecology and conservation biologist, Dr David Harper, warned. Harper has spent over 30 years researching wetland conservation at Kenya's Lake
Naivasha and said the growth of the flowers is draining the valuable water supply.
Seventy per cent of roses sold in European supermarkets come from Kenya, most from Naivasha. Harper called on UK supermarkets to show more concern about the health of the environment that the flowers come from.
He said: "A notable few of the farmers sending roses to Europe are showing concern and an eagerness to pioneer a sustainable way forward: the best flower farms have achieved Fairtrade status, which brings money back into the workforce for social welfare improvements. Two farms have even seconded senior managers to help Kenya's water management agency at Naivasha."

But he warns that the massive scale of UK supermarket promotions of flowers over Valentine's Day—and subsequently on Mother's Day—without concern for where or how environmentally sustainable roses can be grown, will just increase the export of water—the scarcest natural resource in Kenya.
Well, a discussion may be valuable here. Is this industry good for providing an income to people who need it? Or is it just simply exploitive and damaging? Thoughts?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

When politicians pretend to be scientists

"A bitter GOP-led hearing on EPA's climate regs highlights an intractable ideological division over whether CO2 rules will create jobs and prosperity."

This is the header of a new and telling Reuters story on the seemingly never ending conflict between the economy and the ecology. The two aren’t always mutually exclusive, but when they are, it sells papers.

Reuters seems to have done a fairly nuanced job in telling this tale of misplaced anger by Republicans at the Environmental Protection Agency, which is countered by the Democrats refusal to acknowledge original sin. An objective reading of the story will show that neither side comes out looking good.

After all, the science of climate change is just that—science—and as such should be given the attention it’s due, and no more.

I’ll have more on this in the future (when I'm not completing a thesis). But for now, read the Reuters story and see where you can spot both ideological extremes acting like children. (And to think, we pay these people’s salaries to make decisions for the common good!)

Here, let’s give the last word to the Holy Father. This from his third encyclical, Caritas in Veritate:
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.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Just say no

As if the narcotics business wasn’t causing enough harm to nations, families, human lives and human souls, a new report about the impact of the drug industry on the Colombian environment shows there’s a significant ecological impact as well.

As reported by the American Chemical Society in their publication Environmental Science & Technology,

Cultivating coca bushes, the source of cocaine, is speeding up destruction of rainforests in Colombia and threatening the region’s “hotspots” of plant and animal diversity, scientists are reporting in a new study. The findings, which they say underscore the need for establishing larger protected areas to help preserve biodiversity, appear in ACS’ journal.

Liliana M. D├ívalos and colleagues note that the pace of deforestation in olombia has accelerated over the past 20 years, even as population growth has slowed and the economy has shifted from agriculture to other revenue sources. Colombia’s increase in deforestation overlaps with an increase in the cultivation of coca for cocaine production, and the country accounted for 75 percent of the world’s coca in 2000. But direct deforestation from coca is what the authors described as relatively small, with as little as 58 square miles of forests replaced by coca each year by 2005. Since rainforests contain about 10 percent of the world’s plant and animal species — some of which become the basis of new medicines — deforestation represents a serious threat to global biodiversity. With studies suggesting that coca cultivation contributes to deforestation indirectly, the scientists set out to further document this impact.

Their analysis of data from 2002-2007 on the effects of coca cultivation on deforestation of rainforests in Colombia identified several factors that boosted the likelihood that rainforest would be destroyed. In  outhern Colombia forest close to newly developed coca farms, for instance, was likely to be cut, as was land in areas where much of the farmland was devoted to coca. This is the first time the indirect impact on deforestation from cultivation destined for the global cocaine market has been quantified across South America’s biodiversity hotspots. They also showed that designating protected areas, regions that are set aside for special protection for environmental reasons, reduced forest destruction in coca-growing areas. Establishing larger protected areas in the region could help control deforestation and preserve biodiversity, the report suggests.
Okay, folks. For those addicted to these narcotics, for those who succumb to economic pressures and seek to profit from the weakness and despair of others, and for the health of these ecosystems, let us pray ...

Monday, February 7, 2011

Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha: Patron of the environment and ecology

Wouldn't this make a wonderful motion picture. It's too bad Hollywood has no desire to tell stories of strong, devoted Catholic women. Learn more about Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha in this newly posted video . . .

. . . or read this reflection from this later post on the soon-to-be Saint Tekakwitha. 

Climate change and other crosses

The funeral for my mom’s Aunt Rose took place four days after a major winter storm and two days before another. It was a bright morning, but a cold, blustery one—a harsh way to say a goodbye to a strong, feisty, faith-filled woman. Rose fought cancer on and off for fifteen years, and she never flinched at a doctor’s bad news.

A week after the funeral, her daughter-in-law summed it up best: this woman knew how to carry her crosses.

While I drove my mom in the funeral procession through streets narrowed by large heaps of snow, it occurred to me that Rose’s determination to face difficult truths stood in contrast to those who find humor in news of climate change—which, I admit, seems easy to do in the midst of a snowy winter’s single-digit temperatures.

I’ve been studying the science of climate change as part of a project at work; the more I probe, the more I wonder why more of us aren’t concerned. Yes, we know from last year that some climate researchers made phony claims for fame and fortune. But when entire agencies like the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and even NASA are sounding alarms, it’s tough to hide.

What’s unfortunate is that too many of us minimize a science that’s so massive in scope. We often confuse weather in one corner of creation with real, worldwide trends in climate. Or we misinterpret “global warming” to mean that Earth is uniformly increasing its temperature everywhere at the same time. Such thinking doesn’t do justice to the vast planetary complexities of atmospheric and oceanographic mechanics, nor does it factor in the evidence all around us.

For instance, the Audubon Society is recording shifts in the migratory patters of numerous species of birds; Japanese scientists found coral reefs relocating to cooler waters; meteorologists are cataloguing increased intensity of precipitation events in some areas while others go dry.

Then there’s the news from NASA—an agency that knows a thing or two about planets—that “global sea levels have increased about 6.7 inches in the last century,” and that in the last decade the rate of this increase nearly doubled that of the previous hundred years. The agency reports that “all three major global surface temperature reconstructions show that Earth has warmed since 1880—most of this warming having occurred since the 1970s, with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.” When compared to solar output, which has dropped through the 2000s, NASA reports that surface temperatures nevertheless continue to rise.

But is all this really proof that man-made pollution, like carbon dioxide, is a factor? Yes. “Carbon dioxide levels in the Earth’s oceans have been increasing since 1750, and are currently increasing about 2 billion tons per year. This has increased ocean acidity by about 30 percent.”

All this is just highlights; there’s much more at  But my point here isn’t about science. It’s about what it means to be human.

Visiting my mom’s Aunt Rose in her nursing home these past few months, she never once complained about the reality she faced, about the changes occurring in her body.  She didn’t deny them, even when she felt strong. As she told my mom once, “I’m just waiting.” And wait she did—with relish.

But unlike cancer, we can control the pollutants threatening our planet. Their effects can be mitigated, even undone. And we don’t have to wait. For the good of generations not yet born, we should learn some lessons from my grandmother’s sister Rosie—two tough women if ever there were. Like Rose, we should face our problems, carry our crosses, accept the truths before us, do whatever is needed to be done and, most importantly, do it all out of love for God, his creation and for each other.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Cardinal and the people of Jharkhand

From the Times of India comes the story of a papal envoy to tribal peoples in India. His message was one of solidarity, hope and concern for ecology.

Once again, the Church’s efforts to help the lives of the poor factors in the condition of the environment in which they live, eat, drink and breath.
A few snippets are below:
Ranchi—Archbishop of Westminster Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, a representative of Pope Benedict XVI, took home the details of the plight of the tribals of Jharkhand.

Two papers were presented during the symposium both of which highlighted the sorry state of affairs of the tribals. While director of Xavier's Institute of Social Service (XISS) Alex Ekka spoke about the social concerns of Jharkhand highlighting the rich resources of the state and deprivation of the tribals, former principal accountant general of West Bengal Benjamin Lakra threw light on tribal being deprived of their identity by corrupt politicians who snatched away jal jangal and jamin (water, forest and land) from them.

Responding to the issues highlighted during the symposium, the papal envoy said he was moved to hear the plight of the tribal people. "I have come here not to preach but to listen and learn and I have learnt about the task remaining in Jharkhand so that socio-economic justice could be brought to the tribal population," he said. Connor stressed that as a Catholic he believed in serving as a steward to earth and its people so that the resources were not plundered at the cost of climate and ecology. "Care for people and care for earth is most important for sustainable development," he said.
Of course we keep Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor and the people of Jharkhand in our prayers. And we can get to know them a little better with this video Mud House from Maarten van der Glas on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Taking care of the temple and the womb

On this Feast of St. Blaise, let me share a saying my doctor uses often: “You need to take care of the temple.”

He’s a good man, very fit, an innovator in the medical profession, a sports doctor for a local college, and knows a thing or two about faith.

When I went for my physical the other day, and told him I wasn’t doing what I should be doing—hence my weight and blood pressure not quite being where it should—and when I told him all that I’d been too busy doing to eat right and exercise, he said his line: You’re not taking care of the temple!

Well, I’m trying now.

But this got me thinking. Is the way we take care of our body the same way we take care of the planet? Our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. And Earth is the womb of the human race. Are we giving both the respect they deserve? Or are we too busy--too distracted--to do tend well the created order.

For me, anyway, I could be spending more time to take care of the temple and the womb. And the funny thing is, when I do the former, it very often has an impact in helping the latter.

Okay, short blog today. Because I need to write for school and then get to the gym!

But first ... Saint Blaise, pray for us that we may not suffer from illnesses of the throat and pray that all who are suffering be healed by God's love. Amen!