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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sin and the nuclear question

The mangled remains of Japanese nuclear power plants continue to attract worldwide media attention. Sadly, our obsession with smoke belching from these crippled facilities has drawn our attention from the despair and loss of so many who’ve lost so much and who grieve their dead or missing loved ones. I suppose this is because there’s not much you can do about natural disasters. On the other hand, technological ones are ripe for cultural self-examination.

Of late, nuclear power opponents hold up Japan’s crisis as justification for a global moratorium on such technologies. And to be sure, the effects of these damaged reactors are spreading. Scientists have found residual radiation on the East Coast of the United States and even in Israel. The amounts aren’t a health or safety issue, but the news does give one pause.

No wonder, then, that the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines—a volcanic, earthquake-prone nation—has expressed “vindication” over their anti-nuke stance. Rome’s own spokesperson has likewise expressed caution over the use of this technology (while aptly referring to the Japanese nuclear plant workers as “heroes”). And, of course, political leaders have been making obligatory statements about their nuclear power plants being monitored for safety.

But the nuclear question remains: to build or not to build?

There is no easy answer. Every human invention comes at a price. Oil- and coal-powered energy production and transportation emits greenhouse gases and pollutes water. Wind power irritates anyone living nearby. Hydroelectric power alters the flow of water both upstream and down. Solar energy is still an expensive option. Compact florescent lighting contains mercury. The list goes on and on ...

Catholic ecologists know that sin keeps human solutions from ever being perfect. As we learn from Genesis, whenever we creatures grasp for knowledge, we take both good and evil along with it, and benefit or suffer accordingly.

Of course, one can choose wisely. Good engineering, construction practices and maintenance can solve a host of technology-induced ills. This goes especially for the wild world of nuclear power. Still, the devil is in the details, and there are many details in making electricity out of radioactive fuels. Can we ever be comfortable with nuclear power? Is it ever a moral solution to our legitimate needs? Or is it just another way to satiate our lust for electricity?

I tend to think that nuclear power needs to be part of any reasonable energy-production package. But I’m not married to the idea. I was once staunchly anti-nuke, and I confess that I sometimes too easily use Original Sin to justify not expecting better from myself and the world around me.

And so as I consider the nuclear question, I keep coming back to the words of Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Vatican press office. As reported by Zenit News, Fr. Lombardi tells us that "nuclear energy is an immense natural resource that man tries to use in his service, but if it gets out of control it rebels against him."

"And no one knows better than the Japanese what the effects are of energy unleashed from the heart of man rebelling against him . . . The security of the plants and the safeguarding of radioactive material can never be absolute.

“It is right and obligatory to return to reflect on the correct use of technological power, on its risks, on its human price. The Pope recommends this often."

Well, then, let us reflect, and pray—not only for guidance on this most serious issue, but especially for the souls of those who died in Japan, and for the well-being of those living who have lost much and many.

Indeed, let us pray that our choices today cause little harm to those generations not yet born or conceived.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The ecology of dialogue

Some ecologists might shy away from this blog because of the title and my intent in writing it—to examine ecological (and related) issues through the lens of the Catholic faith. If you know anyone that may be that person, or anyone that may be interested in dialogue, please send them my link.

Ecology is a wonderful platform to allow people of all faiths, or no faith, to speak of common issues and help express specific worldviews. After all, we all have to breathe!

As Pope Benedict XVI notes in this message below, love and authentic dialogue are the keys to understanding and peaceful, neighborly relations.

(The Holy Father will be speaking below in French; the English translator kicks in briefly into the video.)

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Lent’s Earth Hour

Tonight, the World Wildlife Federation’s Earth Hour campaign will roam across the planet as the sun sets over mile after mile of the globe. Earth Hour’s goal is for us to all come together and use less electricity, and so create less pollution for just an hour.

Are you doing it? A scan of the news shows that many of the big cities are making some attempt. Some aren’t. And it certainly isn’t getting the buzz of previous years.

I’ll be in a restaurant when Earth Hour comes and goes here on the East Coast of the USA. I’m not sure if shutting the lights off then will be a good idea.

Then again, I haven’t made up my mind if the campaign is worth the bandwidth that propagates it. It all seems rather intended to help urban dwellers say “look-at-me-I’m-a-good-environmentalist!” It comes across a little gimmicky.

But ... it does make people stop and think. That little moment of denial can help one do some mental arithmetic about other types of sacrifices, other reductions in resources. Do I really need this light on all night? Hmmm ... In a way, Earth Hour is a little like our Lenten sacrifices. Funny, it occurs during Lent, too.

Okay, I’m sold. Sign me up. I’m heading out in a few moments, and when I do ... lights out.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Science, people and memorabilia

This may sound odd, but I was delighted yesterday when I heard a team of college students discuss how a flood can wipe out a lifetime of memories. Well, let me put it this way: I found it comforting that these students (a team from all over the globe) thought to include peoples’ memorabilia among the losses in floods that hit my state and neighborhood last year.

It was wonderfully refreshing. Scientists can sometimes be a cold group. Worse, sometimes they think they have no choice but to operate so. I remember fellow college students in the 1980s that seemed to think that suppressing their humanity was the best way to be a good engineer.

But science should not merely be an objective study of data—of statistics, databases, and end notes. Scientists and engineers are first and foremost servants of the common good—of the human person.

And so when floods consume communities along a usually quaint river, the damage can be impressive, expensive and the stuff of future study by people who’ve never walked the streets or spoken with the lifelong residents affected.

But in often small and unnoticed ways, these (increasingly occurring) events also bring heartache to widows who see the house that their husbands built gutted by soiled flood waters, or to low-income renters who didn’t have much to begin with, or to a veteran, parent or coach who’s lifetime of memorabilia in the basement became so much stuffing for a dumpster.

So good job to the students at the Brown Center for Environmental Studies who factored in the human into their equations. That attention to detail did not go unnoticed.

To read the report on Rhode Island’s Great Flood of 2010, visit the Center’s website, or click here to download it. Certainly, these students did a fine job.

May God help them use their educations to assist future generations of humans in keeping safe their earthly memories, their stories and their lives.

Photo: Flood waters in Natick, RI. 2010. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Food, water, life and Japan

“Food problems worsen” is the headline of a recent story in Japan’s Daily Yomiuri. Other news from this damaged nation—this from the New York Times—is that radiation is being detected in its water, which is a danger to infants and, one would assume, unborn children.

In light of such terrible news, it should be noted that you can help. Your prayers are critical and any donation you can make is, of course, only Christian. Agencies like the Catholic Relief Services can use these funds to get resources to the regions that need it so badly.

And all this must give us pause. I would imagine that, if you’re like me, you take the access of food and water as a given. Fresh water from the tap any time I wish, and when I need food, I just go to the supermarket.

But how fragile is all this? How quickly could any one of our own communities, countries, continents be left without a safe supply and distribution network or systems of water and food? By one account, my home state of Rhode Island has only four days of food at any time in stores, shops and warehouses. Any major disruption in transportation and my home state will soon be suffering as so many on this planet suffer. Chances are, you're probably not much better off.

We should take agriculture and the clean water business much more seriously than we do. This is why it is important to note that our Holy Father and local bishops have been for some time calling attention to the importance of farms, farmers, and the systems we need for clean water.

For instance, last fall, Benedict XVI gave this message on World Food Day. In it, he noted the link between humanity’s physical needs and the call of the Gospel.

In order to eliminate hunger and malnutrition, obstacles of self-interest must be overcome so as to make room for a fruitful gratuitousness, manifested in international cooperation as an expression of genuine fraternity. This does not obviate the need for justice, though, and it is important that existing rules be respected and implemented, in addition to whatever plans for intervention and programmes of action may prove necessary. Individuals, peoples and countries must be allowed to shape their own development, taking advantage of external assistance in accordance with priorities and concepts rooted in their traditional techniques, in their culture, in their religious patrimony and in the wisdom passed on from generation to generation within the family.
In America, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a lengthily pastoral reflection in 2003 on Farms, Farmers and Farmworkers. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Our commitment to the dignity of every person requires special concern for those who are poor and vulnerable, whose needs are greatest, and whose lives and dignity are often threatened by hunger, poverty, and suffering. In order for people to live a life worthy of their God-given dignity, Catholic social teaching affirms the right and duty to work, the right to economic initiative, the rights of workers to safe working conditions, decent wages and benefits, and the right to organize and join associations to secure these rights.

In light of these principles, our Conference will continue to advocate for policies that protect and encourage family farming on a human scale. We also insist that all agriculture, whatever its scale or structure, must meet fundamental moral criteria. Agriculture in all its forms should be evaluated, regulated, and rewarded based on these principles.
Great stuff! And as always note how the subject begins as always with the dignity of all human life.

And as for water, it is cruelly ironic that as panic broke out in Japan’s great city of Tokyo about the safety of its water—indeed, some ten days after trillions of gallons of surging waters washed away so much and so many—the world would be acknowledging the need of clean water in World Water Day. (And, yes, Holy Mother Church has had much to say on this subject, too.)

Before reading any of the linked documents or sites in more detail, stop and say a prayer, and remember that our fate and that of all our suffering brothers and sisters in Japan is ultimately not ours to shape. It is in the hands of God who does not bring evil into existence, but can make good arise out of it if we respond to His call and then hand the reigns over to Him.

God help the good people of Japan.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The ecology of Catholic music

Music has ecological lessons to teachlessons about transcendence, unity, beauty, harmony, existence, glory, newness, and the unending promise of human life.

For this argument, I submit as Exhibit A this video ...

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The road to beatifying a Catholic ecologist

With news of the upcoming beatification of John Paul II making the rounds (see here and here and here), let us remember his great work in helping spread the Gospel of Life into the realms of ecology.

Our friends at the Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha Conservation Center have some helpful postings on John Paul II, of which I recommend this one.

For a brief reminder of what the His Holiness had said about ecology, read this snippet in Evangelium vitae:
Another welcome sign is the growing attention being paid to the quality of life and to ecology, especially in more developed societies, where people's expectations are no longer concentrated so much on problems of survival as on the search for an overall improvement of living conditions. Especially significant is the reawakening of an ethical reflection on issues affecting life. The emergence and ever more widespread development of bioethics is promoting more reflection and dialogue-between believers and non-believers, as well as between followers of different religions- on ethical problems, including fundamental issues pertaining to human life.
John Paul the Great, pray for us!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Cardinal challenges climate change

A Prince of the Church is being called “irrelevant” and “a fool” by those who are certain that climate change is a reality. Australia’s Cardinal George Pell is not impressed with the science of climate change, and, as reported below in the Sydney Morning Herald, he’s not shy about his opinion. The Cardinal raises some legitimate scientific questions, but in doing so he's committed heresy within certain circles.

The media, which loves such drama, has been stoking the fires. Bloggers are scathing in their analysis.

The tragedy in all this is that people—on all sides of the issue, within and outside of the Church—are missing an opportunity to explore the Church’s great tradition of placing faith and reason into dialogue. Certainly, some of the Cardinal’s critics are using the fracas to spit anti-Catholic venom, but then, from a survey of posted comments in online news stories, many critics of climate change within Holy Mother Church could benefit from a refresher course on civil discourse.

Well, read on and check out the links above. See what you make of all this. Your comments are, as always, important.

Pell row with climate scientist heats up
Leesha McKenny
March 14, 2011
CARDINAL GEORGE PELL has rebuffed the head of the Bureau of Meteorology, who had said Australia's highest-ranking Catholic was ''misled'' in his views on global warming.
Dr Greg Ayers told a Senate estimates hearing last month that the Archbishop of Sydney's argument against human-induced climate change was based heavily on a book by Ian Plimer, Heaven and Earth - Global Warming: The Missing Science, which had been discredited by scientists.
''The contents of the book are simply not scientific. I am concerned that the cardinal has been misled [by its contents],'' the director of the bureau said.
But Cardinal Pell told the Herald the statements by Dr Ayers, an atmospheric scientist, were themselves unscientific. ''Ayers, when he spoke to the House, was obviously a hot-air specialist. I've rarely heard such an unscientific contribution.''
The cleric, who has questioned global warming in his Sunday newspaper column, even likened himself to the federal government's climate adviser Ross Garnaut when he expressed disappointment last week that the public debate on climate change was often divorced from scientific quality, rigour and authority.
''I regret when a discussion of these things is not based on scientific fact,'' Cardinal Pell said. ''I spend a lot of time studying this stuff.''
But Professor Garnaut had also said he was more certain the mainstream science supporting global warming was sound, and there was no ''genuine'' scientific dissent.
Cardinal Pell argued against human-induced global warming in a written submission to the hearing, claiming increases in carbon dioxide tended to follow rises in temperature, not cause them. He also stated, based on Professor Plimer's book, that temperatures were higher in Roman times and the Middle Ages.
Dr Ayers, a former CSIRO marine and atmospheric research chief who holds a doctorate in physical chemistry from Monash University, told the hearing Professor Plimer's book had not been peer reviewed and many of his assertions were not supported by scientific evidence.
He also cited one example in the cardinal's submission that referred to nitrogen in a list of greenhouse gases.
''That is not a greenhouse gas; it is 78 per cent of the atmosphere. You cannot have people out there telling the public that nitrogen is a greenhouse gas because it is not,'' he told the hearing.
Cardinal Pell told the Herald statements by Dr Ayers to the hearing were ''all abuse and waffle about poor old Plimer'', before defending the geologist as a man who ''deals in many, many facts''. But he was prepared to meet leading climate scientists to discuss the issue, he said.
Dr Ayers told the hearing the cardinal ''may well become an ambassador for the quality of climate change science if he is exposed to the quality of the science that is done'' in Australia.
Cardinal Pell made his comments to the Herald after a public lecture by the Vatican's highest judicial officer, Cardinal Raymond Burke, entitled ''The Fall of the Christian West'' in Sydney on Friday night.
Cardinal Pell had earlier told the 200-strong crowd about the value of the ''years of study and professional devotion'' undertaken by Sir Thomas More, who was executed for treason in 1535. "There's no substitute for knowing what you're talking about,'' he said.
A Bureau of Meteorology spokeswoman said Dr Ayers was unavailable for comment yesterday.
Photo: The Metropolitan Cathedral of St. Mary, Sydney, Australia. (

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rome not okay with genetically modified food

A poster to this blog asked about the Church's opinion on genetically modified food. There was some confusion last December when the news media attributed to the Vatican a report endorsing genetically modified food when, in fact, the Vatican hadn't done that.

As always, the Catholic News Service unravels the story for us. I'll dig for more in the coming weeks, but if anyone has any more information on the matter, please send it along to, or add it to the comment section below.

By Carol Glatz

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- The Vatican did not endorse an 11-page final statement in favor of easing restrictions on and allowing more widespread use of genetically modified crops, especially in poorer nations, said a Vatican official.

"The statement is not a statement of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences because the Pontifical Academy of Sciences as such – 80 members -- wasn't consulted about it and will not be consulted about it," Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, the academy's chancellor, told Catholic News Service.

The statement, which was recently made public by a private science publishing company in the Netherlands, also "has no value as the magisterium of the church," he said in an e-mail response to questions Dec. 1.

Later the same day, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, issued a similar communiqué, adding that the pro-GM statement "cannot be considered an official position of the Holy See."

Some news agencies had mistakenly reported that the statement represented the Vatican's endorsement of easing regulations on and promoting the use of genetically modified food crops.

The Pontifical Academy of Science's headquarters hosted a study week in May 2009 on "Transgenic Plants for Food Security in the Context of Development."

The final statement summarized the week's proceedings and recommended that genetic engineering techniques be freed from "excessive, unscientific regulation" so that modern and predictable GM technologies could be used to enhance nutrition and food production

It called for greater cooperation among private corporations, governments and nonprofit organizations with the aim of increasing funding from governments and charities so that GM crops could be "cost-free" for poorer regions.

It also encouraged more widespread use of sustainable and sound agricultural practices to help improve the lives of the poor.

The statement said its conclusions were "drafted and endorsed by all participants of the study week," which included 33 outside experts and only seven academy members, including the academy's chancellor, Bishop Sanchez.

Bishop Sanchez told CNS that the final statement was signed by all of the participants and "therefore it is a statement that has the authority and value of the participants." Most of the 40 participants were longtime supporters of using modified crops for boosting food production and creating new sources of energy from nonfood crops.

A number of participants have invented genetically modified foodstuffs or work for companies that sell genetically modified seeds. There also were at least four speakers who have ties to the U.S. agribusiness giant Monsanto, which created a synthetic bovine growth hormone to boost cow milk production as well as insect- and herbicide-resistant seeds.

Bishop George Nkuo of Kumbo, Cameroon, attended the closed-door study week with the idea that he would talk about a warning by African bishops against claims that genetically modified crops would solve Africa's food crises.

A working document for the Synod of Bishops for Africa released two months before the meeting in 2009 said that using modified crops risks "ruining small landholders, abolishing traditional methods of seeding and making farmers dependent on the production companies" selling their genetically modified seeds.

Those in charge of organizing and inviting speakers for the study week were academy members Ingo Potrykus, who invented a genetic strain of rice that is rich in beta carotene; Werner Arber, a 1978 Nobel Prize winner in medicine; and Peter Raven, retired president of the Missouri Botanical Garden, which is home to the Monsanto Center and its offices, laboratories and millions of plant specimens.

"Finally, for the moment, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences is not planning another meeting on this topic," Bishop Sanchez wrote to CNS.

The academy hosted talks in 2000 and 2004 on whether genetic modification should play a role in promoting food security. After co-hosting the 2004 meeting on modified foods with the U.S. Embassy to the Vatican, the academy showed its support for the potential of modified foods when it released a statement -- based on the conference discussions -- that praised the important contributions such foods could make in fighting hunger.

However, the Vatican has never taken a formal position supporting or opposing genetically modified foods.

Pope Benedict XVI has denounced the continued scandal of hunger in the world, saying its root causes have more to do with problems of distribution and sharing than with there not being enough food in the world.

The Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, said earlier this year that it was not a coincidence that in 2009 the use of genetically modified food crops grew by 13 percent in developing countries and that GM crops covered almost half of the world's total arable land.

And yet "the number of hungry people in the world has for the first time reached 1 billion people," the paper said.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

A climate change challenger

Since this blog is in part an online presence of my column Catholic Ecology, it’s only right to also post letters to the editor that critique me, or the issues about which I write. The following was in response to my column on climate change and how we must carry our crosses. The letter ran in this week's Rhode Island Catholic under the title "science is about facts, evidence, not emotion."
There were several inadequacies in Mr. Patenaude's editorial (Catholic Ecology) last week. First, the methodologies used to support the claims about global warming are specious and speculative.

As a chemist, I'm always struggling to actually see the science. Were there really armies of scientists making hyper-accurate temperature readings at a global level in 1750? Are ice-core readings truly accurate to 0.01 degrees? Can such temperature readings really be gleaned from measuring tree-rings? Can NASA truly measure sea-level changes to 0.01 inches using satellites when the most accurate reading I can get for this morning's tidal report is to 12 inches?

The answers are "of course not". What's likely happening is that statistical methods are being used to generate numbers that are more hyper-accurate than the instruments used to make the measurements. So the question becomes, is the manipulation deliberate? Science isn't science anymore. It is faith. It is the ultimate of ironies that in this modern, scientific age, the only requirement for belief in the next theory is the saying, “Scientists say ...”, and it is so.

Second, it's not just that "some climate researchers made phony claims", it's that they, as the gate-keepers to the scientific journals, stifled any contrary evidence. There are many scientists who dispute the claims of "global warming,” or "climate change,” or whatever the terminology du jour is. Reputable scientists such as Ian Plimer (at the University of Adelaide) and Richard Lindzen (at MIT) aren’t debated; they are simply ignored.

Third, assigning god-like status to government agencies is never a good idea. Just because NASA says-so, doesn't mean its claims are scientific fact. When NASA readily sites the IPCC, the UN agency mostly responsible for the “Climategate” fiasco, then the claims by NASA become suspect. Furthermore, this is the agency that ignored the performance specifications of a simple rubber O-ring and launched the space shuttle Challenger to an explosive death. This is the same agency that ignored a simple equation of physics and concluded that a piece of foam insulation couldn't damage the shuttle Columbia, thereby causing the deaths of another crew. Claims don't become fact simply because they come from some multi-lettered government agency.

As a teenager I remember the horrific and frightening claims in the 1970's that the Earth was entering a new ice age. We were all told that by the year 2000, we were all going to freeze to death ... or starve to death because of massive crop failures due to freezing temperatures. We knew it was going to happen because Time Magazine and the New York Times said so.

But the most deceptive aspect of the editorial was that it was a weaving of ambiguous science with emotion and faith. The leap from blindly accepting claims about global warming to a Christian’s duty to carry one’s cross was disappointing. In reality, the crosses we will carry will not be from having to accept massive social changes to prevent climate change, but of living the consequences of being duped by con artists.

Sally Recuas 
I encourage such letters as this one. They encourage dialogue--which is always a good thing. If you’d like to respond to Ms. Recuas yourself, you're welcome to send in a letter to the editor to the Rhode Island Catholic at

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The A, Bee, C's of food supply threats

If we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide their whole bodies. It is the same with ships: even though they are so large and driven by fierce winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot's inclination wishes. In the same way the tongue is a small member and yet has great pretensions. Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the entire course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. This need not be so, my brothers. Does a spring gush forth from the same opening both pure and brackish water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, produce olives, or a grapevine figs? Neither can salt water yield fresh. (James 3:3-12)

This passage comes to mind with recent news from the United Nations Environment Programme. Apparently a number of factors—pollution and other human-related activities being the most common—are responsible for a worldwide decline in bee colonies. Bees and other plant pollinators are the smallest link to our worldwide supply of food, and as they go, so goes the human race.

The report notes,
  • More than a dozen factors, ranging from declines in flowering plants and the use of memory-damaging insecticides to the world-wide spread of pests and air pollution, may be behind the emerging decline of bee colonies across many parts of the globe.
  • Scientists are warning that without profound changes to the way human-beings manage the planet, declines in pollinators needed to feed a growing global population are likely to continue.
  • New kinds of virulent fungal pathogens—which can be deadly to bees and other key pollinating insects—are now being detected world-wide, migrating from one region to another as a result of shipments linked to globalization and rapidly growing international trade.
  • Meanwhile an estimated 20,000 flowering plant species, upon which many bee species depend for food, could be lost over the coming decades unless conservation efforts are stepped up.
  • Increasing use of chemicals in agriculture, including 'systemic insecticides' and those used to coat seeds, is being found to be damaging or toxic to bees. Some can, in combination, be even more potent to pollinators, a phenomenon known as the 'cocktail effect.
  • Climate change, left unaddressed, may aggravate the situation, in various ways including by changing the flowering times of plants and shifting rainfall patterns. This may in turn affect the quality and quantity of nectar supplies. 
There’s much more, and I encourage you to read through it. If so, you'll find supporting evidence and recommendations, all of which remind us that the smallest of God’s creations are often the most important. But then, such has been revealed to us in scripture. Science is only now able to explain how and why this is the case. And if we’re wise, we’ll heed the implications of what this news has to teach us. As the passage from James reminds us, there is an order to the world, and, like it or not, the smallest loss of one element of the created order can and will have (and, apparently, already is having) terrifying consequences to this already fallen world.

For more information from the UN on sustainable development, visit here.

For information on what the Church is saying about agriculture, and how you can help, visit here.

And for a human look at what bee die offs can do to local farmers, and we the people who eat their food, spend a few moments and watch this video:

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

B16: First defend "human ecology"

The Holy Father once again has brought ecological issues squarely into the conversation about morality—about our relationship with God, His creation and with each other.

As reported by the Vatican Information Service,

Benedict XVI affirms that "the first step towards a correct relationship with the world around us is the recognition by humans of their status as created beings. Man is not God; he is His image. For this reason he must seek to be more sensitive to the presence of God in his surroundings. In all creatures, and especially in human beings, there is an epiphany, or manifestation, of God".

"The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures only if he keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Otherwise he will come to despise himself and his surroundings, and to disrespect the environment, the creation, in which he lives. For this reason, the first ecology to be defended is 'human ecology'. This is to say that, without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman; without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society, not overlooking, in this context, those who have lost everything in natural calamities, we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment".

The Holy Father gave these words to Archbishop Geraldo Lyrio Rocha of Mariana, president of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil, for the Fraternity Campaign traditionally promoted by the Brazilian Church during Lent.

Praise God for such a pontiff, one who sees clearly how current historical realities speak to us about the great and beautiful revelation of the Triune God. And because one can never reflect too much on our Holy Father’s words, here’s a summary of his Ash Wednesday address ...

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent's no meat Fridays good for planet Earth

With Ash Wednesday comes the Lenten Season, a time of sacrifice and penance in preparation of the great celebration of the event that changed human history: Easter.

For Catholics, Lent means many things (or should, anyway). From those cardboard “rice bowls” to collect our spare change for charity, to abstaining from sweets, or wine, or what have you. But the biggest Lenten observation is giving up meat on Fridays (and, technically, on Ash Wednesday and other days, too.)

The history of giving up meat is a long one, and it's often a cause for not-so-friendly jokes aimed at Catholics. But behold, Catholic abstinence of meat not only helps us control our appetites, but it helps the planet, too.

A recent report published in Environmental Science and Technology dissects the damage of the beef industry to the ecology of South America, and, by extension, the globe. The study looked especially hard at how changes in land use from a bio-diverse rainforest to pasture comes with big problems. But, alas, the market makes all this profitable because our love of beef brings in big bucks in places like Brazil.

All this makes the Catholic reduction of beef by 14% during Lent (one day a week) a sacrifice that brings real ecological benefits, and could do so much more if it spread beyond Holy Mother Church. Moreover, back in the day, every Friday was a meatless day. Imagine if we still held to that standard?

Well, suffice to say that when we humans make small sacrifices, they can add up to big improvements for Earth—not to mention our souls.

For more on Lenten abstinence, visit the US Conference of Catholic Bishops page on Lent 2011. For more on the beef industry’s effects on ecology, check out here, and here and here.

And Happy Lent to all Catholic brothers and sisters . . . and remember, thou art dust, and unto dust shall ye return. (Which makes that Easter promise down the road such a meaningful one: Rejoice, He is Risen!)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Ah, those cities of men

St. Augustine suggested that we be wary of cities of men and trust only in the City of God. But to watch some industrial giants portray their works—good ones for sure, and perhaps some not so good—you'd think that the solution for all human suffering is in their products and the skillful engineers who created them.

The Siemens ad below does just this. But remember the words of our Holy Father; true salvation comes not from science, but from love. (Spe Salvi, section 26.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A forest moves in Alaska

It sounds like something out of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, but sadly it's yet another study showing what happens when a climate changes. This latest news comes from the Arctic Sounder

A new study released in the scientific journal Ecology Letters offers one of the first confirmations of a wholesale shift in the boreal forest ecosystem due to climate change.

Among the findings, researchers said, is increased tree growth in the Western Alaska tundra margin.

Collaborators on the study, which compared three-ring data to satellite images, include Glenn Juday, a professor of forest ecology at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and co-author of the article.

"This is one of the first extensive analyses of annual growth and climate response of black spruce in Alaska," said Juday, who collaborated on the UAF research with Valerie Barber, Patricia Heiser and Emily Sousa.

The study found that tree growth declined across most of the current area of Alaska boreal forest but increased in a smaller area on the cold margins of the forest.

Scientists at the Woods Hole Research Center and three other institutions based in Alaska and France conducted the study. UAF scientists were instrumental in the project, which involved one of the largest and most widely distributed samples of tree-ring data ever analyzed in Alaska: 839 trees, including 627 white spruce from 46 stands and 212 black spruce from 42 stands.

"The tree rings tell us for sure what's happening on the ground, and the satellite data covers the whole region," said Juday. "Recent temperature increases have reduced tree growth over most of central Alaska, and increased growth in places where the temperature used to be too low for optimum growth, such as the Western Alaska tundra margin. Summer temperatures in central Interior Alaska are now almost too warm for white spruce to survive."
More information on Arctic findings from the Woods Hole Research Center can be found here.

Information on what the Church in America is saying about climate change can be found here.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tragedy in India

As reported in the Economic Times, a clash between security forces and local residents protesting the construction of a power plant resulted in two people shot dead and more injured.

Here’s some of the story:

NEW DELHI: A day after a violent protest by local farmers, Environment Ministry today ordered suspension of construction work of a power plant in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh.

The Ministry sought a report by March 6 from the company East Coast Energy Pvt Ltd on compliance of conditions for environmental clearance.

The ongoing construction work related to the project should be "suspended forthwith", the Ministry said in its order with regard to the power plant.

It said the 2,640 MW Super Critical Coal plant was being constructed on wetland and cited recommendations of the Expert Appraisal Committee of the Ministry as a reason for order to suspend work.
Piyali Mandal in the Business Standard adds this:
The directive (to suspend construction) followed reports that police had fired at protesters in Kakrapalli village, which is close to the site of the project. The firing left two people dead and others injured. The protesters included farmers and fishermen protesting against the acquisition of land. The matter was raised in Parliament on Tuesday, with Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh facing a volley of questions over the killing of farmers.
Our prayers go to the two people killed, as well as their families and loved ones.

And our attention must be turned to why such an event would happen. Why was there so much public opposition? Had the impacts on the people of the area and their ecosystem really been taken into account? Is the demand for power so great that innocent lives are being uprooted and destroyed?

Here, technology must meet morality. An old Catholic term (one that has been adopted by the State) comes to mind: the Common Good. No project, no technology, no source of power is so important that innocent people must be sacrificed—either by loosing their homes, their livelihood or their lives. God help them all.

This story needs much more information. If you have any, please add it to the comment fields below, or email