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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

You, climate change, and the reports behind it

Since part of what this blog is about is the sharing of information pouring through the eco-academic-decision-making world, here are two links that you may find interesting.

One is from the “Clean Air-Cool Planet” site, which links to a particularly interesting report on dealing with climate change science in the Northeast.

The second is an EPA report on “Rolling Easements.” It has a good amount of information—and some bias—that you’ll read more about when I have a chance to digest it.

So, as always, stay tuned for more . . .

Friday, June 24, 2011

Ecology teaches us about love, what it means to be human

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.

Thus wrote His Holiness Benedict XVI in Charity in Truth, his 2009 letter to the church and the world. Last week, the pontiff referenced these words when speaking to new ambassadors to the Holy See.

Each time Benedict XVI speaks about environmental issues he challenges us to consider what it means to be human. He asks us to see ourselves and our world as a unified whole.

He teaches us that the “book of nature” connects the myriad ways in which human life comes into being, grows, is nurtured (and nurtures), relates, sacrifices, loves, and is ultimately offered eternal and fully human life with God.

All this came to mind the other day at a meeting about marriage. The discussion kept coming back to basic issues at the core of why too many marriages in the Western world fail—such as the eroding understanding of what marriage actually is. Ultimately, the discussion was about our shared humanity, and it resonated profoundly with the Holy Father’s words about nature.

In ecological parlance, marriage is about the nurturing and support of relationships in which opposites join and bring about new life. Marriage is not an isolated relationship that seeks its own ends. Rather, its aim is similar to that of local or planetary ecosystems: the greater good of all life.

This gets to the issue of the common good—a concept that many today have forgotten. But anyone who cares or knows about the laws of nature—“the book of nature,” as His Holiness refers to it—knows that systems of biological life have much to teach us.

For instance, one of the most fundamental ecological relations is that between animals and plants, which goes something like this: animals release carbon dioxide and nutrients that plants feed on to grow, mature and reproduce; in turn, animals consume plants and benefit from the oxygen that plants release. Thus, thanks to the life and death of plants and animals, other plants and animals grow, mature and reproduce. The balance of all this is a beautiful but sometimes painful duet of differing life forms that have evolved to compliment each other and to foster new life. The laws behind all this are not human creations. They are not ours to change without consequence.

When we speak of marriage we are speaking of the same kind of laws—for that book of nature is one and indivisible. Marriage is a societal necessity for the support of gender-inclusive couples that, by their very nature, have likewise evolved to bring about and foster new life. Communal encouragement of marriage is meant to help the common good by celebrating and rallying around the (sometimes precarious) bond of two people and the innocent young that they seek to generate and orient to the world.

In a perfect world—the one we all strive for—part of that orientation involves providing a family where a male and a female are witnessed parenting together. A mom and dad not only provide children with a genetic code, they also demonstrate through their pairing the genetic code of society. This is what the Holy Father means when he speaks of the integrated realities of the “environment . . . life, sexuality, marriage, the family, [and] social relations.”

In our contemporary world—where marriage has become founded on the quicksand of sentiment, or is viewed as a legal construct that any couple has the “right” to seize for themselves—much could be learned by looking to the natural order of things. In doing so, we’d see that marriage is not the stuff of Hallmark cards or Hollywood. It is about openness to the greater, glorious good of what exists beyond all our biological urges. Ultimately, this is what we witness in nature, where no one organism—or grouping thereof—ever truly lives for itself, even if it might act as if it does.

There is much that ecology has to teach us about what it means to be human—especially about sacrificial love and relation—and I believe this is one of the many reasons that the Holy Father, as did his predecessor Blessed John Paul II, often speaks of ecology in the context of a larger dialogue. Indeed, the great desire of Benedict XVI is to remind his flock and the world that this dialogue exists and that the Gospel offers it a rather unique voice. Thus, the church must bring this voice to the public square—and she must do so always by speaking the truth firmly and, naturally, with charity.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

US Bishops connect mercury and abortion

Below is a letter from the bishop's of the United States to the US Environmental Protection Agency. Its subject is the issue of mercury emissions from power plants. This is a unique issue for supporters of both ecology and human life because the impact that mercury has on all life demonstrates the urgency in defending the lives of unborn childrenfrom pollution, yes, but also from abortion. After all, if mercury is bad for unborn children, so is any procedure that ends their innocent lives.  No?

This can cause some confusion and soul searching on the part of many in the media, which is a good, good thing.

As an example of how the facts behind mercury poisoning can help everyone understand the Church's teaching on abortion, here's the bishop's most excellent letter:

Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development
3211 FOURTH STREET NEWASHINGTON DC 20017-1194 • 202-541-3160

June 20, 2011

Lisa P. Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Washington, DC 20460

Subj: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2011-0044
Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0234

Dear Administrator Jackson:

I write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (“Conference”) to welcome and comment on recently proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Standards that would reduce hazardous air pollution from power plants. The Conference supports a national standard to reduce such pollution. Such standards should protect the health and welfare of all people, especially the most vulnerable members of our society, including unborn and other young children, from harmful exposure to toxic air pollution emitted from power plants.

While we are not experts on air pollution, our general support for a national standard to reduce hazardous air pollution from power plants is guided by Catholic teaching, which calls us to care for God’s creation and protect the common good and the life and dignity of human persons, especially the poor and vulnerable, from conception until natural death. As we articulated in Putting Children and Families First: “For generations, the Catholic community has reached out to children… We have defended their right to life itself and their right to live with dignity, to realize the bright promise and opportunity of childhood.”

Children, inside and outside the womb, are uniquely vulnerable to environmental hazards and exposure to toxic pollutants in the environment. Their bodies, behaviors and size leave them more exposed than adults to such health hazards. Furthermore, since children are exposed to environmental hazards at an early age, they have more extended time to develop slowly-progressing environmentally triggered illnesses.

It is well known that power plants are the largest source of mercury and other toxic air pollution in the United States. In addition to mercury and arsenic, power plants emit lead, other heavy metals, dioxins and acid gases. It is reported that even in small amounts these harmful air pollutants in the environment are linked to health problems, particularly in children before and after birth, the poor and the elderly. These problems apparently include asthma, cancer, heart disease, learning disabilities, brain damage, and other illnesses that adversely affect childhood development.

Toxic air pollution from power plants causes great harm to the environment, to the food chain, and to humans. Scientists tell us mercury emitted from power plants contaminates our lakes, streams, rivers and fish. People are primarily exposed to mercury by eating contaminated fish. This is of particular concern for pregnant women and their unborn and newborn children since mercury exposure can interfere with children’s developing nervous systems, impairing their ability to think and learn.

According to research, one out of six babies born in the U.S. has harmful levels of mercury in his or her blood (n1). Fish advisories have been issued across the United States warning against fish consumption from local waters as a result of mercury contamination (n2).

A national standard limiting mercury and other toxic air pollution represents an important opportunity to protect the health and welfare of all people, especially our children and poor and vulnerable communities. Applying such a standard would reduce emissions of mercury from power plants by 91 percent marking a significant step forward. Some may attempt to weaken this proposed standard. However, we believe we ought to take prudent and responsible action to protect our children.

We do not make these comments unaware of the broad economic reality. Our country continues to struggle with persistently high unemployment and stagnant economic growth that is not nearly sufficient to meet the needs of vulnerable workers and families. EPA's analysis finds that the employment impacts of this rule are expected to be small (n3). Implementation of such a rule should attempt to mitigate the potential effects on the workforce and protect poor and vulnerable communities while maintaining a clear priority for health and well-being. EPA and others involved in implementing this rule should work to ensure that any additional costs generated by implementation of the rule are allocated according to capacity to bear such burdens. Poor and vulnerable people and their communities must not be asked to bear a disproportionate share of the effects of toxic air pollution or the cost burden of implementing such a rule.

While there are short-term costs involved in implementing this standard, the health benefits of such a rule outweigh these costs (n4). Therefore, we welcome the EPA’s proposal of a national standard to significantly reduce toxic air pollution and call upon our leaders in government and industry to act responsibly, justly, and rapidly to implement such a standard.


Most Reverend Stephen E. Blaire
Bishop of Stockton
Chairman, Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development

n1: See Kathryn R. Mahaffey et al., "Blood Organic Mercury and Dietary Mercury Intake: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999 and 2000," Environmental Health Perspectives, 112, #5 (April 2004):, and Leonardo Trasande, et al., Public Health and Economic Consequences of Methyl Mercury Toxicity to the Developing Brain, Environmental Health Perspectives, Vol. 113, No. 5 (May 2005): p. 593; The 1-in-6 figure, taken from her peer-reviewed research, was used by Mahaffey in a presentation she made while she was the EPA’s top mercury scientist. See

n2: American Lung Association, Emissions of Hazardous Air Pollutants from Coal-Fired Power Plants. Prepared by Environmental Health & Engineering, Inc., March 7, 2011, p.18. Available at:

n3: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Regulatory Impact Analysis for the Utility Air Toxics Rule, Final Report, March 29, 2010, p. 9-15. Available at:

n4: U.S. EPA ibid, p. 1-1

Friday, June 17, 2011

Our Lord's advice on worry: heed nature

In Saturday’s Gospel, our Lord once again uses nature to remind us of the natural order and what it means to be human . . .

Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Matthew 6:24-34.
Jesus said to his disciples: "No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?

Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin.

But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them.

If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?'

All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.

But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil."

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Reasons why B16 spoke today on ecology

Benedict XVI met with new ambassadors to the Holy See today. In his talks he made it clear that ecological protection is an issue that must be seen in relation to how the Church and the state partner to building up the common good. The Holy Father's emphasis on ecology still has people wondering why he's so emphatic about environmental protection.

I’ll get to that below, but first, his words. In his address to Mr. George Robert Furness Troup, ambassador from New Zealand, the Holy Father said:

Faithful to the best of its traditions, New Zealand is called to use its position of influence for the peace and stability of the region, the encouragement of mature and stable democratic institutions, and the fostering of authentic human rights and sustainable economic development. The desire for development poses a number of important challenges concerning the environment, some of them with serious consequences for people’s well-being and livelihoods, and especially for the poor. I would like to encourage the work being done to promote models of development at home and abroad that reflect a truly human ecology, are economically sustainable and fulfil our duty as stewards of creation (cf. Caritas in Veritate, 48; 51).
To H.E. Mrs. Geneviève D. Tsegah of Ghana:

Your Excellency, your land has been blessed with natural resources which are now bringing prosperity to your people. It is much to be hoped that, through social solidarity, the proceeds from the correct exploitation of these resources will contribute to the sustainable economic development of your people. Let this be achieved, however, while giving due attention to those who are much poorer, or unable to provide for their families through no fault of their own. In this sense, may your country give an example in establishing effective instruments of solidarity (cf. Centesimus Annus, 16), to the true enrichment of all members of society.
In a talk to the complete assembly of the new ambassadors, Benedict XVI noted the global issue of energy. While the talk was delivered in French, the international language of diplomacy, and with no English version on the Vatican website (yet, anyway) the Catholic News Agency reports the following:

Vatican City, Jun 9, 2011 / 12:53 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- The governments of the world should back “the exploitation of clean energy sources,” Pope Benedict XVI said June 9.

The Pope made his remarks in an address to a group of ambassadors at the Vatican. His comments came on the same day Switzerland voted to phase-out its nuclear energy program.

“The first half of this year has been marked by many tragedies that have affected nature, technology and people,” the Pope said in reference to the March earthquake in Japan that triggered radioactive leaks at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

At the same time, the Pope cautioned, “Man, to whom God has entrusted the safeguarding of nature, cannot be dominated by technology or become its object.”

The Pope said this awareness should lead all countries to “reflect on the short-term future of the planet” and “their responsibilities with regard to our life and technology.”

“Human ecology,” he stressed, “is an imperative.”

“We must adopt a lifestyle that respects the environment and support research and the exploitation of clean energy sources, respectful of the heritage of creation and harmless to humans, these must be our political and economic priorities.”

The Pope’s comments carry a particular political significance for many western countries currently questioning the future of their nuclear industries. Today’s vote in the Swiss parliament follows an identical decision in Germany last month. Pope Benedict’s homeland will now phase out nuclear power by 2022.

The Pope said we all have to undergo a “change of mentality” so as to arrive at “an overall lifestyle that respects the balance between man and nature.”

“All governments must commit to protect nature and help it fulfill its essential role in the survival of humanity,” he said, suggesting that the United Nations seems to be the obvious forum to achieve this.

Pope Benedict also critiqued the way that technology is sometimes used without any ethical consideration.

He warned that when societies believe that technology is the “exclusive agent of progress or happiness” they make embark on a road that “leads to blindness and misery.”

He told the assembled ambassadors that putting too much trust in “an all powerful and ultimately uncontrolled technology” deprives man of his humanity. The antidote to this, he said, was for governments to “promote a humanism that respects the spiritual and religious dimension of man.”
Interestingly, a commenter on the story, who calls himself Joseph, had this reaction:
What does this have to do with preaching the Gospel and saving souls found only in Christ and in his Catholic Church? More evangelization and less social justice from the post-conciliar hierarchy would be nice.
To this I would respond that the Holy Father is doing just that: Evangelizing.

One must understand that Benedict XVI sees the fullness of revelation as having a historical character. The eternal truths of the Gospel and of tradition speak anew to each age. As such, he is ever aware that the Church must speak of modern issues to be relevant and to be in dialogue with the world in which it finds itself. It is such dialogue that is the engine of evangelization.

Today’s world struggles with ecological issues, and so the Holy Father discusses these issues not merely because he is interested in social justice, but because he seeks to incorporate the Gospel into world affairs. In other words, he is doing what the Church has always done when guided by the Holy Spirit. He is baptizing history and current events by being part of the world—that is, by being incarnational.

With that in mind, you may want to reread that CNA story and see how this is all playing out in the words of His Holiness, Benedict XVI.

Once again, God bless this pontiff! And may his awareness of our damage to creation spark an interest in many to come and see the glory that awaits them when joining the body of Christ.

Image: Paul preaches to the Thessalonians. Engraving by Gustave Dore (1832 – 1883)

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bishops respond to murder in the Amazon

From Nova Ipixuna comes news that the Roman Catholic Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Charity, Justice and Peace of the National Conference of Brazilian Bishops (CNBB) issued a statement about the brutal May 24 murder of the environmentalist leader José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva, and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo Silva.
"The Episcopal Commission for the Pastoral Care of Charity, Justice and Peace of the CNBB, joins in the many expressions of indignation for the brutal murder of the couple" says a passage in the declaration. The Commission itself, in November 2010, had issued another statement, signed by José Cláudio in front of more than 400 scholars from different fields of research, in which the leading environmentalist said: "I live in the forest, I protect it, so I live waiting for a bullet in the head at any time, because I am always in full view, before everyone, and I denounce what I see."
Like Sister Dorothy Mae Stang, who was shot to death in February, 2005, the murder of José and Maria shows us the great stakes in play when one seeks to protect the ecology and the people of Brazil.

The issue of deforestation in the Amazon, and elsewhere, can not be understated. What’s happening as a result of the eco-carnage in this lush rain forest is impacting worldwide biodiversity and is being fueled by, as well as results in, poverty.

To learn more on this issue, visit here, or here, or here.

It is critical that Catholic ecologists—and all ecologists—explain to one and all the very dire consequences of the ongoing destruction of the vast ecological riches of the Amazon.

In fact, in a way, what’s happening in the Amazon is murder, because the damage occurring is causing, and will have, very real consequences on very real people within the Amazon and across the interwoven ecology of planet Earth.

May God bless José and Maria and welcome them into His eternal embrace, and may their murder teach us all what’s happening in the battle for the Amazon, why it’s happening, and what one risks when seeking to stop the madness.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Battle lines are drawn in Goa, India

News from India demonstrates how the Church relates ecological concerns and human dignity. The news is about concerns over damage being done by excessive mining in India’s smallest state of Goa.

From CathNewsIndia and the Times of India come stories about Fr Maverick Fernandes, the director of Council of Social Justice and Peace for the Church in Goa, India. From the CathNewsIndia story:

Excessive mining in Goa is proving to be a grave threat to the ecologically-sensitive Western Ghats, the church warned in its World Environment Day message June 4.

“Mining, deforestation and aggressive promotion of eco-tourism by the government was eating into Goa’s green cover,”said Father Maverick Fernandes in a statement.

“The contents of the proposed Goa State Forest Policy, 2011, require a serious overhaul as there are several fundamental issues,” he said.

“Goa’s forests are under attack due to iron and manganese ore minimg, indicating that among the greater threat to the entire Western Ghats is mining in Goa,” Fernandes said.
Notably, the Time of India quotes Fr. Fernandes’ words, who himself quotes John Paul II—all of which helps show the world how the Church views ecological protection:

"I would like to conclude in the words of the Blessed Pope John Paul II who asserted in his message for the World Day of Peace in 1990 that "the ecological crisis is a moral issue", said Fernandes.
God bless Fr. Fernandes in his efforts to protect the people and the eco-system of Goa. Keep him, and the people in his flock, in your prayers. And stay tuned for more as events unfold.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"He Ascended into Heaven . . ."

In celebrating the Feast of the Ascension, Catholics proclaim the great promise of Christ: Our final end, if it is to be with God, will not be as mere souls, but as souls reunited with our bodies—then glorified.

After all, to be human means to have a body and a soul. To be fully human in Christ does require us to choose being one or the other. Christ, the firstfruits, shows us His promise for the human race in his own Resurrection and Ascension: The reunification of body and soul, joined in perfection.

This is why we Catholics do not reject the material world. We don’t see it as something from which we must escape. From the beginning, the Church has fought tendencies that would spiritualize the faith. The material world means something, because God Himself brought it into existence.

For the Catholic ecologist, the Ascension is a time to reflect with renewed vigor the importance of creation, and our need to nurture and steward it.

As the opening prayer at the Vigil Mass said so clearly this evening,

God our Father,
make us joyful
in the ascension of your Son Jesus Christ.
May we follow him into the new creation,
for his ascension is our glory and our hope.
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.
And so, onward we go in the hope of being part of that new creation. Our duty, as the Gospel for this Feast reminds us, is to “Go” and make disciples, knowing that Christ will be with His church always, until the end of time. This means we can not wait idly for Christ’s promised return. We must be active in this world, in this fallen created order, so that by whatever grace-filled efforts we may offer, we can invite into this great drama as many souls as we can. And while we’re at it, we must also steward and nurture as much of God’s green earth that we can—that is, the ecosystem that he bothered to create in the beginning.

Because all things begin with prayer, here are two favorites for this Feast from the New Saint Joseph People's Prayer Book

O Lord,
Your Ascension into heaven
marks the culmination of the Paschal Mystery,
and it contains an important teaching for us.
May we live life as an earthly reality
and develop our human potential to the fullest.
May we make use of the results of science
to achieve a better life on this planet.
But in our best moments
we know that there must be more
than all of this,
a transcending Reality.
As Christians, we know that this Reality
is Your loving Father
Who awaits us with You and the Holy Spirit.
Where You have gone,
we ultimately will come - if we are faithful.

O Lord Jesus,
I adore You,
Son of Mary,
my Savior and my Brother,
for You are God.
I follow You in my thoughts,
O firstfruits of our race,
as I hope one day by Your grace
to follow You in my person
into heavenly glory.
In the meantime,
do let me neglect the earthly task
that You have given me.
Let me labor diligently
all my life
with a greater appreciation for the present.
Let me realize
that only by accomplishing
true human fulfillment
can I attain Divine fulfillment
and ascend to You at the completion of my work.