I have met Asians in airports who wear masks to protect themselves against air pollution. I have seen pictures, and read stories, of smog so heavy in the industrialized cities of China that people need to wear masks regularly, and they rarely are able to breathe fresh air.
Where I live on the Prairies, we are blessed to have fresh air and sunshine every day. It’s a gift that not everyone on this earth enjoys. We also are not threatened by rising sea water or melting glaciers.
Of more concern to many Prairie citizens is the amount of chemicals in our food and water. Our weather patterns are changing, too, and we are uncertain what the future will hold. Will tornados and hurricanes soon become common on the Prairies? Will storms become more violent? Will we turn into a desert in a few decades, as some people predict?
As we ponder the reality of climate change today, Pope Francis has given all of humanity a new focus. He has his critics as well as his enthusiastic supporters. This week’s PM coverage of his encyclical, On Care for our Common Home, gives a good overview to his long-anticipated teaching.
Climate change is nothing new. It is part of our history and will be part of our future. However, the cycle of climate change extends over long periods of time. For most people the cycle extends beyond our lifetime, and we don’t notice it to any full extent.
However, most serious scientists agree that the speed of change has increased measurably since the industrial revolution. We are heightening the degree of change that does occur naturally. And those who argue that we can control climate change or weather patterns through technology stand helpless in the face of severe droughts or raging hurricanes.
Pope Francis reminds us that the Christian tradition says that the earth is given for the good of all humanity. Humans are called to care for the earth, and he calls us to reflect on what resources we will leave for future generations. He reminds us that those who are poor and powerless do not share the earth’s resources to the same degree as the rich and powerful.
He is not the first to call our attention to the crisis we are facing. Perhaps his stature will get the serious attention of more people, both Catholics and otherwise.