While the world was focused on the Paris UN Climate Change Conference this fall, a number of community groups in Saskatoon came together to host a climate mobilization march. The event attracted hundreds of people who were energized to fight for our common home . . . and me.
To be honest my initial motivation to attend the march had nothing to do with personal conviction. I had always tried my best to reduce, reuse and recycle, but I had never felt any passion about keeping the Earth green. Although I had read a lot of articles about Laudato Si’, I hadn’t actually found time to read this encyclical on the environment.
On this particular occasion, however, a non-Catholic friend invited me to come, and I thought, “If my secular friend and my pope agree, who am I to sit at home binge watching Netflix?”
Attending the rally gave me the opportunity to think about what has been holding me back from joining the excitement around climate change. I’m not a climate change denier, but I’m not a climate change activist either. I’ve glanced at the science around global warming, but my growing mistrust in scientific experts stops me from jumping on any bandwagon. I’m ready to agree that our climate is changing, but I’m just not in a position to make firm statements about what is causing this change.
Around this point in my pondering about the environment, I generally lose interest. But while I was at the climate change rally, I was able to take my thinking a few steps further. In that small school gymnasium on a Sunday afternoon, surrounded by strollers, dogs, information booths and catchy slogans (“there is no planet B” was my personal favourite), I had an epiphany. I realized that I don’t need to have a firm position on climate change to be able to work toward the goals of the environmentalist movement.
People arrive at a desire to protect the environment from a variety of avenues. For some, it is because they are worried that global warming will destroy the Earth. For others, it is quite simply because they love our natural environment, fescue and all. As a Catholic, my interest in the environment is rooted in my belief that humankind has been entrusted with the stewardship of the Earth.
This realization triggered in me a deeper reflection on stewardship. My mind immediately sifted through a few examples of bad stewardship (cf, Denethor from the Lord of the Rings who taught us all that paranoia and leadership are a bad mix), but then I began mulling over the Parable of the Talents. What would a good servant do if he or she were entrusted with a whole planet?
I think one of the reasons many people shy away from the environmentalist movement is because we have a picture in our mind of a group of people who don’t want us to engage the Earth in any way. In this extreme viewpoint, human beings are seen as an infestation that needs to be managed or exterminated.
However, our alternatives are not either humans as vermin or humans as supreme overlords. God is not expecting us to return the planet exactly as we found it, but this doesn’t mean that God has given us free reign to consume and destroy it either.
Our role as stewards calls us beyond this binary to a much more complicated mission. As good servants we have a responsibility to multiply what has been given to us by cherishing the Earth, fostering all life, and finding new ways to develop and sustain the environment. The Catholic message heralds the intrinsic value of all creation, not because it is useful, but because it is good. This is an extension of the value we find in all human beings.
When I finally got around to reading parts of Laudato Si,’ I saw that Pope Francis had made it easy for me to transition from being a socio-con who is apathetic about the environment, to a Catholic who understands the environment’s importance in the larger reality of the culture of life. The pope expertly threads this needle, writing:
“When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities — to offer just a few examples — it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected. Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble, for ‘instead of carrying out his role as a co-operator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature.’ ”
If our lack of concern about the environment is another symptom of our culture’s rebellion from God, perhaps a renewal of responsible care for the environment can be a first step back toward embracing our role in creation. We are stewards not only of our environment, but also of each other. When the Master returns, may he find good and faithful servants and a world teaming with life.
Deutscher holds an MA in Public Ethics from St. Paul University in Ottawa. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan.