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Posted March 6, 2007

An Excellent Article on the need to Green the World, let alone America
At the bottom of this article and comments are some of my own efforts to make us more sensitive to this need.
Fr. Gene Hemrick

Ecology makes the Catholic mega-trend list

by John L. Allen, Jr.
Friday, Mar. 2, 2007 - Vol. 6, No. 26

Perhaps the week in which Al Gore turned green into gold by winning an Oscar for "An Inconvenient Truth" offers an appropriate moment to say that I've finally been persuaded to include "Ecology and Natural Resources" in my list of the top ten "Mega-Trends" shaping global Catholicism.

The original plan for my forthcoming book, which I rolled out in columns in December (See Dec. 22, Ten mega-trends shaping the Catholic church. and Dec. 29, The top five 'missing mega-trends' shaping Catholicism), was to treat environmental concerns under the broader rubric of globalization. It's worth recalling that the idea is to identify those forces which today really are most important in shaping the church's future, not those which should be most important.

The environment, including: 1) a growing "green streak" in official church teaching, including John Paul II's 2001 call for "ecological conversion"; 2) mounting scientific data about the seriousness of environmental threats; 3) the likelihood that water shortages may prove among the most geopolitically destabilizing forces in the 21st century; 4) the prospect that liberal Catholic energies increasingly will be diverted away from efforts to reform the structures or teachings of the church, which will bear little fruit in a period of strong emphasis on Catholic identity, towards ad extra matters such as environmental justice.

But I hesitated, in part because I didn't yet see evidence of systematic Catholic activism or official leadership on the environment on a scale that bears comparison with the energies coursing today around Islam, or bioethics. One could make a better case for the environment as a mega-trend in Orthodoxy, it seemed to me, given the way Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople has thrown himself into the cause, including highly publicized boat trips with the media down rivers in Europe and South America. For his efforts, Bartholomew has been dubbed the "Green Patriarch." It's hard to find an analog on the Catholic side.

I spoke this week with Walt Grazer, who manages the Environmental Justice Program for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and who conceded that the questions raised by Islam and bioethics have an immediacy for Catholics that environmental debates sometimes lack. He also candidly acknowledged that he doesn't yet see the front-burner concern among the U.S. bishops on the environment that other issues often elicit. (That notwithstanding, Grazer strongly believes the "greening" of the church is a mega-trend; more on that in a moment.)

Moreover, I was impressed by a couple of obvious "natural limits" to the extent to which Catholicism is every likely to embrace the modern environmental movement.

One is philosophical and theological. Some environmental gurus soften the distinction between humanity and nature to an extent that can be difficult to reconcile with Christian orthodoxy; controversies surrounding the former Dominican Matthew Fox's "Creation Spirituality," for example, illustrate that problem.

The other natural limit is political. It's a fact of life that many secular environmentalists embrace positions on other issues, such as population control, that are at odds with Catholic teaching. This has not escaped the attention of Catholic critics of the "greens."

To take one example, Italian journalist Antonio Gaspari, who directs a master's program in environmental sciences at the Legionaries of Christ-sponsored Regina Apostolorum in Rome, has co-authored a two-volume work called The Lies of the Environmentalists. Its basic argument is that things are much better than commonly described by environmental alarmists, and that their "catastrophism" serves as a smokescreen for radical philosophical notions such as those propounded by the utilitarian philosopher and animal rights activist Peter Singer.

In the United States, a body called the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship put out its "Cornwall Declaration" in 1999, following a meeting in West Cornwall, Conn. Catholic signatories included Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Robert Royal, Fr. Robert Sirico, and Fr. J. Michael Beers. Though affirming the legitimacy of environmental concern, the statement flagged several core issues for environmentalists, including global warming, overpopulation, and rampant species loss, as "unfounded or undue concerns." More broadly, it warned of setting economic development in opposition to good stewardship, describing that as a false dichotomy which would, in their view, keep the poor in misery.

Just as one more illustration, on Feb. 18, Cardinal George Pell of Sydney, Australia, published a column in the Australian Sunday Telegraph arguing that on matters of climate change, "some zealots have been presenting extreme scenarios to frighten us," and that "the science is more complicated than the propaganda." Pell cites a laundry-list of data suggesting that the evidence for global warming is not clear-cut, or that its dangers have been exaggerated. Pell does not link this to any broader political agenda, but he leaves little doubt that he's not persuaded of environmentalism as a "mega-trend."

Since Gaspari, Neuhaus and Pell represent important constituencies within Catholicism, it's not unreasonable to be wary about how far the church may go down this road.

Then why elevate ecology as a "mega-trend"? What put it over the top for me is not so much anything happening in church circles, but rather recent developments in American secular politics.

On Feb. 13, Sen. John McCain co-authored an op/ed piece in The Boston Globe with Senator Joseph Lieberman. The two men wrote: "There is now a broad consensus in this country, and indeed in the world, that global warming is happening, that it is a serious problem, and that humans are causing it. The recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ... puts the final nail in denial's coffin about the problem of global warming."

One day before, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani appeared at a press conference in Simi Valley, Calif., where reporters asked him about "An Inconvenient Truth." His surprising response was that he didn't care for the movie -- not because it went too far, but because it didn't go far enough.

"I do believe there is global warming," Giuliani said. "The overwhelming majority of scientists believe there's significant human cause that's making it more difficult, making it worse."

In that regard, Giuliani said, Gore's movie should have spent more time treating potential solutions, such as carbon sequestration, the use of "clean coal," and ethanol. The reason it didn't, Giuliani implied, is because those steps are opposed by "special interests" such as the oil industry.

"I didn't detect the same zeal to take on those special interests as in explaining the problem," he said of the Gore movie.

Given that any Democrat who might win in 2008 is likely to pursue a much more ambitious environmental program than the Bush administration, these declarations from the leading Republicans make it almost a near-certainty that 2008 will mark a transition in American policy. Since the United States is the leading producer of greenhouse gases, and since its policies, for better or worse, often set the global tone, this means that the world is likely poised for a new period of political activism.

What this implies, it seems to me, is that today's ecological sensitivity within Catholicism, however nascent it remains, will soon encounter a political climate which encourages its rapid development. It's one thing to work on issues with no meaningful possibility of doing anything about them in the broader culture, but when a strong political wave crests, it stimulates even inchoate movements to go "mass market." That was the case with Catholic anti-nuclear activism in the early 1980s, for example, which was energized by the "nuclear freeze" movement, and which influenced, among other things, the 1983 pastoral letter of the U.S. bishops, "The Challenge of Peace."

In a 1983 lecture at Fordham University, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin acknowledged that part of the groundwork for the pastoral had been laid by a "new moment" in American political debate, in which nuclear policy was "open to reassessment and redirection." The bishops, Bernardin said, both helped to shape that "new moment," and had been in turn influenced by it.

Grazer told me that he sees much the same landscape today on ecological questions.

"When I started doing this in 1993, I was pretty lonely," he recalled, referring to the launch of the Environmental Justice Program at the USCCB. "No one else worldwide seemed to be doing this stuff. I knew pretty much everything that was going on."

Today, Grazer said, Catholic activism on environmental issues has grown to such an extent -- at the diocesan and parish levels and especially within religious orders -- that he simply can't keep track of it all. He pointed to efforts among women's congregations, for example, to "green" their facilities. At the official level, he cited a recent environmental network developed by the church in New Jersey, a pastoral letter on emissions from the bishops of New York, and another pastoral from bishops in the Northwest on the Columbia River.

I happened to talk to Grazer the morning after he had addressed a crowd of 250 young people at the University of Notre Dame. He said that he finds a special zeal for the environment among the young, and not just among the usual liberal activist suspects. At the bishops' conference, Grazer also works on relations with Evangelical Christians, and told me he's been surprised at how ecologically-minded conservative Evangelical youth often are.

In part, Grazer said, this activism is being driven by the changing political climate. He called it a "moment of evangelization."

Grazer is hardly blind to the fact that some sectors of the environmental movement operate out of a worldview alien to Catholic thought, if not actively hostile to it. For him, however, that's all the more reason to work alongside them.

"We have to be in this debate," he said, "because if we're not, somebody else is going to define it. We have to have our oar in the water."

Grazer said he believes common cause is possible, at least on specific issues such as combating greenhouse gases. The key, he said, is to "chunk things down," putting broader philosophical disagreements to the side.

Grazer also said he's aware some constituencies within the church may resist that "chunking down," especially when it comes to choices that seem to pit environmental protection against economic development. But he's convinced that "historical forces" as well as the "physical reality of the world" mean that "the train has already left the station."

Whether Grazer's optimism is entirely on the mark remains to be seen, but the stars do seem aligned for a "boom cycle" for the church's green wing, and that by itself probably adds up to a mega-trend.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@ncronline.org

Submitted by donje on March 2, 2007 - 4:35pm.

Mega trend or not, your NCR piece is good. Environmentalists seem never to acknowledge The tremendous steps already made in the stewardship of nature. (I live on the Ohio River, and already in the '60, a fisherman told me that the river had become "clean" enough the the game fish were prospering.) That the US is the most environmentally friendly industrial nation on earth. That over 90% of so called greenhouse gases is water vapor, over which we have no control, nor do we understand how nature uses water vapor to control temperature on earth. That if it were not for greenhouse gas the earth would freeze every night--not a simple issue this, greenhouse gasI wonder if for some, perhaps in place of Christianity, the environmentalists' movement is an updated version of the Nature Religion of old?? donje

Ed McManus - I think the

Submitted by Ed McManus on March 2, 2007 - 2:42pm.

Ed McManus - I think the mega-trends list is incomplete without some mention of the abuse and cover-up scandals. As the bishops fail to accept consequences (as even their own John Jay committee recommended) their influence, and the respect of the laity for their positions, has and will continue to diminish. No organization can grow and prosper without the respect of the followers for the leaders. I fear that more & more the bishops will become irrelevent and then who will speak for us?

The US should probably be

Submitted by pearring on March 2, 2007 - 12:31pm.

The US should probably be low on the list of the Catholic Church's eventual targets at a global environmental stewardship. We in the US take greening seriously, contrary to anti-American rhetoric, as represented by changing chemical and energy realities in automobiles, food processing, farming, and heating/cooling. Much of the rest of the world, however, is simply caught up in their exploding economic growth. And the US government and US based corporations no longer drive this economic growth. Those days are already gone.

Corporate energy companies in the US, China, and Europe are already poised to turn greening into a profitable venture. They've accumulated a vast wealth in the past two years, on the backs of US and European middle class, and are now in the front line to capitalize on new energy directions worldwide.

Meanwhile, the every day global use of oil and coal in every country outside of the US moves forward at a heart-stopping pace.

The identification of the US as the leading generator of greenhouse gases will soon change, if it hasn't already. The mega-trend for the Catholic Church should begin with the larger value of stewardship for global government and corporate ethics, and refrain from an easy attack on capitalism, or taking pot shots at the US as an immoral energy nation. That'll be a total waste of time and completely miss the need to balance growth and stewardship in the rest of the world.

Good piece, John.

To be or not to be a green city

By Father Eugene Hemrick Catholic News Service

This column is part of the CNS columns package.

My heart leapt with joy at seeing my city of Chicago lauded by the Washington Post for its greening projects.

"Atop the scalding eighth-floor roof of the Chicago Cultural Center," wrote Peter Slevin and Karl Lydersen, "workers dripped sweat as they planted row upon tidy row of hardy plants, the latest signal of one big-city government's determination to be green."

They went on to report: "On other downtown rooftops, tall corkscrew-shaped turbines will bridle the winds that race across the plains. A new roof on Chicago's vast convention center will channel 55 million gallons of rainwater a year into Lake Michigan instead of overburdened storm drains. ... The City Hall roof, planted with more than 150 varieties of plants, is often 50 degrees cooler in summer than nearby asphalt roofs whose temperatures can reach 170 degrees. It also houses beehives."

Slevin and Lydersen also pointed out that "on other fronts, the city provides 10,000 bike racks and announced a goal of quintupling bike lanes to 500 miles by 2015." And "the city spent $3.1 million on a bike station at Millennium Park that has 300 indoor bike spaces, along with lockers and showers."

I'll never forget deplaning at Chicago's Midway Airport and experiencing the first inkling of the greening. It was the time of the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. For the occasion, then Mayor Richard Daley spent millions to line streets with trees and flowers. As I left the airport, I stepped into a new world.

Several times before I had flown into Midway. Upon leaving the airport all I could see were vacant lots overgrown with weeds. Suddenly, this had been converted into flower gardens and lush trees.

I also remember the backlash this caused. People complained that money was being wasted. "Where is the profit in all of this?" they murmured.

Since Daley began investing in the greening of Chicago, the city has planted as many as 400,000 trees. The result is a city that more and more looks like the verdant fields and lush valleys that the psalms frequently picture as heaven on earth.

This heavenly atmosphere is one of the awesome benefits of the greening of a city. It is the "touch" that helps us to better see the beauty of God.

Presently, we are at a crisis moment in the history of civilization. It is our choice whether or not we leave the next generation with more congestion, increased pollution and little to no aesthetic appreciation. The next generation may experience profits soaring to all-time highs, but what does it profit a generation to gain the whole world and live in it without natural beauty?

One of the critical choices for our future is either to green our cities so that people take advantage of Mother Nature's aesthetic beauty or to leave cities deteriorated to the point that people enclose themselves in air-conditioned, hermetic homes, deprived of nature's fresh air and wonder.

Energy crisis or crisis of imagination?

By Father Eugene Hemrick Catholic News Service

This column is part of the CNS columns package.

As I sat in gridlock, at least 100 cars and buses were behind and in front of me with their engines idling. It had taken me approximately an hour to drive from the U.S. Capitol to the White House, a distance of one mile. I wondered how many barrels of gasoline are wasted daily in similar circumstances.

Addressing the nation, President Bush said we need to depend less on oil. He should have been more imaginative and said that we need to be more visionary in conserving energy.

Among the automobiles in gridlock that day were hybrid Toyotas that shut off when standing still. Thus, gas is saved, pollution is minimized.

Perhaps skyrocketing gasoline prices will wake us up to the energy we waste. Relying on catastrophic events, however, is not the way to solve our energy problems. A new movement that encourages us to use our imaginations to the maximum is needed. Creative thinking, not crises, is our best weapon for achieving conservation.

The simple, creative insight to have hybrid cars that shut down when traffic isn't moving now saves us countless barrels of oil each year. The brilliant insight that energy could be generated from the use of their brakes to power their electrical motors enables hybrids to get 50-plus miles per gallon of gas.

Automobiles aren't the only consumers of oil. Our energy consumption ranges from heating and cooling our homes to producing everyday goods. Ironically, the wide range of energy uses affords us a wide range of possibilities for imaginatively conserving it.

Take, for example, energy-efficient homes that are displayed every summer on the Mall in Washington. They are the result of funding that encourages creative thinking on energy conservation. Some of those homes employ enterprising solar systems capable of heating and cooling year around. Other homes are constructed of innovative insulating materials that are extremely efficient.

More efficient automobiles and homes are just a few examples of ways to reduce our dependency on oil. They are the result of the use of imagination. Imagination is the No. 1 secret to success here.

If we are to win the battle of energy efficiency, another major principle must come into play. The unleashing of imagination must begin in pre-school. At a very young age, children must be encouraged to develop an eye for imaginative conservation in situations of every kind.

Our times require imagination. Hybrid cars and solar homes represent imagination put to good use. The more we and our children stretch our imaginative capacities now, the more secure the future of our energy resources will be.