Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day, 2012: This Catholic's View

Today is Earth Day.

I remember the first Earth Day, back in 1970. I was concerned about the environment then, and still am. But I also know that 2012 isn't 1970.

"Child of the '60s" in the 21st Century

I said that I am a "child of the '60s" in Friday's last post. That was about religious freedom, by the way, with links to resources that may help Americans keep it:
Here's what this "child of the 60's" looked like, about two years ago: hair, what's left of it, short; beard, visible but trimmed; no love beads. I don't look much like a hippie, and never did. On the other hand, I've never been quite on the same page as the establishment. I've been over that before:
Before getting into my take on Earth Day, environmental concerns, environmentalism, and getting a grip, an important point: I have the full teaching authority of "some guy with a blog." I'm a Catholic layman, and keep learning about what the Catholic Church teaches. But I'm at the low end of the hierarchy. I don't speak for the Church.

Earth Day, Genesis, and Getting a Grip

I take the Bible seriously, and think that God created the universe. I also think that Genesis wasn't written by an American, and that's another topic. (April 4, 2012)

Speaking of Genesis, God's evaluation of the world is at the end of Genesis 1:
"God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good. Evening came, and morning followed - the sixth day."
(Genesis 1:31)
Okay, so God "found it very good." So what?

For starters, I think studying the universe is a good idea:
  • God created everything
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 268)
  • We're supposed to seek God
    (Catechism, 1)
  • We can learn some things about God by studying what He created
    (Catechism, 31-36, 282-289)
    • But God has revealed more about Himself, than what's in creation
      (Catechism, 37-38)
    (November 27, 2011)
I also think the sort of 'spiritual is good, material is bad' dualism that's been endemic to Western civilization for centuries is wrong. (March 5, 2012) More to the point, the Church insists that we take God seriously, and accept God's evaluation of creation: that it is "very good." (Catechism, 299, 339)

We're here as stewards of God's creation. (Catechism, 373) Yes, we have dominion over this world. But responsibilities come with that power. We're supposed to respect the integrity of creation. (Catechism, 2415)

A steward is "someone who manages property or other affairs for someone else." (Princeton's WordNet) In this case, the "someone else" is God. That's why I think it's a really good idea to take good care of the world we're managing.

Strip Mines, Captain Planet, and Daft Desires

Several decades back, someone demanded that the State of Minnesota let him dig up part of Buffalo River State Park. As I recall, his rationale was that Minnesota was hoarding a vital resource: one that is an indispensable part of the state's construction industry, and used to maintain roads.

The fellow was right, sort of. Minnesota had been preventing folks from removing the resource. The resource really is vital to almost every construction project, and to road building and maintenance. But a great deal of northern Minnesota is made out of sand. That fellow wanted to dig up some of the last undisturbed prairie in the state: to get at the sand underneath.

That, in my considered opinion, was daft. Minnesota courts agreed, and the last I heard Buffalo State Park still includes some of Minnesota's original prairie.1

Keeping some nitwit from destroying an irreplaceable natural wonder is one sort of "environmental concern." The sort of environmental concerns of folks who take "Captain Planet and the Planeteers" seriously? That, I think, is something else.

I think it's a bad idea to pour untreated sewage in the drinking water. I think having clean air is a good idea. But I also think that 'environmental awareness' should be tempered with reason. I've been over this before, in another blog:

Enlightened Self-Interest and 20-20 Hindsight

Enlightened self interest should have kept some 19th century gold miners from turning hillsides into slurry, but didn't. 20-20 hindsight makes it obvious that compressing erosion that would have happened over hundreds or thousands of years into a few months is a bad idea.

Major floods, blocked shipping channels, and flooded farmland, resulted in hydraulic mining being declared a "public nuisance." And that's another topic.

'The Monitor.' Print shows hydraulic mining for gold in California. Published in The Century illustrated monthly magazine; 1883 Jan., p. 325. United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c00735,
(from the United States Library of Congress, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
" 'The Monitor.' Print shows hydraulic mining for gold in California. Published in The Century illustrated monthly magazine; 1883 Jan., p. 325" (Detail of a Library of Congress print, via Wikipedia)

(Paul Telford, via Wikipedia, used w/o permission)
 "Malakoff Diggins hydraulic mine. In Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park: An open air mining museum in the Sierra Nevada, in Nevada County, eastern California." Photo by Paul Telford.

I think a lesson to learn from hydraulic mining of the 1860s and '70s is that actions have consequences. Another point: it's not the 19th century any more, and America has learned quite a bit about using technology responsibly. We've also got a lot more to learn, in my opinion.

God's Creation, Our Responsibility

Why should we care about the environment?

I think 'enlightened self interest' is one place to start. Placer mining in California, a hundred and fifty years ago, and what happened at Love Canal around the middle of the 20th century, show what happens when someone pours sludge into parts of 'spaceship Earth's' life support system.

Earth's a pretty big place, though: and I think it'll take more than hyperactive miners or a failed subdivision to do permanent damage. On the other hand, I think it's a good idea to deal with problems while they're still small.

I think there's another very good reason for taking care of the land, the water, the air, and the creatures that live around us. God likes this world, and we're not owners: we're stewards. (Catechism, 299, 339, 373)

I've been over this before. (March 7, 2012)
  • God created the visible world
    • The visible world is
      • Rich
      • Diverse
      • Orderly
    (Catechism, 337)
  • "Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection."
    (Catechism, 339)
  • Everything is interdependent, the
    • Sun
    • Moon
    • Cedar
    • Little flower
    • Eagle
    • Sparrow
    • Everything
    • Because God wants it that way
    (Catechism, 340)
My experiences with folks afflicted with environmental awareness encouraged me to see it as a liberal analog to the sort of rabid commie-hunting of the McCarthy era. I didn't stop being concerned about 'the environment,' but I also realized that quite a few 'defenders of Earth' were overenthusiastic, at best.

I was surprised, quite a few years ago, when I discovered that the Catholic Church had what could be called an 'environmental agenda.' It was rational, based on objective reality, and didn't claim that human beings are cancer cells in Mother Earth. But as a practicing Catholic, maintaining a clear-headed environmental awareness is one of my obligations.

Here's part of what the Catholic Church has to say:2
  • The Bible
  • Tradition
    • Charity in Truth (Caritas in Veritate)
      Encyclical letter of the Supreme Pontiff Benedict XVI (2009)
      • The environment is God's gift to everyone
        • We have a responsibility towards
          • The poor
          • Future generations
          • Humanity as a whole
        (Caritas in Veritate, 48)
      • "The way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa...."
        • "...The Church has a responsibility towards creation...."
        • "...In order to protect nature ... the decisive issue is the overall moral tenor of society...."
        (Caritas in Veritate, 51)
    • "At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error...."
      • Man
        • "...Discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work..."
        • "...Forgets that this is always based on God's prior and original gift of the things that are..."
        • "...Thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth...."
      "Centesimus Annus"
      Ioannes Paulus PP. II (May 1, 1991)
The bottom line, for me, is that we have "dominion" over the natural world. But we're not the owners: we're here as stewards. I don't think that means we should stop using all technology, and go back to the 'good old days' before someone started using fire. But I do think we need to keep thinking about how to ensure that folks a thousand years from now will have a good-enough place to live. At least.

Related posts:

1 Prairie in Buffalo River State Park and the adjoining Bluestem Prairie Scientific and Natural Area (SNA) has been "restored," but is also a remnant of the original grassland:
2 Source: "Care for God's Creation" Our Catholic Faith in Action, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (2011)
(Updated URL (April 22, 2014) — Care for Creation)

The list is adapted from:


Brigid said...

Something missing: "The sort of environmental concerns folks who take "Captain Planet and the Planeteers" seriously?"

As long as it is, this sentence seems incomplete: "Since my experiences with folks afflicted with environmental awareness encouraged me to see it as a liberal analog to the sort of rabid commie-hunting of the McCarthy era."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

P.S. "I don't look much like a hippie, and never did." Eccentric wizard/mad scientist, yes. Hippie, no.

Brian H. Gill said...


Found, fixed, and thanks! The "Since my experiences" sentence was the result of a half-finished edit, by the way. Oops.

P.S. ;)

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.