What Will We Leave Them?

What Will We Leave Them?

(This is a reprint of a column I wrote in October 2012; I’m spurred to reprint it by the recent report of the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), which describes how climate change is already affecting our country.)[1]

I don’t expect to be alive in 2050, but some of you, your children, and/or your grandchildren may well be.  I spent much of the summer reading about what our Holy Father calls the “worrisome and complex problem” of global climate change.  I’m certainly no expert, but I’m alarmed by the lack of serious discussion of this issue.  We may well be creating a nightmare world of hunger, political strife, destructive weather, and even exile for today’s children and their children throughout God’s world.

Here’s what the American Meteorological Society has to say:

There is unequivocal evidence that Earth’s lower atmosphere, ocean, and land surface are warming; sea level is rising; and snow cover, mountain glaciers, and Arctic sea ice are shrinking. The dominant cause of the warming since the 1950s is human activities. This scientific finding is based on a large and persuasive body of research. The observed warming will be irreversible for many years into the future, and even larger temperature increases will occur as greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere. Avoiding this future warming will require a large and rapid reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions. The ongoing warming will increase risks and stresses to human societies, economies, ecosystems, and wildlife through the 21st century and beyond, making it imperative that society respond to a changing climate.

(Much of my reading took place, incidentally, during the hottest July ever in the U.S., and the hottest month ever since recordkeeping began in 1895.    Globally, it was the 36th consecutive July and 329th consecutive month with temperatures above the 20th-century average.  And 62.9% of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate to exceptional drought.  Worldwide, droughts have been leading to increased food prices, a burden mostly borne by the poorest people of our world.)[2]

Care for the earth is a vital concern for Christians.  In their pastoral letter Stewardship: A Disciple’s Response (US Conference of Catholic Bishops, 1992), our bishops wrote:

God not only creates human beings, however, but bestows on them the divine image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26).  As part of this resemblance to God, people are called to cooperate with the Creator in continuing the divine work (cf. Pope John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, 25).

Stewardship of creation is one expression of this. … Subduing and exercising dominion do not mean abusing the earth.  Rather, as the second creation story explains, God settled humankind upon earth to be its steward – “to cultivate and care for it” (Gn 2:15). …

Beyond simply appreciating natural beauty, there is the active stewardship of ecological concern.  … Especially this form of stewardship requires that many people adopt simpler life-styles.  This is true not only of affluent persons and societies, but also of those who may not be affluent as that term is commonly understood yet do enjoy access to superfluous material goods and comforts. … As Pope John Paul II says, “simplicity, moderation, and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.” (Message for the World Day of Peace, January 1, 1990)

Simplicity, moderation, discipline, sacrifice…  The world today’s and tomorrow’s children inherit will depend largely on the extent to which we practice these virtues.  Until next week, peace.


[1] You can read the entire report at http://data.globalchange.gov/report/nca3

[2] Sources: American Meteorological Society, 20 August 2012: http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2012climatechange.html. National Climatic Data Center, “State of the Climate” Report, July 2012: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/; “Climate change has spurred world food prices: study” Reuters, May 6, 2011: http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/05/06/us-climate-food-idUSTRE74520720110506.