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Cry of the Earth; Cry of the Poor

Women hold children while sifting through plastic bottles at a recycling factory in Mohammadpur, Bangladesh. (CNS photo/Abir Abdullah, EPA) Women hold children while sifting through plastic bottles at a recycling factory in Mohammadpur, Bangladesh.
Since the release of the encyclical, “Laudato Si,’” last year, Pope Francis has continued to emphasize the importance of ecological justice.
 
In the document, he demonstrates how “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue.” He reemphasized this point during the Year of Mercy: making care for creation a prayer intention; suggesting that care for creation be added to the traditional lists of works of mercy; and proposing, “Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home” as one of six new beatitudes. Pope Francis proclaims that ecological justice is inherently a part of the Christian mission of mercy, service and love.
 
In October, we saw one of the strongest storms ever to hit the Caribbean in Hurricane Matthew. This is a direct effect of reckless human use of natural resources, of disrespect for the world created by God. Yes, storms exist as part of the natural weather patterns on the planet, but rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere contribute to the rising temperature of the planet. Warmer oceans produce stronger storms with heavier rains, which in turn contribute to increased flooding in coastal areas.
 
Pope Francis explains, in addition to the immediate dangers of flooding, “many of the poor . . . are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited.” The long-term effects of climate change, such as the migration and/or death of animals and plants, also “affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children.” They become ecological refugees, fleeing from poverty caused by environmental degradation. Furthermore, the communities to which they flee often do not greet them with a welcoming embrace or a more beneficial ecology.
 
We often think of climate change as primarily affecting poor communities in other areas of the world, in the future, and this is true, but the distinction is just as much one of socioeconomics as it is of geography. The pope turns to the ecological experiences of the poor in our cities, “which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation and visual pollution and noise.
 
Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.” Some of us are privileged to reap the benefits of living near a city while retreating to fresh air and open space anytime we wish. Many are not so fortunate.
 
He continues, “Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths.”
 
The poor are met with ecological adversity in urban, rural, coastal and inland communities. As people who stand for life and human dignity, we cannot remain blind to this reality, and once informed, we cannot remain complacent. We must “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor,” as “Laudato Si’” urges us to do.
 
The effects of climate change are vividly present in all of creation’s communities, right now.
 
Pope Francis asserts, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.” Social justice initiatives require attention to ecological justice if we truly wish to better our world and the lives of those who call it home.
 
Last modified onMonday, 09 January 2017 17:13
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