No Pain, No Gain

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but isn't this what our actions say?

Back in October, I wrote in the post Ecological Justice that the care for the environment is just as important as economics and peace when it comes to upholding justice for all humanity. The effects of pollution, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, deficiency of naturally clean drinking water, and so on, hurt the poor much more significantly than does the rich (as well as being a primary source of conflict in economics and peace). Last week we attended a different workshop in Brentwood, NY, in which the speaker reiterated these same points.

The discouraging part about both of these lectures was that both speakers focused almost entirely on outside forces rather than looking at the effects caused by normal individuals. There’s no doubt that multinational corporations are to blame for a lot of the environmental degradation in the world, but who are the ones actually buying, using, and demanding more? The truth is, if we ever want to see to it that the documents of the Church actually get put into action, it’s going to require the individual consumer like you and me to put our money where our mouths are.

Unfortunately, I’m finding in religious communities and the secular world alike that we’re not yet willing to do that: either we don’t quite understand how drastic the changes need to be, or we’ve become too attached to the present comforts of overindulgence that we’re unwilling to enact them. On one side, sentiments like “little changes make a big difference” merely offer justification for unsustainable lifestyles, while on the other, sentiments like “what I do, good or bad, isn’t going to have much effect” place all responsibility on the world community while failing to recognize oneself as a member of that community. If we’re going to actually enact doctrines of ecological justice, it needs to start with the individual, and the actions need to be serious.

So what am doing, you ask? In conjunction with Lent, I’ve decided to add to my list of environmentally sustainable habits a two major inconveniences as a way to remind myself of the injustices of which I am partly responsible, and to call to mind two things that I take for granted in the “First World.”

The biggest of these is the reduction of meat in my diet. Believe it or not, our dependency on cows and other animals for every meal has resulted in the production of dangerous levels of methane in our air, as well as higher rates of polluted water and increased deforestation. My goal is to reduce the amount of meals containing meat each week to only one or two, so as to bring attention to the issue while still remaining healthy.

The second inconvenience is going to be a drastic reduction in the amount of water I consume in the shower. As environmentally conscience I am, I have to admit that I’m a huge culprit when it comes to extended hot showers. I definitely take for granted the amount of (clean) water I use and the amount of energy needed to make it warm, and consume more than I need for the sake of comfort while others do not have enough for the sake of necessity. In a similar way to the meat reduction, it’s not in my best interest to remove showers completely, but a reduction will help to bring to my attention something I have taken for granted for many years.

In a lot of ways, Lent and ecological action go hand in hand: both begin with an examination of self, particularly how one relates God and others; both encourage sacrifice and penance as a means for reconciliation; both prepare oneself in thought and deed to live rightly in a future soon to come. By means of these two inconveniences, I hope to find myself more rightly oriented to God, others, self, and the created order by the time of Easter, reminding myself all along the way, “No pain, no gain.”

Ecological Justice

You'd never see a sight like this where the rich live, would you?

When Catholics speak about “justice,” we tend to think about things such as the fair treatment of workers, peace, living wages, freedom from enslavement, etc. The images that come to mind are almost exclusively economic and peace related. For many, ecological justice is a secondary concern.

Attending the RFC Philadelphia region workshop today, we were convinced otherwise. Led by Sister Maria DiBello, RSM, and attended by about 30 men and women in religious formation, the workshop was in part a viewing of a documentary by the Pachamama Alliance called “Awakening the Dreamer.” After watching the documentary and listening to her lecture, it’s impossible to see how ecological justice could ever be overlooked.

One of the reasons that it deserves as much attention as the other forms us justice is that it is intimately related to the well-being of humanity and the protection of the poor. For instance, at one point, a woman on the documentary said something to the effect of, “What does it mean to throw something away? There’s no such thing as away. All we’re doing is displacing our waste to another place.” That place is almost always the home of the poor and oppressed. Pollution in the First World causes the destruction of vital resources for the already poverty-stricken Third World, dangerous water and living conditions, and leaves them highly susceptible to erratic fluctuations in climate. Lack of ecological justice, in the form of overconsumption and waste, hurts more than just the polar bears; it directly effects humanity. For a specific example, take a look at the effect of plastic water bottles.

Though the majority of the day was a reiteration of material I studied in college, I found it all to be a great reminder of the great responsibility we have to protect all of God’s creation, and how our mistreatment of it hurts us more than we think. Often times we find ourselves in the First World becoming complacent and entirely ignorant of the world around us. The truth is, what we do effects others in the world around us. When we look at the dire state of our planet in the long run, as well as the horrific effects it is causing in the present day, we can begin to see the “justice” that is needed in the world.