By Effie Calderola
I must admit, encyclicals are not at the top of my summer reading pile. So, even though a papal document wouldn’t normally go to the beach, “Laudato Si’, On Care for Our Common Home” by Pope Francis is definitely a must-read.
The pope’s writing on climate change and the environment garnered a lot of press, even hostile criticism, before it was published. Let’s hope it continues to command attention. It’s long, but not difficult. You can Google it easily.
We all know the earth’s in trouble. But when a pope lends his moral authority to problems and solutions, it should focus my attention. It’s a spiritual issue: The environment has now been included in Catholic social teaching.
So, as I use clean, hot water in the shower, my thoughts go to all of the people worldwide who suffer poor water quality and shortages. And those most impacted, the pope points out, are the poor.
But even those of us who live in areas where spring rains have been plentiful worry about depletion of our precious aquifers. Poor public policy and overuse strain our water supply everywhere. Water, of course, is just one of many areas the pope touches on.
Pope Francis challenges us to reassess our basic ideas about our economy. He uses phrases such as “compulsive consumerism’ to describe the seduction of our market economy – an economy that fosters “greed” over “need.”
More profits, more sales, more growth, more resources exploited to make more things – these are values that we’ve learned to associate with progress. As Jesuit Father James Martin has explained, the pope’s words are not a condemnation of capitalism, but a critique.
What is our addiction to consumption doing to our earth? Pope Francis says “the earth itself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”
Pope Francis uses the word “revolution” to describe what must happen. Christianity, if lived authentically, is certainly a revolutionary way of life. Dorothy Day said our greatest challenge is “how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us.”
So I ask: How can I be a better steward of the earth? Where can the revolution start within me? National Public Radio recently ran a ProPublica report on the mismanagement of the Colorado River, which brings precious water to several states. The work focuses on government errors that have contributed to water depletion.
But one simple statistic caught my attention: A meat-based diet requires 30 percent more water than a vegetarian diet. If every American chose to eat meat one less day a week, it could reduce crop demand for feed and each year save an amount of water equal to the entire annual flow of the Colorado River.
Catholics could certainly make that choice. Meatless meals were once a Friday staple, and we’re still asked to make a sacrificial offering on Fridays.
I have cloth bags to replace plastic for grocery shopping. But can I remember to take them more often? Can I manipulate my thermostat in winter and summer to save a little energy? Do I really need a new dress for an upcoming event, or can I “shop” in my overcrowded closet?
Can I be more careful about wasting produce?
Could I remember to bring my own “doggie bag” container to restaurants to avoid Styrofoam? Countless little choices present themselves.
But one big choice? Let your elected representatives know the environment is a top concern of yours. Tell them you can recommend a great read on it.
Effie Calderola writes a syndicated column for Catholic News Service.