In the West, drought, heat and climate change leave the land thirstier than ever

The New York Times reports: Another summer of record-breaking drought and heat has seized the West, setting off costly and destructive wildfires from Southern California, where a single blaze burned more than 30,000 acres of national forest east of Los Angeles, to Montana, where a fast-moving fire in Glacier National Park recently forced tourists to flee hotels, campgrounds and vehicles.

No measurable rain has fallen here in Walla Walla since May. Temperatures have broken decades-old records. And, though known for soaking skies and cool summers, Washington State is well on track to surpass last year’s wildfire season, its busiest on record.

Dozens of homes and thousands of acres have burned over the past few months — in the rain forests of the Olympic Peninsula, in suburban communities on the edge of the wild lands, and in this city of wheat farms and vineyards where hundreds of firefighters are still battling a blaze on the western slopes of the Blue Mountains, digging and scraping the earth, building barriers of dirt to shield the dried-out forests from the approaching flames.

“Our fire season started a month ahead, our crops matured weeks ahead and the dry weather we usually get in August, we’ve had since May,” said Peter J. Goldmark, Washington’s commissioner of public lands. Walking along the edge of the Blue Creek fire, burning near the Oregon-Washington border, he added, “By heavens, if this isn’t a sign of climate change, then what is climate change going to bring?” [Continue reading…]

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PCBs were banned three decades ago, but they’re still hurting marine mammals

Pacific Standard reports: On April 19, 1979, the United States Environmental Protection Agency announced a five-year plan to phase out nearly all uses of polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. The synthetic chemicals had been used in the manufacture of electronic equipment, motor oil, adhesive tapes, paint, and many other products.

“Although PCBs are no longer being produced in this country, we will now bring under control the vast majority of PCBs still in use,” EPA administrator Douglas M. Costle boasted at the time. “This will help prevent further contamination of our air, water, and food supplies from a toxic and very persistent manmade chemical.”

It turns out Costle celebrated too early — way, way too early. More than 36 years after being banned, PCBs continue to pollute ecosystems, according to a study released in the journal PLoS One. They pose a particular challenge to the survival of marine mammals like porpoises, whales, and dolphins. [Continue reading…]

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Hunting down the world’s most notorious fish poacher

The New York Times reports: As the Thunder, a trawler considered the world’s most notorious fish poacher, began sliding under the sea a couple of hundred miles south of Nigeria, three men scrambled aboard to gather evidence of its crimes.

In bumpy footage from their helmet cameras, they can be seen grabbing everything they can over the next 37 minutes — the captain’s logbooks, a laptop computer, charts and a slippery 200-pound fish. The video shows the fishing hold about a quarter full with catch and the Thunder’s engine room almost submerged in murky water. “There is no way to stop it sinking,” the men radioed back to the Bob Barker, which was waiting nearby. Soon after they climbed off, the Thunder vanished below.

It was an unexpected end to an extraordinary chase. For 110 days and more than 10,000 nautical miles across two seas and three oceans, the Bob Barker and a companion ship, both operated by the environmental organization Sea Shepherd, had trailed the trawler, with the three captains close enough to watch one another’s cigarette breaks and on-deck workout routines. In an epic game of cat-and-mouse, the ships maneuvered through an obstacle course of giant ice floes, endured a cyclone-like storm, faced clashes between opposing crews and nearly collided in what became the longest pursuit of an illegal fishing vessel in history. [Continue reading…]

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Thousands of salmon die in hotter-than-usual Northwest rivers

Reuters reports: Unseasonably hot water has killed nearly half of the sockeye salmon migrating up the Columbia River through Oregon and Washington state, a wildlife official said on Monday.

Only 272,000 out of the more than 507,000 sockeye salmon that have swum between two dams along a stretch of the lower Columbia River have survived the journey, said Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife fisheries manager John North.

“We’ve never had mortalities at this scale,” said North.

The die-off comes as U.S. West Coast states grapple with drought conditions and the Columbia is seeing the third-highest count of sockeye returning from the ocean to spawn since 1960, federal figures show. [Continue reading…]

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How trees calm us down

Alex Hutchinson writes: In 1984, a researcher named Roger Ulrich noticed a curious pattern among patients who were recovering from gallbladder surgery at a suburban hospital in Pennsylvania. Those who had been given rooms overlooking a small stand of deciduous trees were being discharged almost a day sooner, on average, than those in otherwise identical rooms whose windows faced a wall. The results seemed at once obvious — of course a leafy tableau is more therapeutic than a drab brick wall — and puzzling. Whatever curative property the trees possessed, how were they casting it through a pane of glass?

That is the riddle that underlies a new study in the journal Scientific Reports by a team of researchers in the United States, Canada, and Australia, led by the University of Chicago psychology professor Marc Berman. The study compares two large data sets from the city of Toronto, both gathered on a block-by-block level; the first measures the distribution of green space, as determined from satellite imagery and a comprehensive list of all five hundred and thirty thousand trees planted on public land, and the second measures health, as assessed by a detailed survey of ninety-four thousand respondents. After controlling for income, education, and age, Berman and his colleagues showed that an additional ten trees on a given block corresponded to a one-per-cent increase in how healthy nearby residents felt. “To get an equivalent increase with money, you’d have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousand dollars — or make people seven years younger,” Berman told me.

Are such numbers fanciful? The emerald ash borer, which has killed a hundred million trees across North America in recent years, offers a grim natural experiment. A county-by-county analysis of health records by the U.S. Forest Service, between 1990 and 2007, found that deaths related to cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses rose in places where trees succumbed to the pest, contributing to more than twenty thousand additional deaths during the study period. The Toronto data shows a similar link between tree cover and cardio-metabolic conditions such as heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. For the people suffering from these conditions, an extra eleven trees per block corresponds to an income boost of twenty thousand dollars, or being almost one and a half years younger. [Continue reading…]

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UK suspends ban on pesticides linked to serious harm in bees

The Guardian reports: Farmers will be able to use blacklisted pesticides linked to serious harm in bees after the UK government temporarily lifted an EU ban.

Opponents called the decision “scandalous” and criticised the government’s secrecy, which has included gagging its own expert advisers.

Bees and other pollinators are essential for many crops but are in decline due to pesticides, loss of habitat and disease. Over 500,000 people signed a petition opposing the suspension of the ban. [Continue reading…]

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Continued destruction of Earth’s plant life places humankind in jeopardy

University of Georgia: Unless humans slow the destruction of Earth’s declining supply of plant life, civilization like it is now may become completely unsustainable, according to a paper published recently by University of Georgia researchers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“You can think of the Earth like a battery that has been charged very slowly over billions of years,” said the study’s lead author, John Schramski, an associate professor in UGA’s College of Engineering. “The sun’s energy is stored in plants and fossil fuels, but humans are draining energy much faster than it can be replenished.”

Earth was once a barren landscape devoid of life, he explained, and it was only after billions of years that simple organisms evolved the ability to transform the sun’s light into energy. This eventually led to an explosion of plant and animal life that bathed the planet with lush forests and extraordinarily diverse ecosystems.

The study’s calculations are grounded in the fundamental principles of thermodynamics, a branch of physics concerned with the relationship between heat and mechanical energy. Chemical energy is stored in plants, or biomass, which is used for food and fuel, but which is also destroyed to make room for agriculture and expanding cities.

Scientists estimate that the Earth contained approximately 1,000 billion tons of carbon in living biomass 2,000 years ago. Since that time, humans have reduced that amount by almost half. It is estimated that just over 10 percent of that biomass was destroyed in just the last century.

“If we don’t reverse this trend, we’ll eventually reach a point where the biomass battery discharges to a level at which Earth can no longer sustain us,” Schramski said.

Working with James H. Brown from the University of New Mexico, Schramski and UGA’s David Gattie, an associate professor in the College of Engineering, show that the vast majority of losses come from deforestation, hastened by the advent of large-scale mechanized farming and the need to feed a rapidly growing population. As more biomass is destroyed, the planet has less stored energy, which it needs to maintain Earth’s complex food webs and biogeochemical balances.

“As the planet becomes less hospitable and more people depend on fewer available energy options, their standard of living and very survival will become increasingly vulnerable to fluctuations, such as droughts, disease epidemics and social unrest,” Schramski said.

If human beings do not go extinct, and biomass drops below sustainable thresholds, the population will decline drastically, and people will be forced to return to life as hunter-gatherers or simple horticulturalists, according to the paper.

“I’m not an ardent environmentalist; my training and my scientific work are rooted in thermodynamics,” Schramski said. “These laws are absolute and incontrovertible; we have a limited amount of biomass energy available on the planet, and once it’s exhausted, there is absolutely nothing to replace it.”

Schramski and his collaborators are hopeful that recognition of the importance of biomass, elimination of its destruction and increased reliance on renewable energy will slow the steady march toward an uncertain future, but the measures required to stop that progression may have to be drastic.

“I call myself a realistic optimist,” Schramski said. “I’ve gone through these numbers countless times looking for some kind of mitigating factor that suggests we’re wrong, but I haven’t found it.”

The study, on “Human Domination of the Biosphere: Rapid Discharge of the Earth-Space Battery Foretells the Future of Humankind,” is available online here.

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Human impact on the oceans is growing — and climate change is the biggest culprit

The Washington Post reports: The world’s oceans have suffered a lot at the hands of humans — ask any marine conservationist. Unsustainable fishing, pollution and the effects of climate change are just a few of the issues that worry scientists and environmentalists.

While we have a good idea of which activities are causing harm to the ocean, scientists have been less clear on which ones are the most damaging and which regions of the ocean are getting the worst of it. Now, new research has allowed scientists to map the impacts of 19 different types of human activity that have harmed the ocean over a span of five years. The study was published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

The researchers used global-scale data to map the cumulative impacts of human activities between 2008 and 2013, pinpointing which areas are under increasing stress, which areas are experiencing a decrease and which human activities are having the biggest impacts in which areas. They found that nearly two-thirds of the ocean in experiencing an increase in these man-made impacts — and climate change is the worst of all, driving the majority of the changes the researchers observed. [Continue reading…]

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How whales are struggling to make themselves heard in the world’s increasingly noisy oceans

Peter Brannen writes: At 5:30am I awoke to the sound of the diesel chug-chugging of a lone lobster boat carving into the glassy Atlantic. An audience of shrieking gulls hushed in the engine’s wake as it rumbled through the narrow strait that separates the United States from Canada. After the boat pushed out into the open ocean, the gulls resumed their gossip, and I began preparing for a day on the water, still groggy from the night before, after joining a group of researchers over beer. I had come to Lubec in Maine with a bizarre question: what was 9/11 like for whales?

I sleepwalked to the pier and helped pack a former Coast Guard patrol boat with boxes of underwater audio-visual equipment, as well as a crossbow built for daring, drive-by whale biopsies. A pod of 40 North Atlantic right whales had been spotted south of Nova Scotia the day before and, with only a few hundred of the animals left in existence, any such gathering meant a potential field research coup. ‘They even got a poop sample!’ one scientist excitedly told me. The boat roared to life and we slipped past postcard-ready lighthouses and crumbling, cedar-shingled herring smokehouses. Lisa Conger, a biologist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), manned the wheel of our boat, dodging Canadian islands and fishing weirs. As the Bay of Fundy opened before us, a container ship lumbered by to our stern: a boxy, smoking juggernaut, as unstoppable as the tide.

‘After 9/11, we were the only ones out here,’ Conger said over the wind and waves. While this tucked-away corner of the Atlantic might seem far from the rattle of world affairs, the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington DC of 11 September 2001 changed the marine world of the Bay of Fundy, too.

Conger leads the field team in Lubec for Susan Parks, a biology professor at Syracuse University. As a graduate student, Parks found that right whales were trying to adapt to a gradual crescendo of man-made noise in the oceans. In one study, she compared calls recorded off Martha’s Vineyard in 1956, and off Argentina in the 1977, with those in the North Atlantic in 2000. Christopher Clark, her advisor, had recorded the Argentine whales and, when Parks first played back their calls, she thought there must be some sort of mistake.

‘It was older equipment – reel-to-reel tapes which I’d never used before – so I went to Chris to ask if I had the speed of the tape wrong because the whales sounded so much lower in frequency than the whales I had been working with.’

In fact, Parks discovered, modern North Atlantic right whales have shifted their calls up an entire octave over the past half century or so, in an attempt to be heard over the unending, and steadily growing, low-frequency drone of commercial shipping. Where right-whale song once carried 20 to 100 miles, today those calls travel only five miles before dissolving into the din. [Continue reading…]

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An evangelism of ecology

Naomi Klein writes about her recent visit to Rome: Why did Franciscans like Patrick Carolan and Moema de Miranda stick it out for so long in an institution that didn’t reflect many of their deepest beliefs and values — only to live to see a sudden shift that many here can only explain with allusions to the supernatural? Carolan shared with me that he had been abused by a priest at age twelve. He is enraged by the cover-ups, and yet he did not let it drive him permanently from his faith. What kept them there?

I put this to Miranda when I see her at the end of Mary Robinson’s lecture. (Robinson had gently criticized the encyclical for failing to adequately emphasize the role of women and girls in human development.)

Miranda corrects me, saying that she is not actually one of those who stuck it out for much of their lifetimes. “I was an atheist for years and years, a Communist, a Maoist. Until I was thirty-three. And then I was converted.” She described it as a moment of pure realization: “Wow, God exists. And everything changed.”

I asked her what precipitated this, and she hesitates, and laughs a little. She tells me she had been going through a very difficult period in her life, when she came across a group of women “who had something different, even in their suffering. And they started talking about the presence of God in their lives in such a way that made me listen. And then it was, suddenly, God just is there. In one moment, it was something impossible for me to think. In the other moment, it was there.”

Conversion — I had forgotten about that. And yet it may be the key to understanding the power and potential of “Laudato Si’.” Pope Francis devotes an entire chapter of the encyclical to the need for an “ecological conversion” among Christians, “whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

An evangelism of ecology, I realize, is what I have been witnessing take shape during the past three days in Rome — in the talk of “spreading the good news of the encyclical,” of “taking the Church on the road,” of a “people’s pilgrimage” for the planet, in Miranda laying out plans to spread the encyclical in Brazil through radio ads, online videos, and pamphlets for use in parish study groups.

A millennia-old engine designed to proselytize and convert non-Christians is now preparing to direct its missionary zeal inward, challenging and changing foundational beliefs about humanity’s place in the world among the already faithful. [Continue reading…]

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Why the EU’s increasing failure to protect nature means I may vote No

George Monbiot writes: Had I been asked a couple of years ago how I would vote in the referendum on whether or not the UK should stay in the European Union, my answer would have been unequivocal.

The EU seemed to me to be a civilising force, restraining the cruel and destructive tendencies of certain member governments (including our own), setting standards that prevented them from destroying the natural world or trashing workers rights, creating a buffer between them and the corporate lobby groups that present an urgent threat to democracy.

Now I’m not so sure. Everything good about the EU is in retreat; everything bad is on the rampage.

I accept the principle of sharing sovereignty over issues of common concern. I do not accept the idea of the rich nations combining to crush the democratic will of the poorer nations, as they are seeking to do to Greece.

I accept the principle that the EU should represent our joint interests in creating treaties for the betterment of humankind. I do not accept that it has a right to go behind our backs and quietly negotiate a treaty with the US – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) – that transfers power from parliaments to corporations.

I accept the principle that the EU could distribute money to the poor and marginalised. I do not accept that, as essential public services are cut, €57bn (£41bn) a year should be sloshed into the pockets of farmers, with the biggest, richest landowners receiving the largest payments. The EU’s utter failure to stop this scandal should be a source of disillusionment even to its most enthusiastic supporters.

While these injustices, highly damaging to the reputation of the EU among people who might otherwise be inclined to defend it, are taking place, at the same time the EU’s restraints on unaccountable power are in danger of being ripped away. [Continue reading…]

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Koch-backed group calls for no more national parks

Claire Moser writes: Just in time for the Fourth of July — when millions of people across the country will visit America’s national parks and other public lands — the Koch brothers are rolling out their latest campaign against these treasured places: pushing for no more national parks.

In an op-ed published in Tuesday’s New York Times, Reed Watson, the executive director at the Koch-backed Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), along with a research associate at the Center, call for no more national parks, citing the backlog in maintenance for existing parks.

“True conservation is taking care of the land and water you already have, not insatiably acquiring more and hoping it manages itself,” the op-ed reads. “Let’s maintain what we’ve already got, so we can protect it properly,” it concludes. [Continue reading…]

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Video: Barack Obama interviews David Attenborough

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The pope’s climate change message is really about rethinking what it means to be human

Stephen P. White writes: Given the media coverage since its release, and the political implications of the pope throwing his moral weight behind one side in a high-stakes debate about climate policy, one could be forgiven for thinking that Pope Francis’s new encyclical is mostly about climate change and what we need to do to combat it.

Except it is and it isn’t. In fact, mostly it isn’t.

What makes this encyclical controversial is its reading of contested questions of science, economics, and politics. What makes it radical — in the sense of going to the root — is the pope’s reading of the profound human crisis that he sees underlying our modern world. Abuse of our environment isn’t the only problem facing humanity. In fact, Pope Francis sees the ecological crisis as a symptom of a deeper crisis — a human crisis. These two problems are related and interdependent. And the solution is not simply to eliminate fossil fuels or rethink carbon credits. The pope is calling on the world to rediscover what it means to be human — and as a result, to reject the cult of economic growth and material accumulation.

Reading the encyclical, one quickly realizes that the “pope fights climate change” narrative is far from the whole story. In fact, that line leaves out the most fundamental themes of the encyclical: the limits of technology and the need for what he calls an “integral ecology,” which “transcend[s] the language of mathematics and biology, and take[s] us to the heart of what it is to be human.” [Continue reading…]

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The Earth stands on the brink of its sixth mass extinction and the fault is ours

Jan Zalasiewizc writes: Life on Earth is in trouble. That much we know. But how bad have things become – and how fast are events moving? How soon, indeed, before the Earth’s biological treasures are trashed, in what will be the sixth great mass extinction event? This is what Gerardo Caballos of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and his colleagues have assessed, in a paper that came out on Friday.

These are extraordinarily difficult questions. There are many millions of species, many elusive and rare, and inhabiting remote and dangerous places. There are too few skilled biologists in the field to keep track of them all. Demonstrating beyond reasonable doubt that any single species is extinct is arduous and painstaking (think how long it took to show – to most people, at least – that Loch Ness probably does not harbour a large monster).

And it’s not just a case of making a head-count of modern extinctions. This needs to be compared with a long-term “baseline” rate of extinctions in our planet’s long geological history. This can only be extracted via the equally painstaking and difficult work of excavating and identifying millions of fossils from the almost endless rock strata. Not surprisingly, different studies made so far on different fossils have yielded different baseline rates.

Caballos and colleagues have thought through these difficulties, and come up with probably the most robust estimate yet of how severe the modern crisis is.

They have been deliberately conservative – they’re well aware of the dangers of crying wolf on a topic of such importance, and where passions run so high. For a start, they limit themselves to the best-studied group of organisms, the vertebrates. Then, they take a high estimate of background extinctions to compare with, to make the modern figures as undramatic as possible. And then, they either consider only those animals known to be extinct (the “highly conservative” scenario), or they add in those extinctions in the wild that are likely to have happened, but are not yet verified.

Even with this caution, the figures are still shocking. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis on how we are trashing our home

Pope Francis writes: The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilised in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesise nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the Earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread. [Continue reading…]

The complete text of the encyclical, Laudato Si: On the Care of the Common Home, from which the extract above was taken, can be read here.

Did Pope Francis actually write this 180 page document? John Hooper explains that it was a team effort and that “much of the work was delegated to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, the Vatican department that most closely resembles an overseas aid and development ministry in a secular government.” Nevertheless, it was the pope who did the final editing.

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There is no conflict between our faiths and the science of climate change

Cardinal John Onaiyekan, Rabbi David Rosen and Professor Dr M Din Syamsuddin write: On Thursday, Pope Francis issued a powerful and timely encyclical on the environment, urging humanity to come to its senses and cease its reckless onslaught against God’s creation. He addressed this letter not only to his fellow Catholics, but to all people of the world, asking people of different religious traditions to unite in common purpose to save our planet.

As religious figures, we too accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming comes from human activity, as we see no conflict between faith and reason.

And, coming from the three great Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – we stand together on the need to be good stewards of the earth. All of our traditions affirm the inherent goodness of all creation, and the binding obligation on human beings to protect our common home, the planet that sustains us. The Hebrew Scriptures state clearly that the Earth belongs to God alone, and that we are merely sojourners – we do not have ownership on a permanent basis: the fruits of the earth belong to all, including the poor. This ancient teaching is affirmed by both Christianity and Islam. Christians also view the world through a sacramental lenses, believing that the redemption of Christ has in turn redeemed all of creation. And Islam can be thought of as a religion of nature, with 750 verses in the holy Qur’an speaking about our responsibility to the environment and our relationship with all creatures. Islam too recognizes that everything in the heavens and the earth belong to God, and that we are mere trustees and vice-regents.

We must agree with Pope Francis that we have violated this most sacred trust. This is evident with the scandal of climate change, which comes predominantly from the relentless burning of fossil fuels to power our global economy. The path we are on is a path of destruction. [Continue reading…]

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Pope Francis calls on Christians to undergo an ‘ecological conversion’

The rich heritage of Christian spirituality, the fruit of twenty centuries of personal and communal experience, has a precious contribution to make to the renewal of humanity. Here, I would like to offer Christians a few suggestions for an ecological spirituality grounded in the convictions of our faith, since the teachings of the Gospel have direct consequences for our way of thinking, feeling and living. More than in ideas or concepts as such, I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world. A commitment this lofty cannot be sustained by doctrine alone, without a spirituality capable of inspiring us, without an “interior impulse which encourages, motivates, nourishes and gives meaning to our individual and communal activity”. Admittedly, Christians have not always appropriated and developed the spiritual treasures bestowed by God upon the Church, where the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us.

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”. For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits and thus become inconsistent. So what they all need is an “ecological conversion”, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience. [Source: Laudato Si: On the Care of the Common Home]

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