The Fellowship of Life
a Christian-based vegetarian group founded in 1973


All aboard the green bandwagon!

Tim McKeown looks at the Catholic Church's first faltering steps towards caring for God's creation

The green bandwagon, which has picked up considerable pace in recent months, has left very few behind. Public pressure, as exemplified by the 15 per cent vote for the Greens at the Euro-Elections, is undoubtedly prompting the politicians and commercial interests alike to pull on their "green wellies". Is the Catholic Church now about to jump aboard too? Is the day dawning when the traditional Roman collar will be replaced by a green one?

The worldwide Church has only recently begun to shake off its habitual reticence concerning the destruction of God's creation. Last year the Filipino Bishops' Conference produced a pastoral letter saying environmental destruction is sinful. It asked Catholics to develop a greater appreciation of God's gift to mankind and urged them to take positive steps to defend the Earth.

But there's much more to be done, says theologian Fr Sean McDonagh. His authoritative book To Care for the Earth, which is a call for a theology of creation, highlights the responsibility Christians have to halt the progressive destruction of the environment. It is a responsibility stressed each Sunday when we honour "Almighty God, creator of Heaven and Earth". Yet, week by week His creation is being abused and depreciated by mankind.

It is easy to see at first hand the damage caused by environmental abuse on our doorstep. Pollution in the North Sea is killing vast numbers of seals; acid rain is destroying forests and hedgerows; radioactive emissions into the Irish Sea are poisoning and killing marine life. . . the list goes on.

Issues which have attained media prominence such as ozone depletion and the greenhouse effect have certainly motivated the general public to take positive action. While the use of lead-free petrol or the abandonment of aerosols are positive steps, they will not be enough to halt the environmental crisis facing the world. But the problem at first sight seems so large, that many feel that there is little they can do as individuals - beyond praying.

Inter-governmental initiatives - like the international 1988 Report of the Brundtland Commission on the Environment - are indispensable in halting the destruction of the rainforests and in attending to broader environmental concerns. But such moves can and should be complimented by personal initiatives.

"Information is a crucial commodity for planetary salvation," stresses Lloyd Timberlake, senior editor at the International Institute of Environment and Development in London. By being informed people will come to understand the link between the destruction of the earth and their lifestyle, and will realise that individuals do indeed have an important contribution to make.

People may also consider becoming involved in one of the variety of ecological pressure groups such as Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace or the "Renewing the Earth" campaign sponsored by the Catholic Third World Agency, CAFOD. Friends of the Earth are actively engaged in lobbying Local Authorities to provide recycling facilities in an attempt to reduce the pressure on the earth's finite resources.

But as in all cases, the larger the petition the larger the response.

"Reversing the progressive destruction of the environment will require a real element of sacrifice," says Ellen Teague, coordinator of CAFOD's "Renewing the Earth" campaign.

By linking Third World development to the crisis facing the environment, "Renewing the Earth" makes one point crystal clear. The earth could not cope with another world abusing it in the way that the first and second ones are. If, for example, developing countries were to use energy on the same scale as the North, it is predicted the planetary eco-system would break down completely by the year 2025.

On the home front, the campaign is attempting to educate people in all the issues at stake and then to motivate them to take positive and productive measures. It is also important, claimed Ms Teague, that the abuse of God's gift receives a higher profile within the Church and is incorporated more into the liturgy of the Mass.

Green actions speak louder than words. While the Church is beginning to speak out, there is still much scope for practical improvement. The Church, being heavily involved in education, could play a key role in creating among young people an awareness of environmental issues and teach practical measures to reverse ecological damage.

Perhaps a lesson could be learned from other religions. One of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism, for instance, is to encourage all the faithful to display a boundless love for all the world.

From The Catholic Herald dated 25th August 1989.

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