To listen to today’s homily please select the audio file below:
Our first reading today from the Book of Kings describes a drought that afflicted Palestine thousands of years ago. It’s a dismal picture. There’s been no rain. The crops have failed. Water’s scarce and the land’s desolate. A poor widow is scrounging for some sticks to start a fire. The people most affected by this drought are the poor.
It’s a natural disaster. The reading reminds us that God is present, even in desperate situations like droughts and other natural disasters. But scientists today are telling us that many of the disturbances in our world now- storms, droughts, the unusual weather changes that threaten us–are not from nature alone; they’re man-made. We’re facing an environmental crisis that can bring irreparable harm to our world. We certainly need God’s help. But we need to do something about it ourselves.
I was at a symposium on the environment at Fordham University on November 3, 2015. It was entitled: Our Planet’s Keeper? The Environment, the Poor and the Struggle for Justice.” The speakers were Cardinal Oscar Rodriquez Maradiaga from Honduras and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and advisor to the United Nations on millennium environmental goals.
The symposium dealt with two important areas. One was Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si issued on May 24, 2015. The encyclical addresses our global environmental crisis and is probably the most widely received papal document in modern times. As a South American Francis has experienced firsthand the crisis of the environment on that continent and its affect on the poor. His letter is addressed, not only to Catholics, but to the peoples of the world.
The pope timed his letter to influence another important event, namely the critical meeting on the environment to be held in late November and early December in Paris of representatives of the nations of the world. The name of the meeting is COP21, that’s bureaucrat-speak for meetings sponsored by the United Nations that have been going on for the last 21 years trying to deal with climate change. Since 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio di Janeiro countries of the world have been seeking “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The goal is to keep the rise in global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—beyond which disaster seems inevitable.
Unfortunately, nothing has been achieved in the 21 years of those meetings. In his encyclical Pope Francis charged that by putting “national interests above the global common good”, the world is guilty of “failure of conscience and responsibility” regarding the environment.
At the meeting at Fordham Professor Sachs welcomed the pope’s encyclical as a “moral voice” we need to hear. He saw the pope’s subsequent visit to world leaders at the United Nations as a positive influence on the upcoming meeting in Paris. He also sees a change in public opinion throughout the world and in our country concerning the environment.
Public opinion–that’s us. I don’t think we think much about issues of the environment. The media certainly doesn’t. I haven’t heard the environment brought up in our political debates so far. That’s probably because politicians, following their pollsters, think people are more interested in the economy, jobs, federal spending and health care.
That may be changing. A recent poll in October of the “National Surveys on Energy and the Environment” from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College reports a big spike over the summer in Americans–70%– who believe in global warming. That’s 10% increase from this time last year. One author of the poll said the reason from the increase is not that people are listening to the scientists or reports from the UN or– I would say– even the pope. They’re “responding to their perception of weather,” he said; “… what last summer or winter was like.”
So people are looking out the window or seeing the reports on television. We have had the hottest summer on record, the strongest hurricane on record, a water shortage and rationing in California, drought throughout the world displacing millions of people who are looking for another place to live.
The danger is that our world may begin to look a lot like the world described in our first reading today. Do we want to leave that kind of world to our children and the next generations? We need to know much more about this crisis than we do; we need to do more about it than we’re doing.
The cardinal at our symposium the other day urged people to read the pope’s encyclical. It’s not just about climate change, the pope is calling for a change in the way we live and the way we think. and the way we care for our world.
The title of the symposium the other day was Our Planet’s Keeper? Who’s our planet’s keeper? We are.