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Protecting the Earth is a moral issue


So many awful things are happening in Washington right now that it’s hard to single out one particular area of atrocity. But at the moment, in this month, Washington’s attack on the environment stands out.

Pull back from the Paris climate agreement? Loosen environmental regulations? Give a thumbs-up to polluting the air and spoiling the water and destroying the lands we’ve designated as special, protected spaces?

How could we?

What on earth are we thinking?

This isn’t an issue of Republicans versus Democrats, Tea Partiers versus liberals. The people unleashing practices that will pollute the air and water – endangering public health in the process – aren’t following the principles of a political party. Nor are they adhering to sound business practices. They’re simply greedy, looking out for their own interests.

This is a prime area for doing what CITY’S Jeremy Moule calls for this week in “Finding Common Ground”: working across political and philosophical lines to fight back. Environmental protection is an ethical issue. A moral issue. And for many Americans, it’s a religious issue.

Pope Francis made that clear two years ago in his encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” his pronouncement on climate change, its cause and effect. Climate change is real, he said, and it is serious: “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”

And it is the poor of the world, he said, who will be hurt most by it.

Pope Francis didn’t mince words. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he said.

Some Washington politicians may be dithering about this issue, willing to agree, at last, that climate change exists, but not willing to blame it on human actions. Pope Francis had no such reluctance. Human action, including our use of fossil fuels, is at fault, he said. For personal profit, we are exploiting the earth’s resources, and we’re destroying the earth’s ecosystems.

A “sober look at our world,” he said, “shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly.”

“We seem to think,” he said, “that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.”

Some political leaders insist that with American ingenuity, we can find ways to cope with climate change, to mitigate or even profit from it. Pope Francis would have none of that; our technological development, he said, “has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values, and conscience.”

Echoing the earth-centered principles of Native Americans and many others, the pope laid out this guideline for consumption and the environment: “Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.”

And he was clear about the seriousness of every individual’s responsibility, at least that of people of his own faith: “Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork,” he said, “is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.”

Those words may have been directed at Catholics, but it’s a good principle for all of us. And it’s a good bet, I think, that a large majority of Americans would subscribe to it.

Here, then, is clear common ground between conservatives and liberals, common ground among people of all faiths, and yes, common ground between many pro-business Americans and corporate skeptics. The mercenary interests of the anti-environmentalists in Washington are easy to expose. And elected representatives can be voted out of office.

Earth Day provides a good focal point. And this month is a good time to start building alliances.