Earth Justice

Posted on: March 13th, 2013
“How do you all maintain a sense of hope?” was the question eventually proposed by one of the participants to a group of other leading tropical ecologists gathered for a symposium at the University of Missouri-St. Louis over a decade ago, at which I was attending. It was a good question! One ecologist spoke of their research organism having gone literally extinct overnight.  What had once been a robust population of toads, a species they had been studying for many summers, was discovered totally absent upon their return one year later …from no known cause.  Another dispiritedly retold how a hydroelectric dam had contributed to an elevated mercury level in the fish they were studying, leading to their death and the death of indigenous people downstream.  After hearing a litany of depressing accounts of species gone extinct; habitats and ecosystems destroyed by deforestation, mining, pollution, desertification, and changing climatic conditions; and people’s lives disrupted and harmed; it was only fitting and natural to ask: how do you maintain a sense of hope? 
At the time I thought two things give me hope: 1) a particular Catholic sacramental vision, and 2) the experience of the Ignatian spiritual exercises. I can add today: 3) walking with, if not a little behind, others whose passion, dedication and courage for greater environmental awareness and sensitivity is inspiring, and 4) seeing the torch of ecological solidarity be picked up by a new generation of young people.
Catholic sacramental vision and the experience of the Exercises allow me to see the Earth through a different set of lenses, albeit, not rose-colored. God and Earth are intricately linked by the Incarnation and it is only through the created earth that I can know the Creator. The work of redemption lies within the very care of Creation.  Both vision and experience remind me too that everything is not necessarily what it seems.
The ecological crisis threatens us all and the poor more than most. “The cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor are one,” stated the Canadian Catholic bishops back in 2003 but they were not the first to speak of this. The linkage of social justice with that of environmental justice has been put forward as far back as the 60’s (e.g. the prophetic voices of Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King to whom the linkage between environment and poverty was unavoidable) if not earlier (e.g., St. Francis of Assisi).  More recently, Loyola University has included in its mission a response to environmental challenges with the goal of being The sustainable Jesuit University. It has initiated the Office of Sustainability which will be housed within the new Institute of Environmental Sustainability (IES) that will be launched in August.  “The IES mission is to maximize energy and resource efficiencies across all university campuses, and to develop a campus culture of conserving resources and minimizing waste.  The IES advances the University’s mission of seeking God in all things and works to expand knowledge in the service of humanity through learning, justice and faith by providing a rich and transformational educational experience grounded in teaching and research excellence, experiential learning, and student entrepreneurial action in the service of nature, humanity, and the planet.”  As a member of a dedicated and talented team of administrators, teachers, staff and students working towards these goals I have found this exciting and it gives me hope.


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