Pope Francis: Ecology and Waste

Pope Francis continues to make the environment an important aspect of his messages and homilies. In a recent address to workers  he talked about the importance of creation (a) and in the impromptu version which he spoke “from the heart” talked about the culture of waste, a continuous theme which he often relates to the environment, even when he was a Cardinal. Here the highlights of the speech:

a) Work must be combined with the preservation of creation so that this may be responsibly safeguarded for future generations. Creation is not a good to be exploited but a gift to look after. Ecological commitment itself affords an opportunity for new concern in the sectors linked to it, such as energy, and the prevention and removal of different forms of pollution, being alert to forest fires in the wooded land that is your patrimony, and so forth. May caring for creation, and looking after man through dignified work be a common task! Ecology… and also “human ecology”!

b) Work means dignity, work means taking food home, work means loving! To defend this idolatrous economic system the “culture of waste” has become established; grandparents are thrown away and young people are thrown away. And we must say “no” to this “culture of waste”. We must say “we want a just system! A system that enables everyone to get on”. We must say: “we don’t want this globalized economic system which does us so much harm!”. Men and women must be at the centre as God desires, and not money!

In another speech for the Italian Social Week he spoke about human ecology and the importance of the family, citing Pope Benedict XVI who also often talked about this subject:

These reflections do not only concern believers but all people of good will, all those who have at heart the common good of the country, as is the case for problems of environmental ecology that can greatly help us to understand those of “an ecology of man” (cf. ibid., Address to the Bundestag, Berlin, Germany, 22 September 2011). The family is the privileged school for learning generosity, sharing, responsibility, a school that teaches how to overcome a certain individualistic mind-set which has worked its way into our societies. Sustaining and promoting families, making the most of their fundamental and central role means working for a just and supportive development.

Faith, The Bridge Between God´s Creatures and their Participation in the Understanding of the Greater Meaning of the Creation.

This post is part of the conference  about  “Jesus and Nature: Catholic Perspectives on Environmental Issues”, presented in Rio from July 22-24 for WYD.  Thank you to  Dr. José Duarte de Barros Filho for this  valuable  contribution.

Biology and Faith are two marvelous aspects of the majesty, wisdom and love of God

Biology and Faith are two marvelous aspects of the majesty, wisdom and love of God

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St. Malo, the 1000(?) Year Flood and Climate Change

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St. Malo and Rocky Mountain National Park have been changed by the recent rains, and I was absolutely shocked by the power of nature. Cabin Creek which runs through St. Malo became a massive wall of water, trees, rocks and debris that completely reshaped the geography of Mt. Meeker’s eastern basin. The pictures above and video below gives an idea of the devastation. Having lived there for so long and known the trails and forest, the effect of the devastation is  shocking. The creek bed which was at most 10 ft wide is now over 50 ft wide. The pile of water, rocks and debris funelled out of the Meeker eastern face carving its way down the mountain and spread at St. Malo as an alluvial fan over 150 ft. wide, carving a new path for Cabin Creek in the process. The creek flow has now changed. One building is seriously demagaed and the other has disappeared. It appears that the mudslide began at the top of Mt. Meeker as a slide is visible from the distance.

See the video here: http://www.9news.com/news/article/356169/222/Chapel-on-the-Rock-survives-massive-rock-and-mudslide

Now, much debate has followed about the proportions and causes of the flooding in Colorado at large. Impressed by the power of this event, it is easy to want explanations. Many have used the term 1000 year flood, and Roger Pielke Jr. here and here explains why the term is not helpful at best, and in fact incorrect. The flood in fact is a 25-50 year flood:  Colorado has had a lucky streak, the last time Boulder flooded like this was 1894. He explains:

As is often the case in the aftermath of extreme events and disasters, people look for some way to put them into a bigger perspective. With respect to floods, a common way of establishing this perspective is through the N-year flood, which is defined as a flood with 1/N probability of occurring in any given year. So the 100-year flood, used in floodplain regulations, is a flood with an expected 1% chance of occurring in any given year.

Earlier this week, I presented some of my objections to the utility and meaningfulness of the concept of the N-year flood. In this post I show how the concept of the N-year flood can be used to turn fantasy into fact.

In an article titled “The Science Behind Colorado’ Thousand-Year Flood” Time magazine explains:

Parts of Boulder are experiencing a 1-in-1,000 year flood. That doesn’t literally mean that the kind of rainfall seen over the past week only occurs once in a millennium. Rather, it means that a flood of this magnitude only has a 0.1% chance of happening in a given year.Time is a fixture of the mainstream media and what is written there is widely read and repeated.

A big problem with Time‘s article is that Boulder did not actually experience a “1,000-year flood.” In fact, according to an analysis presented by fellow CU faculty member John Pitlick yesterday, using standard hydrological methods, Boulder experienced between a 25- and 50-year flood.

Apart from being incorrect, imprecise statements like this allow for implications, such as the association with climate change as a cause. Pielke Jr. explains here  why in this case, no particular cause can be identified by looking at the effect. However, one possible avenue of exploration for the uniqueness of this episode of rainfall, could be geological research on Cabin Creek. I am no geologist, but given the previous river bed width and depth, perhaps some interesting conclusions could be drawn about the proportions of the rainfall in this very localized and specific place.Furthermore, as part of Rocky Mountain National Park, this area is unaffected by human impacts. Geologically speaking, perhaps it has been 1000 years since Cabin Creek flooded like this, if ever ?

Adventure in the Flood

The John Paul II Adventure Institute lived up to its name last week, full of adventure and faith. The Institute, inspired in its teachings by the Sodalit spirituality and the theology of reconciliation promoted by Creatio, was holding environmental education programs for almost 50 students near Estes Park when the Colorado floods began. The rest is history… they made national news here on CNA.  Below some highlights of the article.

The group left Denver on Wednesday when the rain was steady but light. This is the first year the seventh-graders took the leadership retreat. A group of eighth-graders were at the camp earlier in the week and left before the storm.

On Wednesday evening, Sarah Tartell said some of her classmates felt a special connection to God when they were praying.

“It started to pour rain and it was so pretty,” she recalled. “The girls were singing their hearts out.”

But the next morning the group awoke to high water around the cabins and an issue about power at the camp. Grams and the other adults agreed with the option to carpool the group to higher ground at the Highland Presbyterian Camp in nearby Allenspark, which the Red Cross has used previously for shelters in times of crisis. The camp became a makeshift shelter but Red Cross officials could not get there because of washed out roads.

Tartell said the chaperones drove the students to the new location with music playing on the car radios because they didn’t want to alarm the students. But once the adults were alone they tuned the radio to KOA and understood the severity of the situation.

“Everyone was very nice at the camp and the locals knew which roads were passable and which roads were not,” she said. “The teachers kept the students busy with new activities.”

The adults were able to keep the students positive and in good spirits, despite a challenging situation. An older group of visitors already staying at the camp were quilters and taught some of the students how to quilt. The students also played a game they dubbed, “Survivor: The Flood” based on the Biblical characters of Noah, David and Jonah. They hiked, sang songs, and recited the rosary.

“We read through James Chapter I on trials, perseverance, and the rewards of enduring challenges in order to grow in faith,” Grams wrote in an email to parents.

Several area residents evacuated to the camp engaged the students in conversations.

“Many of them already knew their homes were destroyed but they were so thrilled they just got out with their dogs and other animals,” Lynn Tartell said. “Our kids really understand that kind of loss now.”

The students said the experience brought them closer together as a class.

“When we first got there, there were three groups of girls visiting together,” Sarah said. “But when we all ended up sleeping in the dining room together, we stayed up most of the night talking and learning a lot more about each other.”

Early Friday, when the heavy rain finally subsided, the group went outside and sat together in quiet prayer.

“We finally could see the mountains,” Lynn Tartell said. “We all listened and talked to God.”
The group knew they needed to leave when the buses were available Friday evening because another storm was being predicted, which could have further delayed their return and compromised safe travel. They arrived home to teary-eyed parents, clapping siblings and the ultimate celebration meal: pizza.


Pope Francis: Peace and Creation

Yesterday, Pope Francis called all Catholics and people of good will for a historic peace Vigil. The event was a huge success, with over 1000, 000 people attending in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, and hundreds of thousands more around the world, making news among the secular and Catholic media alike.

Relevant to the environment, however, is what he said during the Vigil, remembering Pope Benedict XVI’s landmark environmental speech in January 2010 “IF YOU WANT TO CULTIVATE PEACE, PROTECT CREATION”. In fact, both of the most important speeches from Pope’s have been delivered in the context of the World Day of Peace delivered on January first, read here and here.  This is how Pope Francis began the Vigil for Peace yesterday,

“And God saw that it was good” (Gen 1:12, 18, 21, 25). The biblical account of the beginning of the history of the world and of humanity speaks to us of a God who looks at creation, in a sense contemplating it, and declares: “It is good”.  This, dear brothers and sisters, allows us to enter into God’s heart and, precisely from within him, to receive his message.

We can ask ourselves: what does this message mean? What does it say to me, to you, to all of us?

1. It says to us simply that this, our world, in the heart and mind of God, is the “house of harmony and peace”, and that it is the space in which everyone is able to find their proper place and feel “at home”, because it is “good”.  All of creation forms a harmonious and good unity, but above all humanity, made in the image and likeness of God, is one family, in which relationships are marked by a true fraternity not only in words: the other person is a brother or sister to love, and our relationship with God, who is love, fidelity and goodness, mirrors every human relationship and brings harmony to the whole of creation.  God’s world is a world where everyone feels responsible for the other, for the good of the other.  This evening, in reflection, fasting and prayer, each of us deep down should ask ourselves: Is this really the world that I desire?  Is this really the world that we all carry in our hearts?  Is the world that we want really a world of harmony and peace, in ourselves, in our relations with others, in families, in cities, in and betweennations?  And does not true freedom mean choosing ways in this world that lead to the good of all and are guided by love?

2. But then we wonder: Is this the world in which we are living?  Creation retains its beauty which fills us with awe and it remains a good work.  But there is also “violence, division, disagreement, war”.  This occurs when man, the summit of creation, stops contemplating beauty and goodness, and withdraws into his own selfishness.

When man thinks only of himself, of his own interests and places himself in the centre, when he permits himself to be captivated by the idols of dominion and power, when he puts himself in God’s place, then all relationships are broken and everything is ruined; then the door opens to violence, indifference, and conflict.  This is precisely what the passage in the Book of Genesis seeks to teach us in the story of the Fall: man enters into conflict with himself, he realizes that he is naked and he hides himself because he is afraid (cf. Gen 3: 10), he is afraid of God’s glance; he accuses the woman, she who is flesh of his flesh (cf. v. 12); he breaks harmony with creation, he begins to raise his hand against his brother to kill him.  Can we say that from harmony he passes to “disharmony”?  No, there is no such thing as “disharmony”; there is either harmony or we fall into chaos, where there is violence, argument, conflict, fear ….

It is exactly in this chaos that God asks man’s conscience: “Where is Abel your brother?” and Cain responds: “I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen 4:9).  We too are asked this question, it would be good for us to ask ourselves as well: Am I really my brother’s keeper?  Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!..

The structure of Creation, its goodness emphasized here, speaks of God’s will. The focus on harmony and goodness, and beauty is an excellent exegesis of the genesis account which uses the Greek word ‘kalos’ that has all of these meanings. This speech is also a wonderful explanation of the theology of reconciliation, and how breaking harmony  with creation leads to other profound ruptures in the world and within mankind. 

Finally, in another recent speech  to the youth the Pope spoke of the inner structure of man, especially the youth, speaking of the 3 transcendentals: beauty, goodness and truth. He encouraged the youth to be faithful to those longings.

Firstly because inside you, you have three desires: the desire for beauty. You like beauty and when you make music, produce theatre, and paint — beautiful things — you are looking for beauty, you are searching for beauty. Now secondly: you are prophets of goodness. You like goodness and being good. And this goodness is contagious, it helps everyone else. And now third: you thirst for the truth. Seek the truth. “But, Father, I possess the truth!”. You are wrong because you cannot possess truth, we cannot carry it, we must encounter it. It is an encounter with the truth that is God, that we must search for. These three desires that you have in your heart, you must carry forward to the future and make the future beautiful with goodness and truth. Have you understood? This is a challenge; it is your challenge. But if you are lazy, if you are sad — a sad young person is not nice — if you are sad… well, this beauty will not be beauty, this goodness will not be goodness and this truth will be something else…. Think about this carefully: putting your stakes on the great ideals, the ideal of making a world of goodness, beauty and truth. You can do this, you have the power to do it. If you do not do it, it is because of laziness. I wanted to tell you this, this is what I wanted say to you.

Introducing a New Blogger: Claudia Caro

My name is Claudia Caro, I am biologist from Peru and it is a pleasure to have the opportunity to share news and comments with all of you about environment issues and God. I will be posting on the blog regularly, and supporting the work of Creatio from Peru. This year I had one of the most wonderful experiences in my life during the WYD in Rio de Janeiro, first because I felt the love of God and after because I understood the language of God´s love through the nature. No doubt, all creation send us to God. I am looking forward to hearing from you, please comment on our posts.


A Catholic American Reflection on Rio

Elias Crim, one of the speakers at the Creatio Conference in Rio, has a wonderful reflection on the city and his experience for WYD. Check it out here, and make sure to browse the online oasis Solidarity Hall for articles, opinion pieces and reflections. For more articles by Elias, see his page here. Below, a section of his Rio article:

But the favelas strike me as operating on the same loose principles of civil action that often apply when dealing with Rio officialdom: everything is a conversation in which both parties have a certain amount of latitude. When students (and others) erupted several weeks ago over higher public transit fares, Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff hosted a public roundtable conversation that included several students and during which she cheerfully offered to look at making changes to the Brazilian constitution. I have a hard time imagining any such conversation in the U.S.

A possible metaphor for this flexible, humane attitude is the way Brazilians drive. Whereas Americans are accustomed to staying each within our own lanes of traffic, drivers in Rio must contend with older streets without clearly marked lanes and they are comfortable speeding along with no more than two feet or so of distance between vehicles.

The system seems to work because everyone, pedestrians included, holds to the same standard of alertness and instinctive caution. In narrow city streets, that is, well-marked lanes are less necessary if everyone rises to the community standard of head’s-up motoring.

I must end this post soon before I lapse into the same kind of effusive reaction over Brazil that I recall having many years ago when I first saw Italy. If you want to visit a communal society, head for this place. If this doesn’t sound too odd, it has, I think, made me a much better Catholic.