Today is the 47th anniversary of Earth Day, but we Americans are hardly feeling celebratory. The current mood worldwide, in fact, is more tinged with trepidation than hope. That is because, in the United States, progress on environmental restoration is slamming into a political brick wall erected by the party in power.
For American Catholics, this is a fraught time. President Trump’s March 28 “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” which guts previous environmental regulations, stands in direct contradiction, in tone and content, to Pope Francis’ 2015 prophetic encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home.
The pope writes: “The ecological crisis is a summons to profound interior conversion. It must be said that some committed and prayerful Christians …tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment. Others are passive; they choose not to change their habits … So what they all need is an ‘ecological conversion,’ whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.” (Laudato Si, #217) In short, we are called and committed to care for God’s creation.
In contrast, the Trumpian plan proposes a 31 percent cut in the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget, as well as the loss of 25 percent of the agency’s jobs. This will cripple programs that address, among other issues, climate protection, fuel emission standards, tap water safety, and superfund cleanup sites. Trump also wishes to curtail the EPA’s ability to enforce the regulations that do remain. The slashed EPA budget is in addition to the March executive order that would send energy production back into the filth and pollution (think coal-mining) of a century ago.
So it’s time for people of faith to respond with love and purposeful action.
The separation of church and state matters here, of course. The U.S. Constitution interdicts the establishment of a state-sponsored religion. We Americans may practice our faith, but we may not compel others to practice our faith. Nevertheless, Americans have held the expectation that our government will act ethically and set policy that is in the best interest of the American people. Until the current administration.
I predict that our dear leader Trump will become known in the future as the polluter-in-chief. In the context of history, our daily concerns about his erratic behavior pale in comparison to the prospect of the accelerated destruction of Mother Earth. The planet we are supposed to care for and to pass on to our children and grandchildren is being sold to those whose only measurement of success and worth is money. Those in power have failed to consider that our descendants cannot breathe gold dust. They cannot eat dollars. As the ever-hopeful pope notes, however, “A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power.” (#206)
The first Earth Day in 1970 was an environmental wake-up call. It led to the bipartisan creation of the Environmental Protection Agency later that year. Under then-President Richard Nixon, it was a nationwide no-brainer that proactive care for the planet and its resources took precedence over short–term financial gain or political divisions.
On this occasion of Earth Day, I pray that we rediscover that spirit of environmentalism as a worldwide common cause. As this president seeks to propel us backwards into environmental destruction, I know that prayer must be accompanied by action. Yes, we pray, but also, we march, we call, we write, we organize, we advocate, we educate, we engage. And with Pope Francis, we pray:
“God of love, show us our place in this world
as channels of your love
for all the creatures of this earth,
for not one of them is forgotten in your sight.
Enlighten those who possess power and money
that they may avoid the sin of indifference,
that they may love the common good, advance the weak,
and care for this world in which we live.
The poor and the earth are crying out.
O Lord, seize us with your power and light,
help us to protect all life,
to prepare for a better future,
for the coming of your Kingdom
of justice, peace, love and beauty.
Praise be to you!