Issues for Catholic Voters (2012 edition) – The Environment
“Man, who discovers his capacity to transform and in a certain sense create the world through his own work, forgets that this is always based on God’s prior and original gift of the things that are. Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray” (Centesimus Annus, 37).
Man’s relationship with the environment is subject to various principles of Catholic social teaching, such as solidarity and prudence, and the preferential option for the poor. The Church does not think environmental issues can be resolved through economic or scientific means alone—the underlying moral and cultural causes must be addressed if changes are to become permanent.
At creation, the Church teaches, men and women were made the stewards of this world. Despite this authority, we do not have an unfettered rule over the environment. Our control is subject to the same moral restrictions that are imposed on governing our bodies: Just as governments serve to protect the common good, so too must we recognize our solidarity with the natural world and its resources.
Prudence requires that nations and their leaders apply intelligence when making decisions that affect the environment. Unfortunately, some are more concerned with meeting their economic and consumer goals than in responsibly carrying out their stewardship roles in protecting natural resources. As a result, the common good has been threatened from an array of environmental issues including pollution and nuclear waste.
Arguably, the more significant factor in environmental crises has been the rise of consumerism and over-consumption: “In many parts of the world society is given to instant gratification and consumerism while remaining indifferent to the damage which these cause. Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few” (John Paul II, The Ecological Crisis).
Rather than addressing issues of protecting natural resources or curbing consumerism, the affluent nations tend to focus more on reducing third-world birth rates. Protecting the environment has become another excuse for funding abortion around the world.
Foreign aid packages that are sent to Africa from USAID and other federally funded relief organizations often contain materials directed toward population control, such as contraception, abortion, and voluntary sterilization. Even if, tragically, these initiatives were successful, the impact on the environment would not be nearly as significant as reduced consumption.
The sheer number of people is not the problem. Some of the most densely populated areas of the world are both affluent and ecologically secure.
To be fair, the leaders of the developed world have taken steps to curb their excessive consumerism. But men and women, the natural stewards of all creation, must continue to focus their creativity on more responsible development: “Even as humanity’s mistakes are at the root of earth’s travail today, human talents and invention can and must assist in its rebirth and contribute to human development” (USCCB, Renewing the Earth).
- The Church teaches that human persons are the “stewards” of the natural world and its resources.
- We should look upon the natural world as a gift, and treat it as such, just as we do our own lives and existence.
- The destruction of the environment and the overuse of natural resources is the product of unfettered production and consumption.
- Responsible stewardship of the environment is no justification for contraception, abortion, or sterilization.