The first words of the Bible tell us that God is the creator of heaven and earth. God’s first home for us was a garden, and God’s first vocation for us was to be gardeners who protect, care for, sustain and develop creation.
Pope Francis spoke earlier this year about our global failure to live up to this mission. “Humanity has slapped God in the face,” the Pope said. “We have taken possession of nature and Mother Earth. God always forgives; we humans sometimes forgive; but nature never forgives. I believe that humanity has gone a bit too far. Thank God that today many, many people are talking about it.”
But this isn’t Francis’s issue alone. In fact, it was Pope Benedict—not Francis—whom the media first dubbed the “green pope” for his environmental activism. “If you want to cultivate peace,” Benedict famously said, “protect creation.”
The Catholic Church speaks on issues of faith and science not as some academic exercise, but because these issues affect human flourishing, and we are called by God to defend the dignity of every woman, man, and child.
Just as the Church is unafraid to defend the dignity of the child in the womb, we cannot be afraid to defend the dignity of those who are the victims of a global economy that kills through environmental exploitation, rampant consumerism, and structural inequalities. What many seem to misunderstand, but which Francis, Benedict and the Church get, is that protecting creation is first and foremost a religious and moral issue.
Living simply, protecting creation, and addressing climate change is a response to God’s ancient request that we be good stewards of all that God has given and entrusted to us: clean air, fresh water and fruits of the harvest. Water is a particularly vital issue to address, as many violent conflicts have been linked to water issues, and many future violent conflicts are likely to be linked to water as well.
One tangible way we can protect creation is to reduce air pollution. As Pope Francis writes, “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”