Problems in the Poles: A new iceberg in Antarctica meets an old message from the Arctic
avatar

Last week, a new iceberg the size of Delaware broke off from Larsen C, an ice shelf off the peninsula of Antarctica. Larsen C is named after Carl Anton Larsen, a whaler who sailed along Antarctica’s Peninsula in 1893 (down to about the 68th parallel south). The map on the right displays many ice shelves, including four that bear Larsen’s name (A, B, C, and D). The Larsen A ice shelf toward the northern tip of the peninsula collapsed and disintegrated in 1995. From January to March of 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf collapsed, sending a group of ice chunks the size of Rhode Island into the Weddell Sea. Larsen B is in the process of disintegrating as did Larsen A. It is speculated that the ice shelf will completely disintegrate by 2020. This latest iceberg is the fourth largest to break off from Antarctica’s ice shelves, decreasing the size of Larsen C by 10%. The impact this iceberg … Continue reading

Environmental Ethics and Ethos. The RSE Symposia on the Adriatic and Baltic Seas.
avatar

One of the newest fields of theology and philosophy is Environmental Ethics. In addition to being new, this field is also one of the more challenging subjects to keep current. The reason for this difficulty is that the rapid growth of technology often outpaces our ability to reflect on a given technology’s moral implications. This lag between the advancement of technology and the moral implications of technology have, at times, allowed for great damage to be done to our environment. This tension between technological advancement and environmental crisis led the members of the Religion, Science, and Environment Symposia (RSE) to organize two events to accomplish two main goals: The development of ethical principles to address ecological issues and the development of an environmental ethos to inspire people to put those ethics into action. Once again, the spiritual leader of these symposia was Patriarch Bartholomew and the locations of the symposia were the Adriatic Sea and the Baltic Sea. The RSE … Continue reading

Ideology Vs. Environment: What the Danube River can teach us about faith, ecology, politics, and human dignity.
avatar

Continuing our series on the Religion, Science, and Environment (RSE) Symposia organized by the Greek Orthodox Church, today we explore the 1999 symposium on the Danube River. The previous RSE symposium explored the ecological crisis that threatening the Black Sea. One of the main themes of the symposium was how pollution from the Danube River was flowing into the Black Sea, contributing to its denigration. In light of this, it makes sense that the symposium to follow the Black Sea gathering would be held on the blue Danube. The Danube River connects ten countries with a drainage basin that finds its way into a number of other counties. The countries themselves represent some of the most war-torn regions of Europe, originating in Germany and making its way through Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Romania, Moldova, and Ukraine. These countries, along with the Czech Republic, Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, have developed the International Commission for the Protection of the … Continue reading

Earth Day and Catholicism: What Is A Christian To Do?
avatar

So, how are you going to celebrate Earth Day? If you were to ask me this question about twenty years ago, you probably would have received a dumbfounded look with the simple response, “Why would I celebrate Earth Day?” Like many Americans, I had a rather suspicious attitude toward such celebrations, thinking of them as merely days of political statements and protests against anyone who didn’t embrace a 100% “Green” lifestyle. As a devout Catholic, I also struggled with expressions of what I would call an Environmental Spiritualism, treating the Earth as if it were God or another type of deity. In short, Earth Day was not high on my priority list. In time, however, my attitude began to change toward Earth Day. The beginning of the change occurred when I was in college and started to delve into Catholic Social Teaching (CST). I was surprised to discover that one of the seven themes of CST put forward in the Compendium … Continue reading

When Religion and Science Sought To Save The Black Sea: 1997 Waterborne Symposium
avatar

What would it take to “kill off” an entire sea? In the late 1990’s, those who depend on the Black Sea for food and the stability of their economy wondered if this question had become reality. In the 1980’s, the Black Sea was seen by many as a body of water that could feed the world given its abundance of aquatic life. In the late 1990’s, this bountiful sea was being transformed into a kind of “underwater desert.” Fishermen were coming back with empty nets, promising both economic hardship and social difficulties given the region’s dependence upon the Black Sea for food. This shocking turn of events led world leaders to ask a logical question: What happened to this bountiful body of water? A simple summary of a very complex problem was that the amount of pollutants finding their way into the Black Sea was dramatically increasing. As these pollutants were being introduced, the chemistry of the Black Sea was … Continue reading

The Book of Revelation and the Environment: 1995 Waterborne Symposium – Aegean Sea
avatar

I had never thought of the Book of Revelation as containing an ecological message until recently. In my childhood, I fell into the trap that most do of seeing the gloom and doom of Revelation in a way that literally scared the “Hell” out of me. In my college years, I revisited the Book of Revelation through the lens of it being a book of hope for the early Christians under the persecution of Nero. In seminary, there was a push to approach Revelation from a liturgical perspective, seeing in its mystic and symbolic language a type of “code” the author used to communicate a mystical experience of celebrating the Eucharist. Recently, I have discovered a new approach to Revelation as being profoundly connected to the environment, arguing that when we are not in right relationship with God the impact is not only personal, but global. This vision of Revelation containing a commentary on our environment was a central theme … Continue reading

Just How “Green” Is Christianity? Commemorating the 25th Anniversary of Patriarch Bartholomew
avatar

A lesson quickly learned when studying theology is that the terms liberal and conservative are of little to no help. In a culture that demonizes such labels, there can be a deep desire to find a different language that transcends the volatility of these terms. Traditionally, theologians will use the terms Orthodoxy (correct belief) and Orthopraxy (the proper practice and application of our belief). When the terms liberal and conservative are removed in favor of Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy, one quickly finds that authentic Christian belief is a fascinating weave, providing a beautiful tapestry of the world that fails to fit nicely into a cultural ideology, limited by political designations. One of the clearest examples of this transcendent tapestry is ecology and care for creation. As a priest for the Catholic Church that is pro-life, pro-family, pro-personal responsibility, and pro-subsidiarity, many find it contradictory for Catholics to also be pro-immigration, pro-workers rights, pro-solidarity, pro-preferential option for the poor, and pro-ecology. An example … Continue reading

The Ratzinger Foundation and Ecology: Moving Toward a New Ecological Index Based on Laudato Si’.
avatar

Recently, I gave a presentation on Pope Francis’ vision of Integral Ecology. At the end of the presentation, a person asked what new technologies we should be embracing as Catholics to take the first steps toward caring for our common home in light of Laudato Si’? I could tell I shocked the room a little when I simply said, “None of them.” Sensing that many thought this answer contradicted everything I presented on, I explained that a core problem with embracing our call to care for creation is our inability to detach from a consumption mentality and embrace a conservation mentality. When consumption is chosen over conservation, the question about care for creation becomes primarily one of economics: What is the most cost effective way to provide more energy for more people who consume more and more on a yearly basis without doing to much harm to creation? When looking at Laudato Si’, we don’t find a document who’s starting point is developing new eco-friendly … Continue reading

Why Introduce Works of Mercy About the Environment?
avatar

This past week, Pope Francis introduced two new works of mercy, both of which pertain to care for our common home. The spiritual work of mercy introduced is to practice grateful contemplation of the world God created, discovering in creation a truth God seeks to express to us. The corporal work of mercy is rooted in small gestures to build a better world, breaking the cycles of violence, exploitation, and selfishness. Both of these works of mercy call us to care for our common home and thank God for the gift of our good earth. (Messaggio del Santo Padre Francesco per la Celebrazione della Giornata mondiale di preghiera per la cura del creato, 01.09.2016) This addition of works of mercy by Pope Francis raises some logical questions: Why did he do this? and What does this mean for the Church? For starters, it is important for us to reflect upon why Popes make these kind of changes in the first place. When a Pope adds … Continue reading

Astronomy, Ecology, and Social Ethics: Looking at Climate Trends for 2016
avatar

2016 has been a record setting year in regard to climate change. NASA has confirmed that the temperatures from January to June have set new, all-time highs. An article on NASA’s website from July 19, 2016 states that temperatures are 1.3 degrees Celsius warmer than recent historical averages. Sea ice levels in the first five months receded to new lows since we began to measure it with satellites in 1979. Though some may question the reality of global warming, science is confirming that our world’s climate is changing and rapidly. For the full article on recent NASA findings about our climate, click here. Thankfully, the record ice melt in the first five months of this year has slowed through the month of June. This slowing will keep the arctic ice from setting even more record lows. Nevertheless, NASA has stated that these findings are pointing to a “new normal” for our climate and are seeking to answer the question, “What does this mean going … Continue reading

Priests of Creation: Reclaiming Biblical Ecology through Maximus the Confessor
avatar

Does the Bible teach environmental exploitation? The publication of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ sparked an international discussion among people of faith on ecology. Some argued that the Pope was presenting a vision of ecology that was more political than biblical. The Pope’s desire to influence the Paris Climate Change Conference (COP21) through his encyclical gave this accusation fertile soil to spread. On the other end of the spectrum, many argued that Pope Francis’ encyclical did not go far enough. Given the Church’s pro-life stance on abortion and euthanasia, the Pope was criticized for not sufficiently addressing population control. Further, many environmental groups argue that the Bible promotes environmental exploitation through its language of subduing the earth and having dominion over creation. Between these extremes rests the answer to a question worth reflection: What does Scripture and Tradition teach us about ecology? We must admit that certain modern expressions of Christianity do promote environmental exploitation. A more literalist understanding of the Bible can lead to … Continue reading

Reading Creation: Exploring The Book of Nature and The Book of Scripture (Part Two)
avatar

So, is there a “literal reading” of Genesis? (Picking up where I left off in my last post…) Understanding how the Church reads the book of nature and the Book of Scripture is key when applying these “books” to our modern situation. For example, much has been said in recent years about trying to interpret the Book of Genesis in light of modern science, arguing that the book of nature and Genesis are incompatible. Foundational to the new atheist argument against God is that the only appropriate interpretation of Genesis is a literalist approach in which creation happened in six, twenty-four hour days. When we look at the earliest Christian interpretations of Genesis, however, the only thing we can clearly affirm is that there wasn’t a unified understanding of how to apply time to the six days of creation (the seventh day is treated differently since it was the day God rested with no time reference at all in the text – it’s … Continue reading