by Pam Demassi, Liberty, Missouri Companion
This fall, I participated with a small community at Precious Blood Center studying Living Beyond the “End of the World,” A Spirituality of Hope by Margaret Swedish. We talked about the many ways the ecology of our communities is changing and even breaking down—toxins in our air, water, and food; extinction rates unseen since the end of the dinosaur age; changes in weather patterns; diseases impacting our forests; the rise in human diseases like cancer, asthma, and diabetes. There were participants who had cancer, participants who challenge our country’s involvement with nuclear proliferation and participants who worked for the Environmental Protection Agency.
Our reading identified ways in which we are already living beyond the biocapacity of the planet and challenged us to identify elements of a spirituality for living through the ecological crisis. We viewed several films and listened to guest speakers. We did not identify many ways to live beyond the end of this world with a rich and vibrant Earth community still intact and still able to support life. We learned that climate change has already made impact around the globe and will undoubtedly impact the quality of life for future generations. As we faced the magnitude of the impacts of global warming, we began to examine the suffering of human and non-human beings.
We used the teachings of scripture that value stewardship for God’s creation and justice for the poor. One film we watched inspired reflection on our place in and responsibility to God’s creation. We were reminded of the natural world around us being threatened by the ecological crisis.
One of our guest speakers, as well as our book, reminded us that humans are the cause of our ecosytems becoming altered. We contrasted this with the gift of creation we read about in the Scripture. Currently there is little debate among the scientific community about the fact of climate change. However, little of this clarity has reached the public through the mass media.
Our group talked about our carbon footprint, the damage caused by our use of fossil fuels. We looked at how the poor and marginalized are directly impacted, especially poor communities of color and poor communities in Appalachia.
The book talked about the American Dream of affluence and our ever-increasing standards of living. This is proving to be unsustainable and impossible to continue. Growing scarcities of water, food, and energy will increase the threat of violent conflict, including war. We face hard questions. Do our values support this consumer society?
Human beings are living beyond the means of the Earth to support our consumption and waste. Industrialization has been fueled by the exploitation of coal, oil, and natural gas at the cost of environmental devastation. The era of cheap sources of energy is coming to a rapid end. To what extent is our depletion of the planet’s ecosystems stealing from future generations? We must calculate our ecological footprint and ask the question, “Who is my neighbor and must I love them as myself?”
When we reflected on this in the light of faith, we begin to envision a new American Dream based on a quote by Mahatmas Gandhi: “Living simply so that others may simply live.”
Despite everything, no matter how stark the news, our faith challenges us to continue to give reason for hope. Our gospel narratives have much to offer on this journey. These narratives resonate as never before as they are broken open to address the crises of a new age, a new moment in history.