Humble Suggestions for the Pope’s Ecology Encyclical

Politics, overvalued green initiatives, and sensationalism shouldn’t have the last word

The forthcoming papal encyclical on ecology has provoked plenty of discussion (and in some case, eye rolling) around the blogosphere.

As Catholics, however, we shouldn’t have any objection to the Holy Father emphasizing care of the planet. It goes without saying that it is part of the Judeo-Christian mandate to take care of the created order. Many of the objections seem to reflect a certain aversion to inflated or fallacious green initiatives, quite a few of which are emphasized ad nauseum in the media (particularly those directed at children), the financial fallout of failed energy endeavors, and the hypocrisy of those who sanctimoniously preach green politics but have gargantuan carbon footprints.

The Holy Father has a golden opportunity to clear away some of the political drivel that surrounds the issue. Here are a few humble suggestions. I’m clearly aware that they may not make it into the final draft, but our Pope is surprising. Perhaps he will call me to discuss?

Our Salvation Is Not in Recycling

Often, the emphasis on green and recycling trumps higher values. When visiting the trendy Pearl District of Portland, Oregon, my three-year-old had a stomach bug. Sensing that she needed to throw up again, my husband quickly asked a lobby clerk for a trashcan. Instead of handing it to him with haste, she corrected the recycling mistakes of the previous shift (“That paper doesn’t go in here!”) and then handed it to him—much too late.

Climate change as an ideology reduces life to materialism, giving the impression that if we just recycled, everything would be okay. But man, as a spiritual being, is a lot more complex. His actions affect the world around him beyond the material. Eve’s problem wasn’t that she forgot to compost the apple core, but that she was disobedient—a spiritual issue, not a material one.

In its extreme ideological form, the compulsion to be green and focus on the created eclipses our regard for the Creator. We shun the Creator, the highest ontological value imaginable, while fixating on the lowest: our trash. Somewhere Satan is smiling.

The Inconvenient Truth About the Pill

“I confess, I use oxiclean in every load of wash,” I reluctantly told a group of moms as we learned about a new line of green cleaning products.

“Ah, well, oxiclean isn’t really so scandalous. Probably just a 3 out of 10 on the scandal scale,” responded my friend, half jokingly. Yikes, I thought to myself, do I have to tell them about the bleach cleaner I use in my shower? I kept it to myself as my own dirty—or clean—little secret.

And yet how many women, I wondered, are on the Pill and while they try to do their part to keep our rivers free of cleaning detergents, are polluting it much more gravely with their daily dose of hormones?

A significant source of water pollution comes from the remnants from our medicine cabinets: blood pressure medication, antibiotics and estrogen from the Pill seep back into rivers and streams through our sewer systems. With around 11 million American women on the Pill (one in four of childbearing age), there is no mistaking why estrogen levels in rivers and streams are raising. Unfortunately, reference to where all these hormones are coming from, and why fish are showing up with mutations (although I haven’t heard of any growing breasts yet), is sort of swept under the carpet. “Nothing to see here.” Though there are many—and more important—reasons Catholic reject birth control, this should be a big one for anyone who cares about the environment.  

Weather Isn’t the Worst of Our Woes

With over 56 million abortions to atone for since Roe v. Wade in the U.S. alone, our societal fabric has been stretched and strained in ways never seen before. In fact, come to think of it, perhaps our ecological woes are connected with God’s justice as we see repeatedly in Scripture? Nah, couldn’t be that—no one enlightened thinks there could ever be a connection between our sins and forces of nature (or force majeure as the lawyers write it, which can mean an “act of God,” ironically referring to such things as hurricanes, tornados, and floods).

Ultimately, its anyone’s guess what is going to be in Pope Francis’s encyclical, but one can bet that it will contain his pontifical hallmarks. After nearly two years on the job, Pope Francis has made it clear that he is trying to evangelize and show how the Catholic faith addresses everyday lives of the planet’s population. Addressing climate change is one way to do that, since it is a front page issue for so many. And rather than dwell upon the materialistic aspects of climate, one can bet that the Argentine pope will elevate the conversation, as he has done before, to magnify the Creator through discussion of his creation.

About Carrie Gress, Ph.D. 0 Articles
Carrie Gress has a doctorate in philosophy from the Catholic University of America and was the Rome Bureau Chief of Zenit's English Edition. She is the author of Nudging Conversions and Ultimate Makeover, and co-author with George Weigel of City of Saints. A mother of four, she and her family live in Virginia.