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Fragile People Living on a Fragile Planet

Protecting the environment is not just an ecological concern but also a social one. The impact we have on the earth, similar to how the coronavirus pandemic affected our lives, does not only influence the environment but also human lives.

As the dreadful coronavirus pandemic clearly illustrates: life is fragile.  In just a matter of a few months, the highly contagious Covid-19 has killed over 319,000 people (as of this writing), infected many more, eliminated millions of jobs and threatened nearly double the number of severely hungry people throughout the world. 

The World Food Program warned that people facing acute hunger and starvation is projected to dramatically increase to 265 million by year’s end–“unless swift action is taken.”

World Food Program’s Chief Economist, Arif Husain, pleaded, “Covid-19 is potentially catastrophic for millions who are already hanging by a thread. It is a hammer blow for millions more who can only eat if they earn a wage. Lockdowns and global economic recession have already decimated their nest eggs. It only takes one more shock–like Covid-19–to push them over the edge. We must collectively act now to mitigate the impact of this global catastrophe.”

We continue to sicken our planet with filth. Industries, vehicles and other human activities continue to pump lethal chemicals into our air, land and water. A tragic example is the amount of plastics that pollute our seas. And our burning of fossils fuels–oil, gas and coal–is causing the earth to dangerously heat up resulting in more frequent and more intense floods, droughts, storms, wildfires and greatly increased human hunger, poverty and sickness. 

What kind of a world are we leaving our children, grandchildren and generations yet to be born? This is a very serious question. And we don’t have much time! 

Leading climate scientists of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change are warning us that if major changes to reverse global warming–like converting to solar, wind and geothermal energy production and massive reforestation–aren’t largely in place worldwide by 2030, environmental disasters and human suffering will be catastrophic.

As with so much in Catholic social teaching–like protecting the environment and caring for the poor–our approach must always be both/and, not either/or. 

In his celebrated environmental encyclical Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home, Pope Francis teaches, “Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” 

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