Protecting our family of living creatures
Spring is here although warm days are still reluctant visitors. Every week more old friends appear and bring anticipation of who is going to show up next—crocuses and robins have arrived, how much longer until tulips and rhubarb? This season of new life as Easter approaches makes it easy to appreciate Pope Francis’ call “to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”” (#69)
Human activity is diminishing this blessing. Around the world these other living beings are shrinking in number or disappearing at an alarming rate. This is linked to human activity—we have not learned how to share our common home with our family of fellow living creatures.
We live as though we have forgotten that we are part of an amazingly diverse and complex web of life. Each creature contributes some role towards its ecosystem’s ability to provide the services which sustain all life, such as producing food, oxygen and clean water. The well-being of this web of life, which includes us, depends on the well-being of its biodiversity or variety of living species. Scientists, environmentalists, the Catholic Church and others are all raising awareness about the growing threats to biodiversity.
Earlier this month scientists published a review of insect decline reports from across the globe. They found that almost half of insects worldwide are rapidly declining and a third are being threatened with extinction—related to habitat loss, intensive agriculture, pollution (e.g. synthetic pesticides), climate change and other reasons. The authors highlighted how the decline in mass of insects has been linked in some studies with a decline in other species that rely on insects for food such as birds, amphibians and bats.
The international Earth Day Network is the world’s largest environmental movement. Their 2019 campaign Protect Our Species emphasizes that all species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, fish, corals, plants and more have declined, in many cases, severely. They link this rapid reduction in other species to causes related to human activity such as climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, pollution, poaching, pesticides and unsustainable agriculture. Their campaign highlights the need to protect insects as they pollinate many plants which are food sources for other species, including us.
In February of this year, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization shared its own warning when it launched its first-ever global report on the state of biodiversity that supports our food systems: “The biodiversity that is crucial for our food and agriculture is disappearing by the day” which is “putting the future of our food, livelihoods, health and environment under severe threat”.
How is the Catholic Church responding?
Pope Francis devotes an entire section in Laudato Si’ (#32-42) to the loss of biodiversity including this lament:
“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
The Vatican is currently drawing attention to the crisis in the Amazon. This region is spread over nine countries and is of vital importance to the planet because of its rich biodiversity and vast forest called “a lung of the planet”. This October the Vatican will gather bishops in Rome for a 3-week long conversation or synod on protecting the Amazon and its peoples, especially the Indigenous Peoples. Several months of reflection and gathering of testimonies from local communities have been taking place to prepare the Church for this Synod, aided by the preparation document called "Amazonia: New Paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”.
Despite a regional focus on the Amazon, the Synod reflections draw in the universal Church and the future of the planet as highlighted in the preparation document: “In the Amazon rainforest, which is of vital importance for the planet, a deep crisis has been triggered by prolonged human intervention… which, in defense of life, requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church.”
The Global Catholic Climate Movement has already incorporated global solidarity actions with the Amazon into its Earth Day program. More solidarity actions are expected this fall in connection with the Synod.
What can we do?
The Earth Day Network’s key message is that we cannot just protect the species we like; we have to protect entire ecosystems. Conservation programs for endangered species are not enough when the consumption of resources is a root cause of biodiversity loss. They outline actions we can take to protect our species:
- Reduce our overall consumption—buy local food, organic and natural products…
- Reduce our use of energy and contribution to climate change—use public transit, walk or ride a bike, reduce meat consumption, install solar panels…
- Reduce our water consumption—take shorter showers, fix dripping taps…
- Do not consume wildlife products, especially illegal ones;
- Reduce pollution—use non-toxic cleaning products, reduce or eliminate pesticides…
- Prevent plastic pollution—eliminate single-use plastics, recycle…
- Protect habitat.
Many of these actions are also outlined by Pope Francis in Laudato Si’. However, he calls us to go further—to redefine “our notion of progress” and to take “an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature”. (#194, #139)
As human beings we have yet to learn well what is perhaps our own unique role within the various ecosystems of our common home—to collaborate with God in caring for creation and our family of fellow living creatures, upon which we depend every day.