Earth Day seeks to protect and save all species Print
Seeing with Jesus' Eyes
Written by Fr. Donald Lange   

The theme of Earth Day 2019 is to protect and save all the species.

Earth day was founded by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. He witnessed the devastation caused by an enormous oil spill in Santa Barbara, Calif., which hurt the environment.

In 1969, he proposed the idea to celebrate Earth Day. As always, this year's Earth Day occurs on April 22, the day after we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus.

Upsetting the balance of nature

According to the Earth Day Network, "Nature's gifts to our planet are the millions of species that we know and love, and many more that remain to be discovered. Unfortunately, human beings have irrevocably upset the balance of nature and, as a result, the world is facing the greatest rate of extinction since the loss of dinosaurs more than 60 million years ago.

"Unlike the dinosaurs' fate, the rapid extinction of species in our world today is the result of human activity. The unprecedented global destruction and rapid reduction of plant and wildlife populations are directly linked to causes driven by human activity: climate change, deforestation, habitat loss, trafficking and poaching, unsustainable agriculture, pollution, and pesticides, to name a few. The impacts are far reaching."

Pope focuses on ecology

When Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio became pope, he chose the papal name of Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology. By doing so, he signaled that his pontificate would have a particular focus upon environmental issues and continue what Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict, and Church teaching has supported.

Pope Francis supports many of the ideas of Earth Day. In his first papal homily, Pope Francis urged the faithful to protect the earth just as St. Joseph protected the Christ Child.

On May 24, 24, 2015, Pope Francis promulgated the landmark encyclical Laudate Si'. He stated that St. Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

In numbers 33-34 of Laudate Si', Pope Francis stated, "Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see. 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 good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles, and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state."

In number's 38 and 40 of Laudate Si', the pope also calls the Amazon and the Congo basin the "lungs of our planet." On oceans he writes, "Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet's water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons."

Pope Francis also notes, "The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence, and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity."

The pope wrote, "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."

Good news

The good news is that the rate of extinctions can still be slowed, and many of our declining, threatened, and endangered species can still recover if we work together now to build a united global movement of consumers, voters, educators, faith leaders, and scientists to demand immediate action.

Earth Day Network is asking people to join its Protect our Species campaign to:

• Educate and raise awareness about the accelerating rate of extinction of millions of species and the causes and consequences of this phenomenon.

• Achieve major policy victories that protect broad groups of species as well as individual species and their habitats.

• Build and activate a global movement that embraces nature and its values.

• Encourage individual actions such as adopting plant-based diet and stopping pesticide and herbicide use.

Fr. Donald Lange is a pastor emeritus in the Diocese of Madison.