Heading to An Unlivable Planet – But It is Not Too Late

By. George P. Nassos

Let’s start with a brief origin of our planet. The earth is said to be 4.5 billion years old. It eventually consisted of trees, flowers, vegetables, birds, animals, fish, soil, and water. The trees produced blossoms to bear fruits, and the blossoms fell to the ground and enriched the soil. Birds would eat the fruit, and seeds would fall to the ground and produce more trees. Animals eat plants and smaller animals. When the animals die, they become food for another animal or fertilize the soil. Nature was designed to sustain itself and produce no waste, a great example of the circular economy.
But many years later, humans came on the earth and things started to change. Everything was fine until the past century or two. The decline of the environment really started to accelerate around 1950. The concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere started to increase from a relatively constant level of 280 parts per million (ppm) and headed to a dangerous level of 350 ppm. Currently the CO2 level is around 421 ppm. Another major problem is the overconsumption of our natural resources that has resulted in consuming the equivalent of 1.7 earths. We are also experiencing water shortages worldwide, that is except for the area around The Great Lakes. And contributing to these environmental issues is our population which has quadrupled in the past 100 years, going from two billion to eight billion, and climbing.
Fortunately, there are many efforts to curtail this situation and start some improvements. All the major developed countries are taking action to fight this climate change, but some are doing more than others. It’s a shame that the two biggest emitters of CO2, China and the U.S., are ranked 51 and 57 according to the Climate Change Performance Index which ranks the 63 countries and E.U. that emit over 90% of the carbon dioxide. With respect to our natural resources, the U.S. is consuming the equivalent of 2.1 earths. Instead of trying to reduce the consumption of water, in one application the U.S. is increasing the generation of natural gas using fracking which consumes a huge amount of water. Corporations can become more environmentally friendly by embedding ESG in their operations, but too many companies are following Milton Friedman when he published his doctrine over 50 years ago that the social responsibility of business is to increase its profit. Unfortunately, today this has led to greenwashing.
It appears that we, the individuals, must continue to do whatever we can to improve the environment. But how do we know what is the best way to solve the problem? Can we depend on the media? Unfortunately, we don’t know whether their best interest is in the environment or that of a major funder. Depending on social media could even be worse in terms of dependability. Perhaps the best approach may be to depend on our respective religious leaders whether they represent Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, or Buddhism. One example is to listen to a Christian leader like Pope Francis, the spiritual leader of about 1.4 billion Roman Catholics. In 2015, Pope Francis presented his encyclical, Laudato Si – on care of our common home, which has resulted in most of their churches forming Encyclical Working Groups to implement this environmental encyclical. They have even developed the Laudato Si Action Platform with eight goals.
The second largest Christian denomination, with over 300 million, is the Eastern Orthodox faith. Its spiritual leader is Patriarch Bartholomew who has put protection of our environment very high on his agenda for over 30 years. Unfortunately, most of the Orthodox jurisdictions in the U.S. are not following the patriarch’s agenda to establish care for creation ministries in each of their churches. Their goal should be to make the church’s operations more environmentally friendly and at the same time pass this commitment on to the parishioners for their respective lives.
Why would Eastern Orthodox churches under Patriarch Bartholomew not follow his lead and care for the environment? One possibility could be the result of a major donor to the church being related to an anti-environmental business such as a member of the fossil fuel industry. Since the church may be dependent on donations from their stewards for its operations, the church may not want to offend a major donor. However, there may be a simple solution to this problem that could enhance both the church and the environment.
The church, or any other house of worship, should implement environmental activities like recycling, water conservation, waste minimization, and switching to renewable energy like solar. This may be disappointing to one or more church donors, but on the other hand it should be a very positive move for our younger generations. They will feel that this church cares for their future and will very likely lead them to joining the parish. The addition of more stewards and their respective donations to the church could very well offset any decline in donations from the anti-environment stewards.
If every house of worship takes this position, it will help the environment, provide for the future of its parishioners, and increase the number of parishioners along with their donations. It’s a win, win, win situation.
We have to take this action if we want a more livable planet. Don’t forget, God created this planet for us, and it is our obligation to sustain it. We didn’t inherit this environment from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children.