We are fortunate to live in communities that are environmentally aware and active. Our leaders in environmental action are people inspired by their religion, spirituality, ethics and traditions.
The interfaith statewide eco-organization, Faith In Place, started here in Oak Park at Unity Temple Unitarian Universalist Congregation in 1999. It has worked with over 1,000 houses of worship throughout Illinois to protect our common land, water, and air. And Oak Park and River Forest boast a vibrant Interfaith Green Network — green teams and faith leaders from nearly 20 Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and Quaker congregations. They work on a wide range of eco-initiatives, including the big challenge of fighting climate change.
Recently, the Chicago area was visited by the head of the Vatican’s Department of Ecology, Rev. Joshtrom Kureethadam. The Catholic Church, under Pope Francis, was inspired in 2015 and beyond to care for our common home with the cutting-edge document on environmental ethics and action called Laudato Si’. Pope Francis wrote this treatise to the people of the world, and it has inspired people of all traditions with its elegant yet direct approach to the root causes of environmental problems.
Fr. Kureethadam spoke on his new book, The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’. This humble, open-hearted priest spoke with passion — with tears in his eyes at times — as he expounded on issues of environmental degradation, neglect of the poor with our wasteful lifestyles, and the effects of climate change.
“Climate change,” he said, “should be called the climate crisis, the climate catastrophe.”
The Ten Green Commandments of Laudato Si’ condenses the essence of that environmental teaching document in the “see-judge-act” framework that is now often used in social sciences. Although the Ten Green Commandments are from a Christian source, the reader may substitute their own term for the universal life force. These items offer inspiration to act in new ways, have a change of mind and heart around caring for our common home, and act on our climate crisis. There is hope.
I. Earth, our common home, is in peril. Take care of it. God loves creation and so must we. “Love” is an active verb.
II. Listen to the cry of the poor who are the disproportionate victims of the crisis of our common home. The ecological crisis is not only a physical problem but also a deeply moral one.
III. Rediscover a theological vision of the natural world as good news (gospel). The world is indeed “good news,” revealing the love, beauty, and glory of the Creator.
IV. Recognize that the abuse of creation is ecological sin (or use a term that makes sense to you). The destruction of our common home calls for repentance.
V. Acknowledge the deeper human roots of the crisis of our common home. Repentance begins by acknowledging human responsibility for the destruction.
VI. Develop an integral ecology, as we are all interrelated and interdependent. As every ecologist (and every farmer) knows, you cannot do just one thing.
VII. Learn a new way of dwelling in our common home and manage it more responsibly through a new economics and a new political culture. We need a new way to live on Earth focused on the common good of all creation.
VIII. Educate toward ecological citizenship through change of lifestyles. Ecological citizenship means establishing a new covenant between humanity and the natural world.
IX. Embrace an ecological spirituality that leads to communion with all creatures. The natural world is permeated with divine presence.
X. Care for our common home by cultivating the ecological virtues of praise, gratitude, care, justice, work, sobriety, and humility.
The word “sobriety” is key. The patriarchal system we live in is an addicted system. Its main tools are power abuse, a lack of connection, and compassion for ‘the other,’ taking whatever one wants (especially if it makes money), and a self-absorbed “me, me, me.” An addict will take themselves down, as well as their family, community and even our world. Yet through our ethical environmental and social justice actions, we are changing the system to a new paradigm of connection, cooperative creative problem-solving, and compassion in action. This is true power.
We must gather the courage, the “heart force” to do many things differently. Honoring our personal and community efforts at Zero Waste, energy reduction, green energy plans, habit changes and native gardens, we take the next steps of working at the local, state and national levels to put policies in place to reduce greenhouse emissions, support renewable energies and generate new clean, green jobs.
Pope Francis just gathered oil executives from BP, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron, as well as 27 other international leaders, to sign the Energy Transition and Care For Our Common Home Participant Statement on Carbon Pricing. That’s power and courage. Let it inspire us to bold action, too.
Learn more about the hopeful bi-partisan carbon pricing bill now in the House, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act, HR 763. This “Carbon Fee and Dividend” legislation is one piece of the climate-change puzzle, but it could be a bridge issue, rather than a wedge between Democrats and Republicans. The revenue-neutral carbon fee would be returned to consumers every month as a dividend. HR763 would change the fossil fuel industry to keep the carbon in the ground and incentivize them to invest in renewable energies. HR763 can help us reduce carbon emissions by about 40% by 2030.
Currently the Green New Deal is building excitement, but it would be years before it could pass. We don’t have years to lose. Also, it doesn’t seem to propose specific policies for greenhouse emissions reduction. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is recommending a 45% reduction of carbon emissions from 2010 levels by 2030. We then have a chance of staying under 1.5 C warming above pre-industrial levels. We can achieve this goal as creative, spirited people with a purpose.
As Greta Thunberg says, “Behave like your house is on fire, because it is.” Let’s change climate change. We’ve got the power, the passion, the courage and the smarts. And we vote.
Gina Orlando is an Oak Park resident and environmental advocate for 50 years with a current eco-ministry, the Honoring Our Mother Earth (HOME) Team at Ascension Parish, with the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Laudato Si’ ministry and several local eco-organizations. She is a wellness coach and teaches holistic health science courses at DePaul’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies which include natural health, spirituality and environmental issues that are a large part of our whole health.