Catholic Care for the Environment
Should Catholics be Environmentalists?
The answer to the above question is both yes and no. It all depends on what we mean by environmentalism.
On the yes side, our faith clearly teaches that we have an obligation to be good stewards of God’s creation. As Catholics, we believe that God created the world (Gen 1:1) and that creation is fundamentally good (Gen 1:31). We believe that God has given mankind dominion over creation (Gen 1:28-30) and that we are to “cultivate and care for” the world (Gen 2:15).
To be a steward is to hold something in trust. It means caring for something that does not belong to you. In this case, our faith teaches us that the earth belongs to God who has entrusted it to us for our care. To use the resources of the earth selfishly, putting personal profit ahead of the common good, would be a violation of our stewardship covenant. Likewise, to be wasteful with our natural resources would also violate this trust.
For all the above reasons, Catholics are called to practice a kind of environmentalism that respects the goodness of creation and honors our duty to be good and responsible stewards of the many gifts God has given us, including the natural resources of our planet.
On the no side, we must recognize that there is a strain of thought within the modern environmentalist movement that views mankind as a cancer upon the earth; more like a hostile invader than a steward. Those who take this point of view tend to advocate a reduction of the human population (sometimes dramatically) as the only feasible solution to our environmental problems. They advocate for wide-spread use of contraception, sterilizations, and abortions to keep the human population low.
Catholics cannot in good conscience support this type of environmentalism that views humanity as the enemy of the environment.
In Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for the environment, Laudato Si, the Holy Father talks not only about caring for the natural environment, but also the people who live in it.
“Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate…To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues.”Laudato Si, 50
“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.”Laudato Si, 42