"We are losing our attitude of wonder, of contemplation, of listening to creation and thus we no longer manage to interpret within it what Benedict XVI calls 'the rhythm of the love-story between God and man.'"
+ Pope Francis
All the president’s men
By now you know the picks: Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt (above) for the US Environmental Agency; Texas governor Rick Perry for Energy; and Exxon Mobil Corp. Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State.
These names have the eco-advocacy and regulatory world shaking with fury, fear, or both. In the faith world there’s talk of letters and petitions to implore Donald Trump to change his mind, especially with regard to Scott Pruitt as the potential head of EPA. Pruitt, as you may know, has been suing that agency and is generally seen by eco-advocates as a foe of clean water and air.
Anthony Strawa, a researcher at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and speaker on climate change, told Catholic Ecology that his worry was not simply about policy or politics, but about people.
“Air and water pollution have dramatic impacts on human health,” he said. “In California alone 18,000 premature deaths and $250 million in medical expenses are attributed to air pollution.”
He noted that five of the six federal criterion air pollutants are predominantly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and that studies have shown that pollution sources tend to be located near poor and underrepresented communities.
“That is why, since 1970, both Democratic and Republican administrations have strengthened the EPA to protect US citizens. But the appointment of Mr. Pruitt, whose statements and actions reflect a clear preference for business interests over concerns for human health, is disturbing and troubling. We must be vigilant to ensure that our air and water resources remain safe for ourselves and our children.”
Strawa is not alone.
My inbox is full of emails from eco-advocates expressing outrage and despair over these appointments, as I, too, am worried about what may happen to federal environmental programs under Trump/Pruitt leadership. And so are many of my colleagues in the regulatory world—and not without reason.
Pruitt's defenders note that the attorney general's fights with the US EPA are more about the relationships between the federal government and the state, with Pruitt advocating for more state’s rights in how ecological policies are met. Given my role as a state regulator, I can’t say I completely disagree with that. But only federal government can adequately enforce environmental laws when pollution problems straddle state lines, or when polluters cross state lines rather than face the consequences of their actions.
For these, and other reasons, we need an effective EPA.
Other defenders of Pruitt—and the potential approach to eco-regulation under the Trump administration—argue that sometimes federal environmental officials are not flexible enough or creative enough to meet environmental goals in ways that also help the regulated community. I can’t say I completely disagree with that, either, as I wrote about here at length.
But environmental regulators are ultimately beholden to the laws of nature—which bend for no one. When we disregard these laws we harm ecosystems and human beings. And fiddling with human law will not change that.
“There is so much at stake with regards to care for creation and care for those most impacted by our neglect, especially the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad,” Dan Misleh, Executive Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant told me today when I asked about his thoughts on all this.
He offered a cautious and hopeful response.
“While it is discouraging that the Trump transition team has chosen people who appear hostile to environmental care, we are hopeful that they will see the importance of protecting ‘our common home.’ In the meantime, the Catholic community in the United States will continue to find ways to respond to Pope Francis's challenges in Laudato Si' through education, action and advocacy.”
I think Dan is on to something—or at least I hope he is.
Take for instance Rick Perry, the governor of Texas poised to lead the United States Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Lots of people are afraid of what might happen if he takes the reins of that office, which in 2011 the then presidential candidate Perry said he would abolish.
But under Perry’s leadership, Texas became a leader in wind power here in the USA. One hopes he now continues this awesome momentum nationally—even if others are concerned that Perry's boss will pressure him to go light on renewable energy.
In any event, we Catholic ecologists have to redouble our efforts to take seriously the words of Pope Francis and his predecessors when it comes to caring for creation, and the people (born and unborn) that count on creation for things like clean air and water.
As Benedict XVI said in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, “[t]he Church has a responsibility towards creation and she must assert this responsibility in the public sphere. In so doing, she must defend not only earth, water and air as gifts of creation that belong to everyone. She must above all protect mankind from self-destruction.”
These words, which Pope Francis champions and has built on, are our words, and we must assert our responsibility for a clean world now in the public sphere.
And at the same time—with an eye toward the Fourth Commandment—we have to keep our leaders in prayer and help them make choices and institute polices that are right, just, and good for all the world, and ultimately for their own souls.
As always, stay tuned for much, much more …
Photo: Scott Pruitt from Flicker/Gage Skidmore
About the Blog
Catholic Ecology posts my regular column in the Rhode Island Catholic, as well as scientific and theological commentary about the latest eco-news, both within and outside of the Catholic Church. What is contained herein is but one person's attempt to teach and defend the Church's teachings - ecological and otherwise. As such, I offer all contents of this blog for approval of the bishops of the Church. It is my hope that nothing herein will lead anyone astray from truth.