The eco-left and Our Lady of Sorrows

Barak Obama’s credentials as a green presidential candidate have not made him a green president, or so goes the complaint of many in the political left. But not to worry, the president is getting advice as well as criticism.

Jeff Goodell writes in about “Ten Thing Obama Must Do: How the president can help slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet - without waiting for Congress.” This miraculous sounding header sets the stage for this opening:
When Barack Obama won the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, he declared that future generations would remember it as "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal." More than three years later, the oceans are still rising and our planet has done more howling – in the form of extreme weather – than healing. In fact, the current political climate is actually headed in the wrong direction: The most heated talk in Washington right now is not about reducing carbon pollution or expanding renewable energy, but whether to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. Michele Bachmann has pledged to see the EPA's "doors locked and lights turned off." Rep. Louie Gohmert, a Republican from Texas, wants to "let EPA go the way of the dinosaurs that became fossil fuels."
Not that Obama hasn't overseen some progress on the environment. He struck a deal with automakers to double fuel-efficiency standards by 2025. He boosted funding for clean-energy research. And he made some impressive appointments to key positions, including Lisa Jackson as head of the EPA and Steven Chu as secretary of energy. But overall, Obama's record on the environment has been uninspired – and that's putting it kindly. He hasn't stopped coal companies from blowing up mountaintops and devastating large regions of Appalachia. He caved in on tightening federal standards for ozone pollution, putting the lives of millions of Americans at risk. And the biggest tragedy: He has done almost nothing to rein in carbon pollution – or even to convince Americans that, in the long run, cooking the planet with coal and oil is a bad idea.
It's not all Obama's fault: His plans to rebuild America's energy infrastructure have been hampered by the recession, and his efforts on global warming have been stymied by Tea Party wackos and weak-kneed Democrats in Congress. But the president has spent far too much time blaming others, when he could have been taking action on his own. Here are 10 things Obama could do right now – without any say-so from Congress – to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet. All it takes is the will – and some political courage.
What follows are the 10 things that must be done to save the planet. These include: Prevent Oil Spills (not “attempt to prevent,” but “prevent”), Strike a Deal with China, Make Coal Clean Up Its Mess, and others. Some are good ideas. Most are more complicated than the author lets on. Praying isn’t on the list, although having the president use his bully pulpit is: “Obama's refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president.” I was glad to see that Goodell was able to connect ecology with morality, because that connection is a vital one. Our failures in ecological protection are, more often than not, moral failures.

As we Catholics observe the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15th, it’s worth reflecting why we draw so much attention to the Cross and to human failure. While such failure is at the core of Goodell’s piece, it differs from how a Catholic ecologist understandings it.

We know that—as fallen creatures—we are not capable of saving ourselves. Thus, our spirituality is rooted in humility, as exemplified by the Lord, who became flesh and made his dwelling among us. While hope is of course central to our spirituality, it is not hope in us, or our elected officials. After all, no one man or woman can prevent oil spills. Nor can any group of people—like regulatory agencies or advocacy groups.

What we can do is try to live by the laws of nature—those physical laws that we’ve discovered and the moral laws revealed to us. They are both meant to help us thrive and be fully human.

And yet, no matter how much, how hard and how often we try, we will fail—in small ways and big. Yes, we often do succeed, by the grace of God. But we are defined most by how we incorporate our failures and sufferings into our very being, and by how we help others to do so.

The disappointment that many ecologically minded people express about the president is understandable, but it is importantly an invitation to understand more fully the limits of humanity. Disappointment in our leaders can either crush in anguish and chaos or it can convert us. It can remind us of our fallen nature and our need for Christ.

In all our daily toils—whether as a world leader, a parent, spouse or friend—we will continually encounter the problem of evil. We must confront the evil in others, yes, but also that within us. Our Lady encountered this evil in ways you or I can never imagine, and she willingly offers her comfort and intercession to we who suffer and fail now.

If only we as a nation remembered this. If only we could regularly fall on our collective knees and ask, not demand, that things go well for us, for our neighbors and for the world that we were given to steward. In other words, it would do well for us to remember those laws of nature—moral and physical—as well as our place as fallen creatures who are always being offered the love and prayers of Our Lady of Sorrows. Her wish is simple: to bring us to her Son, so that we may someday be delivered from the anguish and disappointment that is so part of our lives and so very much a part of our fallen world.
Sighing Mother, pray for us. Afflicted Mother, pray for us. Foresaken Mother, pray for us. Desolate Mother, pray for us. Mother most sad, pray for us. Mother set around with anguish, pray for us. Mother overwhelmed by grief, pray for us. Mother transfixed by a sword, pray for us. Mother crucified in thy heart, pray for us. Mother bereaved of thy Son, pray for us. Sighing Dove, pray for us. Mother of Dolors, pray for us. Fount of tears, pray for us. Sea of bitterness, pray for us. Field of tribulation, pray for us. Mass of suffering, pray for us. Mirror of patience, pray for us. Rock of constancy, pray for us. Remedy in perplexity, pray for us. Joy of the afflicted, pray for us. Ark of the desolate, pray for us. Refuge of the abandoned, pray for us. Shield of the oppressed, pray for us. Conqueror of the incredulous, pray for us. Solace of the wretched, pray for us. Medicine of the sick, pray for us. Help of the faint, pray for us. Strength of the weak, pray for us. Protectress of those who fight, pray for us. Haven of the shipwrecked, pray for us. Calmer of tempests, pray for us. Companion of the sorrowful, pray for us. Retreat of those who groan, pray for us. Terror of the treacherous, pray for us. Standard-bearer of the Martyrs, pray for us. Treasure of the Faithful, pray for us. Light of Confessors, pray for us. Pearl of Virgins, pray for us. Comfort of Widows, pray for us. Joy of all Saints, pray for us. Queen of thy Servants, pray for us. Holy Mary, who alone art unexampled, pray for us. (From the Litany of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows by Pope Pius VII.)

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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.