2010 Faith & Politics Reflection Guide

| October 18, 2010 Print

Topics: Introduction | International Debt | Extractive Industries | Genetically Modified Organisms | Migration | Peace and Conflict Resolution | International Trade | Water | Climate Change

Introduction

There is a Columban prayer card that says,

“God of all good things, give us a vision for justice.
We ask that our minds be open, our hearts be generous, and our deeds be genuine in reaching out to those who are poor.
Awaken us to our responsibility to do something about harmful economic and political situations.
Strengthen us so that we might help people
who are denied their human rights and freedoms.
Provide us the courage and imagination
to be the voice crying out for justice for the poor and the oppressed”.

In today’s divided world, this call to active participation in the restoration of right relationships with our global sisters and brothers is more urgent than ever before.

Globalization has created an international community connected in an unprecedented way. Unfortunately, this new order has left millions of people poorer and more marginalized than ever before.

The reality that Columban missionaries see and experience on a daily basis is the antithesis of Christ’s vision of God’s kingdom in which there is peace and harmony among all peoples and with Creation. The abuses of migrant workers in Taiwan, the forced implementation of chemical farming in the Philippines, the death at the U.S.-Mexico border are just a few examples of the kinds of injustices Columban missionaries encounter.

We must ask ourselves why the disparity between rich and poor is growing ever wider and deeper. We must ask ourselves why the environment is suffering ever greater abuse and misuse. We must ask ourselves what role our government, our society, and our personal choices play in either contributing to or hindering the full realization of peace and justice for all.

With these questions in mind, the Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach has developed the following resource which we hope will help facilitate personal and community dialogue and discussion about some of the most pressing social, economic, and political issues of our times.

Amy Woolam Echeverria
CCAO Director
amywe@columban.org

International Debt

“Christians will have to raise their voice on behalf of all the poor of the world proposing the Jubilee as an appropriate time to give thought, among other things, to reducing substantially, if not cancelling outright, the international debt which seriously threatens the future of many nations.”
Pope John Paul II, Tertio Millennio Adveniente, no. 51.

Many impoverished countries are burdened by overwhelming foreign debt. Developing countries 2.9 trillion dollars in international debt to the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Regional Development Banks (such as the Inter-American Development Bank), private banks, and to other sovereign governments. Jubilee USA estimates that over 60 countries need immediate debt cancellation, without harmful conditionalities, to reach the Millenium Development Goals by 2015. Some of the countries where Columbans live and work are particularly affected, including Pakistan and Burma.

Throughout the 1970’s, money was lent to developing countries almost without a thought about their ability to repay, or to what purpose the money would be directed. Loans were given to corrupt and oppressive governments, who often pocketed the money or used it to tyrannize their own people. Huge debts were accrued in the name of development, while those who were poor in borrower countries rarely saw any benefits. Forty years later, much needed resources are being siphoned off as some of the most destitute countries in the world are forced to spend more money repaying these illegitimate debts than on vital poverty-reduction efforts. According to Jubilee USA, every day the poorest countries pay the rich world almost $100 million in debt repayments.s

Although insufficient in scope and accompanied by strict conditions, several impoverished countries have received some level of debt relief in recent years. Notable benefits of this relief include increased investment in rural infrastructure, health, education, and anti-hunger programs. Despite international recognition of the positive effects of debt relief in combating poverty, lack of political will still hinders full debt cancellation for all the countries that need it.

Jubilee is the prophetic call to restore right relationships throughout God’s creation. It is a triumphant invitation to reconciliation and liberation. Based on Hebrew scripture, the traditions of Sabbath rest and Jubilee renewal require that the slaves be freed, the land lie fallow and that outstanding debts be canceled at least once each generation. People of all faiths have joined together to call for debt cancellation for countries that are unable to pay without increasing the misery of their people. Debt, especially that which is accrued either illegitimately or odiously, should not undermine the basic survival and human dignity of the most vulnerable members of our world community.

Discussion Questions:

• How does personal debt (credit card, student loans, mortgage, etc) affect the decisions you make for yourself & your household?
• Why should debt relief matter to us as people of faith?
• What is your candidate’s stance on the Jubilee Act? If s/he is a current member of Congress, have they signed on to co-sponsor the Jubilee Act legislation?

Action:

Ask your Members of Congress to show their support for debt cancellation by co-sponsoring the Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation – H.R. 4405. The Jubilee Act is groundbreaking, bipartisan legislation that would require the U.S. Treasury Department to work for full cancellation of the debts of 65 impoverished nations, without harmful economic conditions attached.

For more information on the Jubilee Act, see:
http://www.jubileeusa.org/jubilee-act.html

Resources:

• Jubilee USA: http://www.jubileeusa.org/
• Center of Concern: www.coc.org

Extractive Industries

“The right of life to people is inseparable from their right to sources of food and livelihood. Allowing the interests of big mining corporations to prevail over people’s right to these sources amounts to violating their right to life. Furthermore, mining threatens people’s health and environmental safety through the wanton dumping of waste and tailings in rivers and seas.” – Catholic Conference of Philippine Bishops

Extractive industries, such as mineral mining, logging, and oil and gas drilling, have historically inflicted lasting damage to the communities and ecosystems in which they are located. Although large profits are often attached to such activities, rarely do people or countries with low incomes benefit from them. Rather, the true costs of resource extraction are instead externalized onto these communities through destruction of the surrounding ecosystems, exploitation of local labor, displacement of communities, and the undermining of authentic sustainable development.

The environmental damage caused by the extraction of the Earth’s wealth has been incalculable. Gas leaks from the Camisea pipeline in Peru have triggered devastating fires and contaminated rivers, while deforestation in order to retrieve and transport the gas has caused erosion and landslides in one of the most bio-diverse regions on Earth. The precious lands of Patagonia in Chile are being endangered by the plans to build a hydroelectric dam that would destroy the beauty of the intact land. In the Philippines, cyanide spills from mining operations have leaked into surrounding bodies of water and contaminated rice fields. And in Appalachia, giant earth movers strip away foliage and dirt, pushing the waste into valleys and waterways, and lowering mountaintops by as much as 500 feet to access coal seams. Most recently, the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has changed the lives of the people as well as the coastal flora and fauna forever.

Serious health and safety concerns for nearby communities and families, as well as for workers, accompany this environmental devastation. Extraordinarily high rates of nausea, diarrhea, vomiting and asthma have been documented among children in mining regions. Uncontrolled logging and mining activities in the Philippines have caused dozens of landslides each year, burying villages and killing hundreds of people. At the same time, dangerous working conditions inside the mines compounded by weak, un-enforced or nonexistent regulations have resulted in increasing miner accidents and deaths. The most recent example is in Chile where thirty three miners were locked underground for over 2 months. The US suffers from mining disasters as well, such as the one in Montcoal, West Virginia, where twenty-nine miners died in a methane-caused explosion.

Communities are rarely informed of or consulted about the expansion of extractive industries into their lands, and when they resist the intrusion, they are often met by increasing militarization and repression. Indigenous peoples have been particularly affected. Pushed off traditional lands to make way for mining operations or gas and oil drilling, or forced to leave anyway as limited water resources are diverted to the mines and what remains is polluted by toxic runoff, traditional livelihoods and cultural practices are damaged.

The earth and its resources should be respected and used wisely, not exploited without regard to human or ecological consequences. Ironically, it is some of the poorest countries that are among the wealthiest in deposits of oil and gas, gold, silver and copper, as well as other natural resources such as trees and coral reefs. These countries and their populations should be able to benefit from this wealth and use it to determine their own path to development. We believe that a more ecologically sound and equitable system of resource management is possible.

A step towards relief for those suffering from mining exploitation was enacted this year. On July 15, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Bill into law, which will force the industries to publicize how much they pay to the governments of the countries where mining and oil and gas drilling occurs. The access to information will give power to those seeking justice to pursue the goal of accountability and fairness.

Discussion questions:

• Are there any extractive industries present in your state? Of what nature? What impacts have they had on the environment and community?
• Reflect on what the Catholic Conference of Philippine Bishops intends by a holistic vision of the right to life. How does our way of being in the world impact the right to life of others?
Action:

Mountaintop removal mining barbarously destroys the mountain ranges and poisons the water ways, which makes water undrinkable for people living miles downstream. It is still legal in the United States only because of a small loophole in the legislation. You can help by contacting your representative and asking him/her to support the Clean Water Protection Act (H.R. 1310).
Sign the petition against sponsoring MTR here http://www.avaaz.org/en/ubs_out_of_mtr

Resources:

Philippines Mining or Food report: http://www.piplinks.org/miningorfood
Earthworks: http://www.earthworksaction.org/home.cfm
Mines and Communities: http://www.minesandcommunities.org/
Amazon Watch: http://www.amazonwatch.org/amazon/PE/camisea/
Ecoportal.net: http://mineria.ecoportal.net/
Observatorio de Conflictos Mineros en América Latina: http://www.conflictosmineros.net/al/html/index.php

Genetically Modified Organisms

“Modern biotechnologies have powerful social, economic and political impact locally, nationally, and internationally. They need to be evaluated according to the ethical criteria that must always guide human activities and relations in the social, economic and political spheres. Above all the criteria of justice and solidarity must be taken into account. One must avoid falling into the error of believing that only the spreading of the benefits connected with the new techniques of biotechnology can solve the urgent problems of poverty and underdevelopment that still afflict so many countries on the planet.” – Pope John Paul II, Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, 1981

For thousands of years farmers have collected, stored, and shared seeds from season to season and with neighboring farmers. This practice has created crop varieties that respond optimally to local conditions, and has been essential to the survival of countless farming communities around the world. Yet, developments in biotechnology, including the creation of genetically modified organisms (GMO’s), and stringent new patent laws are undermining the viability of such traditional farming practices, local ecology and the livelihoods of small scale farmers.

Genetically modified organisms, also known as GMO’s, are created by the transfer of genetic material from one organism to another in order to create new organisms with particular characteristics. The long-term effects of GMO’s are poorly understood, however preliminary studies show worrisome trends for health, biodiversity, and local community life.

Many fear that GMO’s may be a risk to human health, causing a host of complications including allergies, new viruses, and respiratory and gastrointestinal reactions. Furthermore, environmentalists are concerned that GMO’s could undermine healthy ecosystems and biodiversity by dominating related species and wiping out essential diversity. Most GMO’s are created to be resistant to certain herbicides or toxic to certain pests, but scientists caution that widespread use could also foster resistance in those pests or weeds, creating new problems for farmers and fostering a greater future dependence on GM crops.

Patents on the seeds, plants and medicines created through this technology have allowed large transnational corporations to create monopolies over knowledge and seed stocks that were once communally held. Farmers are forced to purchase seeds, which until now have been shared and stored freely for centuries, thus leaving their security at the hands of these corporations. Because the majority of the world’s farmers are poor, they cannot afford the fees charged for patented seeds, and are either pushed heavily into debt with creditors or slowly displaced from their livelihood.

There is a heated moral and ethical debate surrounding GMO’s, and religious groups are among the loudest voices. Some scientists, environmentalists and religious leaders call for the adoption of the precautionary principle which says that we should not proceed with GM technology while there remains such uncertainty about the possible impacts these crops can have on human health and the environment. Since there exist so much conflicting data about long-term consequences of GMO’s, is it not wise to move slowly?

Reflection questions

• Are GMO’s grown in your state? Does your state, county or city have a policy on GMO’s?
• Is agriculture/farming an integral part of your local community? If so, what position do candidates take on promoting healthy, local farming alternatives?

Action:

Reflect on how the foods you and your family eat are produced. Organic produce is grown without pesticides and chemical fertilizers, while organic meat does not contain synthetic hormones or antibiotics. Better yet, buy local foods to support your local farmers. Buying fresh, seasonal foods from nearby farms strengthens your local economy, gives more of your food dollar to the actual farmer, and enhances your sense of knowing and trusting the source of your food. You can find local farm stands, farmers’ markets, and Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA’s) at www.localharvest.org.

Resources:

• La Via Campesina: http://viacampesina.org/en/
• GM Watch: www.gmwatch.org
• Say No to GMO’s: http://www.saynotogmos.org/index.htm
http://www.saynotogmos.org/scientists_speak.htm
• Grupo Semillas: http://www.semillas.org.co/sitio.shtml

Migration

“Our common faith in Jesus Christ moves us to search for ways that favor a spirit of solidarity. It is a faith that transcends borders and bids us to overcome all forms of discrimination and violence so that we may build relationships that are just and loving.” – Joint U.S. Mexican Pastoral Letter on Migration, Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey of Hope.

In an increasingly globalized world, it is not only goods and ideas that cross borders, but people as well, in search of jobs, safety, opportunity, and sometimes just survival. Many people are finding it ever more difficult to maintain a dignified life for themselves and their families in their home countries or communities, and are thus forced to migrate. As conflicts spread, ecosystems are destroyed, agrarian economies collapse and land is turned over to huge corporations for natural resource exploitation, people are pushed to urban areas and across borders, unable to sustain themselves at home.

Migrant workers are some of the most exploited in the world, yet migrant labor provides the backbone of many economies. Transnational corporations, international policies and trade agreements that seek to commodify migrant labor, recognizing only their economic potential, dehumanize migrant workers, robbing them of their fundamental human dignity. Guest worker programs too, often feed into this cycle of abuse and exploitation, leaving migrant workers at the mercy of traffickers and unscrupulous employers. Contract violations, physical and verbal abuse, including the sexual abuse of women, and xenophobia and discrimination, both at work in society at large, are not atypical of the migrant experience.

In the United States, it is evident that the current immigration system is broken and that there is a desperate need for a fair solution. Existing policies and practices push migrants into the shadows of society, keeping them, their families and their communities in a semi-permanent state of insecurity and vulnerability. Meanwhile, hundreds of people die each year in the desert attempting to cross the US-Mexico border for lack of access to a safe, legal and humane alternative.

Increasing militarization of the southwest border region, including building more walls and criminalizing migrants, and those that seek to provide them with humanitarian aid, will do little to address the problem. We believe that any just immigration reform proposal must address the root causes of migration, including poverty, environmental degradation, and conflict, while at the same time recognizing the positive social, cultural and economic contributions of migrants to our society. It should include at a minimum an opportunity for hard-working immigrants already in the country to regularize their status, and an avenue to citizenship for those that desire it, provisions for family reunification and the creation of a safe and dignified manner for future migrants to enter and work in the country legally.

Catholic Social Teaching affirms the right to migrate, but also the right not to be forced to migrate, calling us on one hand to welcome migrants into our communities and parishes, and on the other hand to work to address the root causes of migration, including economic and environmental injustice, armed conflicts and religious or political persecution. The basic human dignity and rights of migrants must be respected regardless of what country they may come from or what documentation they may or may not possess.

Reflection Questions:

• Think about your own heritage. What role has migration (recent or long past, internal or international, forced or chosen) played in your family story?
• How has migration affected your community? What positive contributions have migrants made to your parish and community?
• What are the countries of origin of migrants to your community? What are the reasons or conditions that caused them to migrate?
• How are migrants treated by your community? What are the most significant hurdles that migrants face living in your community?
• What do your candidates advocate in terms of immigration reform? Is their proposal just?

Action:

There is an urgent need for our Congress Members to hear pro-immigrant voices. While a comprehensive immigration bill is unlikely to pass by the end of this year, it is vital to continue to build momentum for a fair deal for migrants to our country. Show your support and solidarity with migrants internationally by planning a vigil for your parish or community for International Migrants Day, December 18.

For more information, visit: http://www.december18.net/

Resources:

• National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: http://www.nnirr.org/
• New Sanctuary Movement: http://www.newsanctuarymovement.org/resources.htm
• USCCB’s Justice for Immigrants: http://www.justiceforimmigrants.org/
• Migrant Forum in Asia: http://www.mfasia.org/

Peace and Conflict Resolution

“Catholics must also work to avoid war and to promote peace. Nations should protect the dignity of the human person and the right to life by finding more effective ways to prevent conflicts, to resolve them by peaceful means, and to promote reconstruction and reconciliation in the wake of conflicts.” Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship, USCCB, 2007

In an increasingly cruel time, where violence seems to erupt everywhere we turn, it becomes ever more obvious that the solution cannot be military, that each act of aggression only spurs another belligerent reaction. While countries emerging from dark times of political repression, such as Peru and Chile, have found a measure of peace and reconciliation through the institution of truth commissions, it is with great sadness that we see the intensification of hostilities in the Middle East, continued arms development, and the augmented militarization of the US-Mexican border.

In every corner of the Earth, we see signs of increasing militarization and escalating conflicts. While battles rage in Afghanistan, the threat of war hangs over too much of our global community. Although the current Japanese constitution renounces war and the means of war, in the context of a developing Northeast Asian arms race, there is growing pressure to amend it and rebuild the Japanese military’s aggressive capabilities. High-tech military gear, fencing and additional soldiers are being deployed to the US-Mexico Border. As impressive as all this military might may seem, it will not lead to effective peace without addressing the root causes of existing or looming conflicts.

We too often equate violence solely with weapons, and forget about the everyday violence too many of our brothers and sisters suffer. Poverty, hunger, lack of access to basic services, such as health, clean water and education, environmental destruction, and discrimination all hinder the chances for a true and lasting peace.

Truth commissions, set up in the wake of political violence and repression, can be an important first step on the path to reconciliation and enduring peace by providing some measure of closure to those who lost loved ones in the conflict, and by creating a space for citizens to come to grips with the recent past. However, the root causes of the conflict must be examined, and gross violations of human rights and other crimes should be prosecuted, thereby dismantling structures of impunity and reinforcing the rule of law. Structures that perpetuate the violation of human rights and military solutions, such as the School of the Americas / Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, should be closed down and dismantled.

As governments attempt to resolve conflicts through the use of brute force over diplomacy, we reject this militaristic and aggressive approach. They seek to overwhelm with strength, but in the process manage only to betray weakness. Too often, innocent civilians are caught in the middle and pay the ultimate price. As people of faith, we are called to love our enemies and pray for those who mistreat us, to break out of the downward spiral of retaliation and hatred, and instead embrace a future based on peace, solidarity and reconciliation.

Reflection Questions

• What violence do you see perpetuated in your own community? What are the causes of such violence? What are the effects?
• What should the US role be in international affairs and foreign conflicts?
• What proposals do your candidates advocate for ending the conflict in Afghanistan? How do your candidates propose to handle evolving situations in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific?
• What would your candidate do to support ongoing peace processes in other countries?

Action:

• Join with people around the world to pray, May Peace Prevail on Earth, by erecting a Peace Pole in your community. Currently, over 200,000 Peace Poles have been dedicated in over 200 countries. A sign of hope, they serve as constant reminders for us to visualize, work and pray for world peace.
For more information, visit: http://www.peacepoles.com/
• Ask your Senators or candidates for Senator to support the START treaty. http://www.paxchristiusa.org/news_statements_more.asp?id=2065

Resources

• Pax Christi: http://www.paxchristiusa.org/
• School of the Americas Watch: http://www.soaw.org/
• Pacem in Terris: http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_xxiii/encyclicals/documents/hf_j-xxiii_enc_11041963_pacem_en.html
• Comisión de la Verdad y Reconciliación (Perú): http://www.cverdad.org.pe

International Trade

“The economic sphere is neither ethically neutral, nor inherently inhuman and opposed to society. It is part and parcel of human activity and precisely because it is human, it must be structured and governed in an ethical manner.” – Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas In Veritate, 2009.

Trade is an integral part of relationships between countries. However, as people of faith, we are concerned that free trade agreements are negotiated to maximize the advancement of a wealthy and powerful few, while marginalizing an ever growing number of people who are poor. We believe trade agreements should take into account the most vulnerable members of society, and not put them further at risk, while at the same time supporting ecological sustainability.

A succession of new free trade agreements (FTA’s) were negotiated in the wake of the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994 and additional agreements await finalization, each one seeking to further expand the power and privileges of large multinational corporations, while constricting the policy space available to governments to act in the public interest. As we look back on the nearly two decades since NAFTA took effect, the negative consequences, both at home and abroad, of a profit-driven trade policy are increasingly obvious, including job loss, environmental degradation, the undermining of small-scale agriculture, increasing migration flows, rising prices and falling wages.

The repercussions of this trade model are often felt first and hardest by the poorest and most marginalized members of society. For instance, poor farming communities in developing countries cannot compete with subsidized agricultural products from the United States. Farmers’ livelihoods are threatened as trade barriers fall, forcing many to make the difficult choice to migrate. Meanwhile, labor is treated as another commodity to be traded and exploited, and then discarded in the search for profit, with workers’ rights to a living wage, union representation, and safe and healthy working conditions completely disregarded.

The environment, as well, is seen primarily as a source for potential profits, opening the way for the privatization and exploitation of waterways, forests, mineral resources, oil and gas deposits and other natural resources. Even seeds, plants and traditional knowledge become a resource to be exploited, patented and profited from, robbing communities of their cultural and ecological heritage. At the same time, stringent patent protections on pharmaceuticals will deprive many people in developing countries from access to life-saving drugs for treatable illnesses by preventing the entrance of generic alternatives in the market.

We envision a new trade policy centered on human dignity and respect for creation. The rights of farmers and workers, the dignity of work and the fair distribution of profits should be upheld by trade agreements, while sustainability and care for the natural world should take precedence over corporate profit. Trade agreements should be negotiated with meaningful participation by civil society, and should support fragile democracies by not undermining government’s ability to legislate in the national interest. We emphasize that economic integration is not an end in and of itself, but, based on principles of justice, fairness and solidarity, should be a means to promote the well-being of all.

Discussion Questions:

• How has your community been affected by free trade agreements such as NAFTA? Think about jobs, immigration, and environmental issues, as well as what state or local regulations may have been changed because of such agreements.
• What trade policies do your candidates for federal, state and local office advocate? What effects might these policies have on your community in the future?
• What trade-related issues are most important or concerning to your community?
• What do you think constitutes “fair” trade?

Action:

Ask your candidates to co-sponsor S. 2821, requiring a review of existing trade agreements and establishing terms for future trade agreements based on strengthening 11 standards including labor, environment, and intellectual property.

Read the text of the Resolution: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=s111-2821

Resources:

• Alliance for Responsible Trade: http://www.art-us.org/
• Red Mexicana de Acción Frente al Libre Comercio: http://www.rmalc.org.mx/index.shtml
• Fair Trade Federation: http://www.fairtradefederation.org/

Water

“We have to be aware that, regrettably, water — an essential and indispensable good that the Lord has given us to maintain and develop life — because of incursions and pressures from various social factors, is today considered a good that must be especially protected through clear national and international policies and used according to sensible criteria of solidarity and responsibility.” Pope Benedict XVI, International Exposition on Water and Sustainable Development meeting, 2008s

Access to clean water is a fundamental human right, and essential to all life on this planet. Globally 1.1 billion people lack access to safe, clean drinking water. When water is defined as a tradable commodity and source of profit, rather than a fundamental human right, it is the poor who lose out. Problems of pollution, privatization, and dams have unjustly made water a luxury for too many members of the global community.

While countless waterways have been poisoned as they have been used as dumping grounds for toxic chemicals and waste, climate change, triggered by another kind of pollution – emission of greenhouse gases, affects our water supply in a more subtle, but no less menacing form. Glaciers serve as a vital water bank for sixty percent of the world’s population, yet as the glaciers melt due to warming, they are no longer being replenished by yearly snowfall, and may eventually disappear altogether. Rainfall patterns are also changing, becoming more concentrated and less predictable, and extended droughts are becoming more common. The livelihoods of many of the world’s poorest people, many of whom depend on rain-fed agriculture, are at risk.

Large dams, pushed as a solution for clean energy and sustainable development, have grave social and environmental costs. As many as 40 to 80 million people worldwide have been displaced by dams, the majority farmers who are poor and indigenous peoples. As a direct result, they may suffer cultural decline, loss of livelihood, decreased access to water, deterioration in overall health, and political repression when they demand their rights. At the same time, environmental impacts include the loss of fisheries, decreased water quality, production of greenhouse gases, and a decline in the fertility of farmlands and forests.

In response to the increasing scarcity of safe, clean water, corporations and multilateral institutions such as the World Bank have sought to push the privatization of water, arguing that setting a price on water will lead to increased efficiency and conservation. Instead, water privatization schemes around the world have an abysmal history of failure, including skyrocketing prices, water quality problems, deteriorating service and a loss of local control. As water becomes a commodity, rather than a right, those who are poor suffer, unable to afford access. Three and half million people die every year because of water-related illnesses contracted from lack of access to safe, clean drinking water and adequate sanitation.

Often referred to as “blue gold”, it is anticipated that the wars of the future will be over water. Although our planet is more water than land, only 2.5% of that water is fresh water. As deserts expand, garbage and pollutants are dumped in our waterways, and rivers dry up or are dammed up, water distribution is coming more and more to reflect the vast inequalities in income distribution in our world, with those who are poor ever more marginalized.

Summer 2010 witnessed a first step towards the recognition of water as a human right. The United Nations passed a resolution acknowledging that access to clean water and sanitation is a right. The statement calls on states and international organizations to commit the necessary resources to grant access to clean water to all of the world’s population. This is a hopeful sign and needs to be followed by action in the United States and elsewhere.

Yet beyond its environmental, biological and geopolitical significance, water has profound religious symbolism. In the moment of our baptism, we are reborn and reconciled with the Divine through water. It is above all a symbol of life and hope that in its sanctity must be protected and shared as the common heritage of humankind and our world.

Reflection Questions

• How much water do you and your household use daily? Think not just of the water you used to bathe, wash your clothes and dishes, or water your plants, but also of hidden water usage, such as what is needed to produce your food or electricity (hydroelectric).
• What are the major bodies of water/waterways in your community, county or state? What is the source of your drinking water? What is the condition of water in your state?
• What do your candidates propose to do to protect access to clean, safe, affordable water locally and globally?

Action:
Don’t buy it! Privatization takes water out of the hands of communities and reduces it to a profit-making enterprise. Help keep water affordable and accessible, reduce waste and pollution, and protect natural resources by not buying corporate bottled water. Instead, use your own water bottle to drink tap water.

For more information, visit: http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/water/bottled

Resources
• National Catholic Rural Life Conference: http://www.ncrlc.com/page.aspx?ID=80
• National Council of Churches Eco-Justice Program: http://nccecojustice.org/water/
• International Union for Conservation of Nature: http://www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/water/
• Global Water Initiative:
http://www.globalwaterinitiative.com/

Climate Change

“The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.” Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate, 2009.

Human-induced climate change is the most serious and pressing ecological challenge facing the U.S. and the world today. Major research institutions are in widespread agreement that the earth is indeed warming. Further, most also agree that the warming is a result of emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that have been released through man-made processes. Our global sisters and brothers living in poverty and at the margins of society have contributed the least to these emissions, yet remain the most vulnerable and the least able to adapt to these changes. Climate change raises serious moral and ethical concerns about the distribution and use of our planet’s finite resources.

The human population consumes over 1.4 planets worth of resources with 81 percent living in countries that use more resources than are available within their own borders. With only 5 percent of the world’s population, the U.S. emits approximately 20 percent of the world’s human-induced emissions. The United Nations’ Development Program estimates that the carbon footprint of the poorest 1 billion people is actually only 3 percent of the world’s total carbon footprint. Current projections point to an increase of global temperatures of 2.0°F to 11.5°F (1.1°C to 6.4°C) by 2100, with warming in the U.S. expected to be even higher. In addition, it has been determined that every year a comprehensive agreement on fighting climate change is avoided, a cost of $500 billion extra will be incurred to cut the amount of CO2.

Warming is expected to cause an increase in the rate of rising sea levels, which has already had devastating effects on small island nations such as the Philippines and Fiji, as well as coastal regions throughout the world. Further, the changes in climate are already taking a toll on the earth with coastal storms and changes in precipitation patterns leading to drought and floods, causing irreversible damage to the earth’s eco-balance and biodiversity, as well as adding to the growing number of threats to public health. Current climate change statistics show that if the entire planet warms up another 2 degrees, it will set off a chain of events that will be virtually unstoppable. The problem is immediate and disastrous and must be addressed before it is no longer within our power to make changes. If left unchecked, the basics that we need as human beings to survive – water, food, fuel and shelter – will all become harder to secure.

In order to effectively combat climate change, we as a global community, must do everything within our power to lower our greenhouse gas emissions. We must change our lifestyles to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, dramatically reduce our usage of energy and water, in addition to reducing the amount of waste that we generate on a daily basis.

As Catholics, we are guided by principles of justice, stewardship, sustainability and sufficiency. The earth links both rich and poor together and with this unity comes responsibility. We recognize this interconnectedness of all life and recognize our call to share in the act of Creation by responsibly caring for the world around us.

Reflection Questions:

• Assess your needs as opposed to your wants. Understand the difference between long-term sustainable lifestyles versus instant gratification. How will your wants affect the needs of those who are poor and the needs of the earth, both today and in the future?
• What can you do to educate yourself about climate change, and further, to educate others?

Action:

• “Reduce, reuse, recycle!” Reduce your consumption of energy and resources. Reduce your transportation demand – use public transportation, carpool, take a bicycle to work, walk, etc. and reduce your home energy use – turn off lights, computers, televisions when not in use.

• Ask your Congressional representatives to enact legislation on climate change that includes mechanisms that mitigate the impacts of global warming, particularly for vulnerable populations in the US and abroad. Ask for legislation that offers comprehensive, mandatory, and aggressive solutions to reducing carbon emissions.

• Take the St. Francis Pledge, a promise and commitment to protect God’s creation and to advocate on behalf of those people in poverty who face the harshest impacts of climate change. For more information visit: http://catholicclimatecovenant.org/the-st-francis-pledge/

Resources:

Catholic Coalition on Climate Change:
http://www.catholicsandclimatechange.org
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on Climate Change:
http://www.usccb.org/sdwp/ejp/climate/
The Nature Conservancy:
http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/
350.org
http://www.350.org

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