“How dare you?”
With this bold challenge, Greta Thunberg, then 16 years old, addressed delegates to the Climate Action Summit at the United Nations in New York on September 23, 2019: “People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”
Author Father Edward J. Ciuba takes on these themes in depth in RENEW International’s Creation at the Crossroads, a faith-sharing resource designed for small groups. The book draws on Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on “care for our common home,” in which the pope strikes a note similar to the young Ms. Thunberg’s, writing:
“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected…. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”
A priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, Father Ciuba has spoken extensively on the subject of the environment and humanity’s relationship to it. Each of his book’s 12 faith-sharing sessions includes prayer; a scripture passage and opportunity to respond; an example of the impact of neglect or abuse of the environment; a reflection by Father Ciuba followed by faith-sharing questions; examples of individual and group action; and resources for further learning.
An appendix presents responses to Laudato Si’ from Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, and Muslim perspectives.
Creation at the Crossroads directs attention to the environmental crisis in several specific areas treated in the papal encyclical: our relationship with God, each other, and the earth; access to clean water; the disproportionate impact of these issues on those living in poverty; all of creation as an expression of God’s love; the vulnerability of natural resources; responsible use of modern technology; the imperative to serve the common good; the need for an “ecological spirituality”; and caring for the earth as a way of living the word of God.
This book gives stunning examples of environmental injustice, neglect, and abuse, pointing out, for example, that an estimated 700 million people worldwide lack access to clean water—something so many take for granted, and waste without a second thought. It reports that, due to climate change and rising sea levels, the island nation of the Maldives—home to more than a half million people—will likely be under water by the end of the century.
Besides absorbing the dimensions of this crisis, participants in Creation at the Crossroads small groups are invited to reflection and sharing about how their lives are affected with questions such as:
- “As you go about your everyday activities, how conscious are you of God’s love for everything he has created? How does your answer affect your behavior?”
- “What is your reaction to the suggestion by Pope Francis that developed nations should recognize their ‘ecological debt’ to undeveloped countries? Do you think that we as individuals have a similar ‘debt’?”
- “The author writes that creation is ‘telling us something’ about how it is being neglected or misused. How have you experienced this?”
The goal of Creation at the Crossroads is not to overwhelm participants with the scope of the environmental crisis but rather to help them embrace their role in addressing it. Participants are reminded that the crisis will not be overcome by depending only on governments and corporations (“How dare you?”) but also, by necessity, by the individual and group actions of tens of millions of people. By failing to contribute to the solution, in no matter how limited a way, we contribute to the problem, implies Father Ciuba.
In each session, participants are encouraged to take action to restore the earth for their own wellbeing—and for that of future generations, who will face increasingly dire consequences of climate change. These are some actions suggested in the program:
- “Determine and put in place the steps needed to carry out the principle ‘reduce, reuse, recapture’ in your home, your school, your community.”
- “Discuss with your parish leadership how your parish might ‘adopt’ a distant community by providing sustained assistance to help protect and restore the environment in that area—through such activities as tree planting, clean-water projects, sustainable agricultural projects.”
- “Search your house for obsolete electronic and electrical devices, cables, and power cords. Research how these objects can be recycled or safely disposed of and act on what you learn.”
The book’s account of various manifestations of the environmental crisis may be no surprise to Americans who hear or read reports almost every day of chronic drought; wildfires; dying lakes and rivers; “super storms”; pollution of air, soil, and water; warming temperatures, and rising sea levels. But Creation at the Crossroads goes a giant step further, by addressing—and embracing—the moral imperative described in this book by the late “eco-theologian” Rabbi Lawrence Troster of West Chester, Pennsylvania:
“In our ignorance and our greed we have damaged the world and silenced many of the voices of the choir of Creation. Now we must fix it. There is no one else to repair it but us.”