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This feels like an ultimate reversal of the relation between humanity and environment envisaged in the religious vision — the material world's processes deliberately harnessed to bring about domination by violence; though, when you think about it, it is only a projection of the existing history of military technology. Byatt's novel The Biographer's Tale tells the story — or rather a set of interconnected stories — of a writer engaging with the literary remains of a diverse collection of people, including Linnaeus, the great Swedish botanist. Late in the book pp. Tales of the destruction of the habitats by humans, and of benign and necessary insects, birds, bats and other creatures, by crop-spraying and road-building Of the need to find other often better pollinators, in a world where they are being extinguished swiftly and silently.

Of the fact that there are only thirty-nine qualified bee taxonomists in the world, whose average age is sixty Of population problems, and feeding the world, and sesbania, a leguminous crop which could both hold back desertification, because it binds soil, and feed the starving, but for the fact that no one has studied its pollinators or their abundance or deficiency, or their habits, in sufficient detail. Earlier in the book p. We cannot but use our intelligence in our world, and we are bound to use it, as Fulla's examples suggest, to supply need, to avoid famine and suffering.

If the Christian vision outlined by Aquinas is truthful, intelligence is an aspect of sharing in God's Providence and so it is committed to providing for others. But God's Providence does not promote the good only of one sector of creation; and so we have to use our intelligence to seek the good of the whole system of which we are a part. The limits of our creative manipulation of what is put before us in our environment are not instantly self-evident, of course; but what is coming into focus is the level of risk involved if we never ask such a question, if we collude with a social and economic order that apparently takes the possibility of unlimited advance in material prosperity for granted, and systematically ignores the big picture of global interconnectedness in economics or in ecology.

Ecological questions are increasingly being defined as issues of justice; climate change has been characterised as a matter of justice both to those who now have no part in decision-making at the global level yet bear the heaviest burdens as a consequence of the irresponsibility of wealthier nations, and to those who will succeed us on this planet — justice to our children and grandchildren this is spelled out clearly in Paula Clifford's new book, Angels with Trumpets. The Church in a Time of Global Warming.

So the major issue we need to keep in view is how much injustice is let loose by any given set of economic or manufacturing practices. We can't easily set out a straightforward code that will tell us precisely when and where we step across the line into the unintelligence and ungodliness I have sketched. But we can at least see that the question is asked, and asked on the basis of a clear recognition that there is no way of manipulating our environment that is without cost or consequence — and thus also of a recognition that we are inextricably bound up with the destiny of our world.

There is no guarantee that the world we live in will 'tolerate' us indefinitely if we prove ourselves unable to live within its constraints. Is this — as some would claim — a failure to trust God, who has promised faithfulness to what he has made? I think that to suggest that God might intervene to protect us from the corporate folly of our practices is as unchristian and unbiblical as to suggest that he protects us from the results of our individual folly or sin. This is not a creation in which there are no real risks; our faith has always held that the inexhaustible love of God cannot compel justice or virtue; we are capable of doing immeasurable damage to ourselves as individuals, and it seems clear that we have the same terrible freedom as a human race.

God's faithfulness stands, assuring us that even in the most appalling disaster love will not let us go; but it will not be a safety net that guarantees a happy ending in this world. Any religious language that implies this is making a nonsense of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament and the urgency of the preaching of Jesus.

But to say this is also to be reminded of the fact that intelligence is given to us; we are capable of changing our situation — and, as A. Byatt's character puts it, using our intelligence to limit the ruinous effect of our intelligence. If we can change things so appallingly for the worse, it is possible to change them for the better also. But, in Christian terms, this needs a radical change of heart, a conversion; it needs another kind of 'redemption', which frees us from the trap of an egotism that obscures judgement.

Intelligence in regard to the big picture of our world is no neutral thing, no simple natural capacity of reasoning; it needs grace to escape from the distortions of pride and acquisitiveness. One of the things we as Christians ought to be saying in the context of the ecological debate is that human reasoning in its proper and fullest sense requires an awareness of our participation in the material processes of the world and thus a sense of its own involvement in what it cannot finally master.

Being rational is not a wholly detached capacity, examining the phenomena of the world from a distance, but a set of skills for finding our way around in the physical world. The ecological crisis challenges us to be reasonable. Put like that, it sounds banal; but given the level of irrationality around the question, it is well worth saying, especially if we are clear about the roots of reasoning in these 'skills' of negotiating the world of material objects.

I don't intend to discuss in detail the rhetoric of those who deny the reality of climate change, except to say that rhetoric as King Canute demonstrated does not turn back rising waters. If you live in Bangladesh or Tuvalu, scepticism about global warming is precisely the opposite of reasonable: 'negotiating' this environment means recognising the fact of rising sea levels; and understanding what is happening necessarily involves recognising how rising temperatures affect sea levels.

It is possible to argue about the exact degree to which human intervention is responsible for these phenomena though it would be a quite remarkable coincidence if massively increased levels of carbon emissions merely happened to accompany a routine cyclical change in global temperatures, given the obvious explanatory force of the presence of these emissions , but it is not possible rationally to deny what the inhabitants of low-lying territories in the world routinely face as the most imminent threat to their lives and livelihoods.

And what the perspective of faith — in particular of Christian faith — brings to this discussion is the insight that we are not and don't have to be God. For us to be reasonable and free and responsible is for us to live in awareness of our limits and dependence. It is no lessening of our dignity as humans, let alone our rationality and liberty as humans, if we exercise these 'godlike' gifts in the context of bodies that are fragile and mortal and a world that we do not completely control.

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that the current financial crisis had more to do with pride than with greed — understanding pride as the attempt to forget or obliterate our sense of living within limits and lacking total control. Intelligent life in these circumstances is not the triumphant imposition of human will upon a defeated natural order, but the reasoned discovery of how we live in such a way as not to destroy a balance in the natural order which we sense rather than fully grasp.

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It is to turn away from denial — from all those denials of our finite condition that were summed up many years since in a famous book by Ernst Becker, The Denial of Death , in which he identified the basic pathology of the human mind as the fantasy of being 'self-created. Such denial is not properly understood as deliberate refusal of the truth; it is in large part a consequence of the perceived complexity of the global situation, a complexity that produces both paralysis in some areas and a stubborn adherence to failed or outdated paradigms.


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Jonathon Porritt, in his magisterial essay on Capitalism as if the World Matters , ascribes the 'continuing, utterly perverse denial on the part of politicians' to a failure to grasp that much of the very complexity which makes people stick to policies they think they understand is itself the result of 'the dominant paradigm of progress through exponential economic growth' p.

Unfortunately, he goes on, too few politicians who have grasped the issue have worked out carefully enough what 'transitional strategies' would be possible for the reimagining of a broadly capitalist practice i. His book attempts to offer some starting points for such work — noting, soberly, that denial of a different kind afflicts many Green movements, whose campaigning style allows them to be dismissed or at best patronised by actual decision-makers.

Among the strategies discussed is the crucial call to alter the way in which we calculate cost and profit so as to include some sort of monetary valuation of the depletion of natural capital and also some way of assessing impacts on individual and social well-being. One consequence of taking this seriously would be one or another form of carbon taxation. In the same way, more positively, we need ways of redefining business excellence in terms of sustainability and deliberate encouragement of low-carbon technologies ch.

An economic world in which environmental responsibility was rewarded, was assumed to be a routine aspect of practice that was both ethically defensible and profitable, would have a very different flavour from what we have generally seen for most of the last couple of centuries.

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RENEWING THE FACE OF THE EARTH

And it is also an area in which the pressure of the 'ordinary' consumer can make a perceptible difference. More broadly, Porritt rightly underlines the close connection of all this with what we ought to be saying about 'political virtue'.


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We cannot allow ourselves to accept a Los Angeles where sidewalks become permanent residences for our neighbors. We cannot think about the one without the other. As God spoke and the universe was created, he breathed his Spirit of life into every person. God made this earth, not for its own sake, but to be a home for the human family. The good things of creation are meant to be shared, developed and used for the good of all of his children.

And God intends us to be cocreators with him, cooperating with him to carry out and complete the work of his creation.

Much more than documents.

Human life and human nature must be protected and cared for — our rights and dignity, the needs of our bodies, minds and spirit. The natural environment must also be protected and cared for. CCC Did you catch that? Learn more. For second year, Pope warns oil execs that 'radical energy transition' is needed to save the planet. The Catholic Register. 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.

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Renew the Face of the Earth - responsorial psalm

Tweets by CatholicEcology. Previous editions of the top-ten annual Catholic eco-summaries have focused on individual events, projects, and people. And while Helping the Church use its land for good, one community at a time. Molly Burhans, a mapper extraordinaire, is gaining international attention for connecting the Church with cutting-edge mapping and land-use planning tools. A global celebration this Wednesday of the modern miracles of high-tech mapping calls to mind an often underappreciated element of the A stormy Season of Creation. How should Catholic eco-advocates respond as the US sexual abuse crisis reaches Rome, dampens eco-enthusiasm?

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Consider how the environmental community speaks to the world: you must change your ways; sacrifice for the good of others; deny your I've been thinking of the Feast of All Saints, and about how our journeys on earth should help us on the road to sainthood—of joining