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Global warming: We better take it seriously

Posted By July 23, 2013 | 1:25 pm | Commentary
Tony Magliano
Tony Magliano

By Tony Magliano

Reflecting on his new patron saint, Pope Francis said, “For me” St. Francis of Assisi “is the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation; these days we do not have a very good relationship with creation, do we?”

No, we do not.

Consider the words of Pope Francis’ predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change … loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”

We remain indifferent to the poor relationship we have with creation at our own peril – and of the peril of our children and future generations yet to be born. And of all the serious human caused threats to the natural world, none is more serious, or more urgent than climate change – especially global warming.

According to a new report from the United Nations’ World Meteorological Organization titled “The Global Climate 2001-2010, A Decade of Climate Extremes,” the earth is warming faster than ever in recorded history. The report states that the 2001-2010 decade was the warmest since modern meteorological records began around 1850. And that during 2010 – the warmest year ever recorded – Russia experienced a severe heat wave that killed approximately 55,000 people. It was also the wettest on record, causing massive flooding.

According to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 97 percent of climate scientists agree that global warming trends over the past century are “very likely due to human activities.” The current warming trend says NASA is of particular significance because “most of it is very likely human-induced and proceeding at a rate that is unprecedented in the past 1,300 years.”

According to NASA the evidence for rapid climate change is compelling. In addition to dangerous human-induced rising temperatures, oceans are warming, Greenland and Antarctica ice sheets are decreasing, Arctic sea ice is shrinking, sea levels are rising, glaciers are retreating, ocean acidification is increasing and extreme weather events are on the rise.

There is a way out of this. We still have a little time to avoid an environmental nightmare. But we must act quickly.

Unfortunately, green is obviously not the U.S. Congress’ favorite color. And President Barack Obama’s recent climate plan speech at Georgetown University was overall narrow and vague. While he promised tighter restrictions on new and existing fossil-fueled power plants, he failed to be specific. Climate change and global warming must be treated as an unfolding emergency. What is needed is bold, comprehensive and quick action from U.S. and world political officials.

Dangerous nuclear and global warming fossil-fueled power plants need to be phased out with all due speed. And in the interim, these plants and other polluting industries need broad, tough anti-pollution regulations and restrictions.

Abundantly safe and clean solar, wind, and geothermal sources of energy need to be put on the fast track receiving enormous financial investments – to slow down and eventually reverse climate change and global warming.

We know from Genesis that “God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.” Before it’s too late, let’s begin to follow his master climate plan, and be responsible stewards of his good creation – for our sake, and the sake of those yet to come.

The 30th anniversary of the U.S. bishops’ radical pastoral letter

Thirty years ago, the United States was giving aid to brutal regimes like the military led government of El Salvador, was committed to building the B-1 bomber and MX missile, was planning the implementation of an anti-ballistic missile shield, and was preparing to deploy Pershing nuclear missiles in Western Europe.

In the midst of all this conventional violent conflict, and accelerated nuclear war preparation, the U.S. Catholic bishops wrote “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” – arguably the most radical pastoral letter ever written by the American hierarchy.

“We cannot remain silent in the face of such danger. We are simply trying to live up to the call of Jesus to be peacemakers in our time and situation,” wrote the bishops.

They stated that Catholic theology’s historical focus on limiting the devastation caused by violent force – the “just-war theory” – is not a sufficient modern response to the Second Vatican Council’s challenge “to undertake a completely fresh reappraisal of war.”

The bishops added that a fresh reappraisal of war requires a “developed theology of peace” that involves active, engaging dialogue within the church, and with those outside the church.

Where is this active, engaging dialogue today? The silence is deafening!

Nearly all of our seminaries, Catholic colleges, high schools, churches and pulpits are not actively engaged in developing a theology of peace.

There is instead a silent acceptance of the unjust and insane wars we fight, outrageous military budgets, the very lucrative military-industrial-complex, drone assassinations, torturing of prisoners, R.O.T.C. on Catholic campuses, military bases around the globe and nuclear weapons. All of this amounts to making the military an idol. And sadly, far too many parishioners support much of the above.

A theology of peace is waiting to be developed.

A major step forward in the development of a theology of peace would declare that nuclear deterrence – the belief that nuclear war can be prevented by possessing nuclear weapons, along with the threat to use them – is an extremely dangerous policy that is totally unacceptable to the Prince of Peace and the Catholic Church.

In their pastoral letter “The Challenge of Peace” the bishops stated that their “strictly conditioned moral acceptance of nuclear deterrence” was a temporary acceptance. “We cannot consider it adequate as a long-term basis for peace.”

But in the 30 long years since then, the U.S. government has continued maintaining and modernizing its nuclear forces, making it obvious that the American government remains firmly committed to the policy of nuclear deterrence – as its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review clearly affirms.

It would be encouragingly hopeful if today’s bishops acknowledged that it’s time overdue to declare nuclear deterrence immoral and unacceptable.

In “The Challenge of Peace” the bishops prophetically wrote, “We must re-emphasize with all our being, nonetheless, that it is not only nuclear war that must be prevented, but war itself. Therefore, with Pope John Paul II we declare: ‘Today, the scale and horror of modern warfare – whether nuclear or not – makes it totally unacceptable as a means of settling differences between nations. War should belong to the tragic past, to history; it should find no place on humanity’s agenda for the future.’ ”

Three decades ago the U.S. bishops offered “The Challenge of Peace: God’s Promise and Our Response” as a “first step toward a message of peace and hope.” It’s time we take the second step!

Pope Benedict’s contribution to Catholic social teaching

Being pope is a tough job. If he’s liberal the conservatives will criticize him. If he’s conservative the liberals will be critical of him. And if he takes the middle ground, he’ll catch it from both sides.

But one area of Benedict’s papacy I especially hope both conservatives and liberals will agree on, and really take to heart, is the valuable contribution he made to the church’s social doctrine.

Let’s take a look at some of his most notable and challenging contributions here.

First off, more than any other pope he has taught and encouraged us to cherish and protect the environment. In fact, he has earned the unique distinction of being called “The Green Pope!”

In his 2010 World Day of Peace message titled “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation,” he boldly wrote, “Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?”

The radical environmental organization “Greenpeace” couldn’t have said it any better!

In this year’s World Day of Peace message titled “Blessed are the Peacemakers,” the former head of the Catholic Church wrote “It is alarming to see hotbeds of tension and conflict caused by growing instances of inequality between rich and poor, by the prevalence of a selfish and individualistic mindset which also finds expression in an unregulated financial capitalism.”

Here Benedict is firmly standing on the principle of Catholic social teaching which insists that the goods of the earth are meant to be shared by all – not selfishly hoarded by the wealthy few.

Benedict’s clear condemnation of an “unregulated financial capitalism,” should awaken the consciences of all those who selfishly promote the so-called free market, which overwhelmingly favors wealthy individuals and corporations at the expense of the poor and working class.

During the 2006 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Pope Benedict boldly declared, “”In the name of God, I appeal to all those responsible for this spiral of violence, so that they immediately put down their arms on all sides.”

In light of all of the death and destruction, Benedict added, “These facts demonstrate clearly that you cannot re-establish justice, create a new order and build authentic peace when you resort to instruments of violence.”

Here Benedict further developed the Catholic Church’s growing condemnation of war – favoring nonviolent solutions.

In his compelling social justice and peace encyclical Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”), Benedict wrote, “Love – caritas – is an extraordinary force which leads people to opt for courageous and generous engagement in the field of justice and peace. … Charity is at the heart of the church’s social doctrine.”

Charity “is the principle not only of micro-relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro-relationships (social, economic and political ones).”

Imagine how wonderful all of our relationships would be if we would allow love to govern them. Imagine how wonderful our world would be if we allowed love to govern our social, economic and political arenas.

Let’s make it happen!

Thank you, Pope Benedict XVI, for strengthening the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, and for being a holy father to us. May God fill your remaining time on earth with peace and joy.

Advising Pope Francis

Imagine getting a call from Pope Francis explaining that he would like your advice concerning the most important issues facing the Catholic Church and the world.

If he asked you, “What kind of pope does the church and world need at this moment in history?” What would you say to him?

Well, if our new Holy Father asked me that question, I would first of all suggest that he deeply reflect on the challenge given to him by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, dean of the cardinals.

In his homily during the Mass before the election of a new pope, Cardinal Sodano said in light of Christ’s teachings to love and serve the church and all of humanity, “the last popes have been builders of so many good initiatives for people and for the international community, tirelessly promoting justice and peace.”

He then added this challenge: “Let us pray that the future pope may continue this unceasing work on the world level.”

My sentiments exactly!

Throughout much of the world, where ongoing war has become the norm, and where even nuclear war is not only thinkable but a real possibility – consider North Korea’s recent threats to strike the United States and South Korea with nuclear weapons, and U.S. counter threats – having a pope who is deeply committed to “tirelessly promoting justice and peace” is an absolute necessity!

In addition to the inhumanity of war, Pope Francis faces a whole host of serious threats to human life and dignity.

In response to the catastrophic assaults and cold-hearted indifference experienced by countless persons who are unborn, poor, hungry, homeless, jobless, medically uninsured, undocumented, and on death row, our new pope needs to ceaselessly and courageously stand up and proclaim “No!” to all of this cruel injustice.

And I would ask him to urge all the clergy to do the same with their preaching and example.

Also, I would request that the Holy Father mandate that all seminarians be given a much expanded exposure to Catholic social teaching. And that they be required to spend one year of their formation ministering to, and being ministered by, the poor in economically underdeveloped nations, as well as in their own country. This immersion experience would go a long way in deepening the sensitivity of clergy and laity alike to the many injustices suffered by the poor.

Additionally, I would urge Pope Francis to take to heart, further develop, and strongly attempt to infuse into the everyday life of the Catholic Church the prophetic social justice and peace teachings of his recent predecessors.

Here would be an excellent place to start: Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, Blessed Pope John Paul II declared, “No, never again, war, which destroys the lives of innocent people, teaches how to kill, throws into upheaval even the lives of those who do the killing and leaves behind a trail of resentment and hatred, thus making it all the more difficult to find a just solution to the very problems which provoked the war.”

Here Blessed John Paul contributed to the development of recent papal teaching that is steadily shifting the Catholic Church away from the just-war theory towards nonviolent solutions based on justice and love.

I would urge Pope Francis to take the final remaining step here, and declare that war is never just, and is always to be condemned as a curse upon humanity!

Sweatshops: where corporate greed and human misery meet

Corporate greed and human misery often meet in the workplace. And nowhere else is that more true than in sweatshops.

Taking advantage of extremely poor workers in the developing world, many wealthy companies – like Wal-Mart – from economically developed nations, demand that employees labor at a fast pace, for long hours, in deplorable conditions, with no benefits – all for the sake of corporate profit.

And worse yet, workers often experience serious injury and death.

Thus was the case when the illegally constructed Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, collapsed on April 24, killing over 716 sweatshop workers.

This dilapidated building housed five factories that produced garments for the United States, Canada and Europe.

With hundreds of additional workers still missing, this disaster is the worst in the history of the garment industry, according to Charles Kernaghan, director of the Institute for Global Labor and Human Rights (IGLHR)

According to the IGLHR, a sweatshop employee named Jannat, who worked for New Wave Style, said she and other workers refused to enter the building after they discovered large cracks in the factory walls. But “managers at the factories threatened us saying they would withhold our [month’s] wages if we did not agree to work.”

The owner of the Rana Plaza factory building “along with gang members holding sticks were standing in front of the main entrance gate threatening that they would beat us with sticks and break our bones if we didn’t work that morning. We were frightened and had no choice but to go in to work,” said Jannat.

After working for one hour the power went off. “As soon as the generator was switched on the building started to vibrate and shake … there was a huge bang.”

The building then collapsed, trapping Jannat. Fortunately, she was rescued. But many others were not so fortunate.

Had strong legislation protecting workers’ basic rights been in place in industrialized nations – especially in the United States – this tragedy would have been avoided.

Corporations benefit greatly from intellectual property and copyright laws. It’s long overdue that workers laboring in miserable conditions receive the same legal protection.

Let’s work together to ensure they get it!

Please email and call (Capitol switchboard: 202-224-3121) your two U.S. senators and House representative urging them to reintroduce and actively support the “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act,” which according to Kernaghan, would provide transparent corporate disclosure – enabling labor rights organizations to inspect factories producing products for wealthy retailers.

If reintroduced and passed by Congress, this bill would also prohibit the import, export or sale of products that violate the International Labor Organization’s standards – which prohibit child labor, and guarantee workers’ rights to safe working conditions, to collective bargaining and protection against forced labor.

Please also consider giving a donation to help Bangladeshi victims and their families

Lamenting over the Bangladesh factory tragedy, Pope Francis passionately condemned the injustice of their $50 a month salary saying, “This was the payment of these people who have died.” This is known as “slave labor!”

And he added, “Not paying fairly, not giving a job because you are only looking at balance sheets, only looking at how to make a profit. That goes against God!”

Let’s build an economic system that does not go against God.

Passing the “Decent Working Conditions and Fair Competition Act” would be a giant step in that direction.

Tony Magliano is an internationally syndicated social justice and peace columnist.