Do you remember, as a child, when you first realized the world could be scary?
For some, it was the Cold War, when “the bomb” taught children to “duck and cover.” Others inherited a war in Indo-China. Still more learned about global terrorism after 9/11.
Today’s youth fear ecological disaster. Whatever reasons you accept, few can deny that global warming exists. Greenland is thawing, ice caps are melting. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) recently confirmed that this summer was the hottest on record for our Northern Hemisphere.
Young people inherit a world of potential ecological disaster. Like generations before, facing bleak times, they demand change. For example, the 2019 Global Week for Future (Sept. 20-27) brought millions of protestors together in 150 countries for climate strikes.
One protestor is 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, who founded the Youth Strike for Climate movement. Thunberg gained world attention a year ago when she protested outside Swedish Parliament. According to Commonweal magazine, this led to “a worldwide series of strikes by school children, called Fridays for Future, … Nearly 1,600 strikes in 118 countries were planned for this spring, including 50 strikes organized by Laudato Si’ Generation, a youth initiative under the umbrella of the Global Catholic Climate Movement.”
Thunberg addressed the United Nations Sept. 23. Like generations before, she was angry: “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. … People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. … How dare you!”
“For more than 30 years,” she added, “the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough …”
Thunberg has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (to be awarded Oct. 11). She has also met (April 17, 2019) Pope Francis, who wrote “Laudato Si’, On Care for our Common Home.” In it, he called for “integral ecology,” the idea that all parts of the earth — global economies, social factors, the environment and family life — are connected and need equal attention.
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” the pope asked, as if predicting in 2015 Thunberg’s anger in 2019.
“When we ask ourselves what kind of world we want to leave behind,” he added, “we think in the first place of its general direction, its meaning and its values. … Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving, to coming generations, debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, … We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”
Accountability stands at the forefront of Rome’s “Synod on the Amazon” (Oct. 6-27). While its focus is the Amazon region, its scope is global and mentions integral ecology frequently.
“Integral ecology teaches us that everything is connected: human beings and nature,” said Cardinal Claudio Hummes, relator general of the synod. He noted how the “church needs to throw open her doors, knock down the walls surrounding her and build bridges, going out into the world and setting out on the path of history.”
What integral ecology path can you set out on? On Aug. 28, Green Bay’s Sisters of St. Francis of the Holy Cross dedicated 280 solar panels and now get 50% of their electricity from the sun. (They dedicated 416 other panels in 2014.)
We can’t all install solar panels or stage climate strikes, but we can each do something for ecology and give hope to future generations. It may be as simple as using LED lightbulbs or recycling more. Let’s aim for a world where children won’t have to “duck and cover,” unless it’s to get under a green tree during a shower free of acid rain.