Water is a focus of this year's Earth Week observance
Church promotes campaign for safe drinking water accessible to everyone
Guest Column By Br. Steve Herro
It is very appropriate that we celebrate Earth Week April 19-26, right smack in the middle of the Easter season. The Easter natural symbols of light and water remind us that Jesus is the light and source of life and that water cleanses us from sin. During Earth Week, we acknowledge God's entire created natural world: sun, water, earth, air, and sky.
Our Catholic social tradition is deeply connected to care for all of God's creation. On June 7, 2007, John Carr, executive director of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops' Office of Justice, Peace, and Human Development, boldly proclaimed to the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works: "...The religious leaders here today share an abiding love for God's gift of creation and the biblical mandate and moral responsibility to
care for creation. As people of faith, we are convinced that 'the earth is the Lord's and all it holds,' (Ps 24:1) and that our Creator has given us the gift of creation: the air we breathe, the water that sustains life, the climate and environment we share - all of which God created and found 'very good.'" (Gen. 1:31)
Among the multitude of environmental concerns facing us today, perhaps this Earth Week we might take a closer look at the gift of water. To summarize "Water: A Sacramental Commons," an essay proclaimed by the National Catholic Rural Life Conference:
- Water is a creative source that is essential for all life, a common heritage of all creation;
- Cleansing with water consecrates our bodies and prepares us for a closer union with God;
- All life shares the same water; the contamination of water or the act of withholding it from anyone is an affront to the sacredness of water;
- Preserving and making available fresh water as a sacred legacy is a collective responsibility that includes the involvement and participation of all.
In 2006, Catholic leaders from the National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Conference of Major Superiors of Men, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, Maryknoll Office of Global Concerns, reminded us that "... Access to enough safe, clean and affordable water for personal and domestic use is a basic human right...." and that "Water should be held in the public domain, as a common good for all people...."
That same year, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace underscored the connection between a preferential option for the poor and solidarity in "Water: an Essential Element for Life":
"The problem of water scarcity and water deprivation is experienced most dramatically by men and women living in poverty and often in the poorest countries. However, the concept of 'family of nations' recalls that responsibility for the destiny of the less favored countries rests also with those more richly blessed. In a family, every member is responsible for each
and every other member, the suffering of one becomes the suffering of all. The many children who die each year in poor countries due to the lack of access to safe water and sanitation are a loss for the future of the whole world and for humanity as a whole."
A simple action that each of us can do, including our personal lifestyle choices and parish, school, work place, and municipal operations, is to protect safe and affordable access to water for all. Choosing tap water over bottled water also limits our consumption of landfill space and fossil fuels.
A few points to consider:
- Public water sources must remain accessible for the poor and not privatized by water bottling companies. This issue is of particular importance in India, where Coca-Cola is pumping water for its label Dasani at the expense of public access to much of the country's water supply;
- Americans used 50 billion plastic bottles in 2006, but only recycled 23 percent of them;
- Plastic bottles that Americans use and toss take more than 47 million gallons of oil to produce.
Consider taking the "Think Outside the Bottle" pledge (thinkoutsidethebottle.org) this Easter, Earth Week, and spring. Commit yourself to choose tap water over bottled water while working with your municipal leaders to ensure safe and accessible public water to everyone in your water district.
Finally, broaden your education through a number of family-friendly activities by participating in Earth Week activities. In Brown County see http://bairdcreek.org/earthday.htm, in the Fox Valley see http://www.appletonrestore.org/Earth%20Day.htm, and in Oshkosh see http://www.uwosh.edu/environ_studies/activities/earth_week_2008.html.
(Norbertine Br. Steve Herro is director of social concerns for the Green Bay Diocese.)