Faith Coalitions Already Addressing ‘Integral Ecology’

April 29, 2015

Thousands of people have linked arms to encircle the White House; braved the February cold in Washington, D.C., to rally near the Washington Monument, and marched around the National Mall in solidarity with cowboys and Indians concerned about their land. Now, opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, after years of protests and advocacy, are waiting for President Obama’s final decision on the project.

The opposition of many people of faith, including Catholic religious orders and justice organizations, has been strong and consistent with a particular focus on:

  • Approving a pipeline that would facilitate the extraction of especially dirty tar sands oil makes it harder to take seriously the Obama Administration’s pledges to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
  • Destruction of the Boreal forest in Alberta, Canada, already underway for current tar sands development, would increase with more extraction.
  • Indigenous communities would experience greater displacement from their land and more health conditions associated with oil sands development.
  • The Ogallala Aquifer, a major source of irrigation and drinking water for a great swath of the United States’ Great Plains region, would face great risks from oil spills and pipeline leaks.
  • Low-income communities surrounding plants along the Gulf of Mexico that would process the crude, would be exposed to high levels of toxins emitted from tar sands oil refining.
Photo credit: Jorge Barrera,

Photo credit: Jorge Barrera,

After reading a transcript of Cardinal Peter Turkson’s Trócaire lecture in Ireland in March 2015, I now have a term for the sum of these concerns: “integral ecology.” Cardinal Turkson defined this as the interconnections among development, care for creation and concern for the poor. It’s expected that this theme will be a cornerstone of Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical on the environment this summer.

Cardinal Turkson clearly stated that the Church doesn’t want to get into a debate on the science of climate change. Irrespective of the causes of climate change, he said, “To care for creation, to develop and live an integral ecology as the basis for development and peace in the world, is a fundamental Christian duty.”

He then defined justice as being faithful to our relationships with the Creator, with our neighbor and with the natural environment: “To neglect or violate one of these relationships is an offense, quite literally a sin.”

Cardinal Turkson also noted that Pope Francis’ focus on “an economic culture that puts money and profit ahead of people” and on the reality “that we cannot save the environment without also addressing the profound injustices in the distribution of the goods of the earth” – is rooted in biblical teachings.

Some of the justice-oriented faith coalitions in Washington, D.C., are making the same points in our faithful witness, education and advocacy.

The Faith-Economy-Ecology-Transformation group, led by the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, for instance, is lifting up the need for a paradigm shift in mindset and values. This is what Saint John Paul II called an “ecological conversion” in our attitudes about creation, the poor and the priorities of the global economy, as Cardinal Turkson reminded us. The coalition also advocates for public policies for an economy of right relationship, an economy of thriving and resilient communities, and the return of corporations to their proper place in society. We bring these concerns together each Good Friday in an Economic and Ecological Way of the Cross that stops for prayer at institutions of great influence in D.C.

Similarly, the interfaith working group on extractive industries has developed a statement of principles for minimizing environmental degradation, violence, public health risks and weakening of local economies by large-scale mining operations. Bishops from Guatemala, Peru and Brazil described some of those impacts in their dioceses when testifying several weeks ago at the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in D.C. Those of us in the U.S. are applying those principles to our advocacy on the Keystone XL pipeline as well as support for communities in Latin America, the Philippines and Africa.

Cardinal Turkson, in his address in Ireland, reminded us that Pope Francis is calling for “a new global solidarity, one in which everyone has a part to play and every action, no matter how small, can make a difference.”

Those of us advocating against the Keystone XL pipeline, and fracking and opening up new territory for oil and gas exploration, among other unsustainable projects – find hope in that. The message that both Cardinal Turkson and Pope Francis are trying to convey, is that amidst environmental devastation and global inequities we are called to work in the “warmth of hope” and be “revolutionaries of tenderness.”

marianneThis is written by Marianne Comfort, GCCM member, Education Coordinator, Institute Justice Team, Sisters of Mercy of the Americas.