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The Earth, Our Common Home

Justice Matters
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By Jeanette Arnquist

 Imagine this. You are a grandparent and you are with your six-year-old granddaughter. You have had a long day – the zoo, shopping, the circus. Now you are both hungry and tired. You stop into a café on the way home. The granddaughter orders her favorite from the children’s menu. Chicken tacos or mac and cheese. You order something that appeals to adults. Steak or roast. You order a beer, your granddaughter a milk. The food comes and you grab her milk and guzzle it down and then wolf down her food. Then you eat your own, too. 

 Could you imagine doing that? Hardly. If you are like me you would do anything for your grandchildren. You would not steal their food, or their water or air. You would not steal their planet.

 But that is what we are doing. If you live in the United States it is pretty hard to escape doing that. The typical person in the U.S. uses natural resources at a rate that would require seven planet earths to support.

 My point is not to make anyone feel guilty. Nor is it to condone the status quo. My hope is that we, all of us, will take the words of Pope Francis seriously and pray and act to protect the planet for ourselves, our grandchildren and our great grandchildren, and for the next thousand years. This is not something that can be done by one person, but each person has a role to play. This kind of change requires first, a commitment to the common good, then a change in consciousness, then personal changes, and then changes in public policy. 

 In the “good old days” it was easy to choose to do the right thing because energy was so expensive. When I was growing up in Eureka, Nevada in the 1950s our precious electricity cost 14 cents per kilowatt hour. Leaving a light on unnecessarily got me in trouble more than once. Today electricity costs about the same as it did then, which means that it is really cheap. The same goes for the goods we consume. It is often cheaper, for example, to buy new things than to repair old ones. But there is a long term price we are charging on our grandchildren’s credit cards.

 Technology can be a big part of the solution. Yet changes in lifestyle in the developed world are also necessary. It is great to drive an electric vehicle or a hybrid, and it is equally important to cut down the number of miles driven. It is easy to buy fluorescent or LED light bulbs. It is very expensive in the short term, but still “easy” to install roof top solar panels. It is harder for us to make the decision to live with an indoor temperature that is 3 degrees warmer in the summer and 3 degrees cooler in the winter. Or to live in a smaller house that is closer to the center of our activities. It is hard to cut down on consumption and it is much harder for some of us to cut down on air travel. It is hard to change diet to be less dependent on animal products and products that are grown far away and shipped long distances (like coffee and chocolate.) All of these require something of a sacrifice, and I think we would all agree that our grandchildren are worth it. 

 While they are very important, none of the changes on an individual or even family level will solve our carbon problem. Changes in public policy are necessary. They require knowledge and organizing. And faith. Fortunately, there are a lot of resources for both – for example, Pope Francis and The Global Catholic Climate Movement.

 This month we celebrate Earth Day. As we take that moment to reflect on the preciousness and majesty of our common home, let’s make a commitment today to protect it – for our grandchildren.


 Jeanette Arnquist is a former Director of the Department of Life, Dignity and Justice for the Diocese of San Bernardino. She is retired and living in Tuscon, Arizona where she remains active in social concerns ministries.