Here is a list, because people like lists. It is not a list on how to keep up your eco-friendly habits when the COVID-19 pandemic has made many of them impossible. It will not tell you how to make up your “eco-deficit” now that you cannot bring your own containers and bags to the bulk store and everything is wrapped in plastic. It will not tell you how much “eco-credit” you now have because you had to cancel your planned vacation overseas.
As Pope Francis says, “Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses…. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.” (LS, 111).
As we sit in rooms with closed doors, this list is inspired by a line from Laudato Si’, whose fifth anniversary we are now observing: “An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, almost unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.” (LS, 112).
Embrace the knowledge that when you open that door out of this lockdown, it is not a door that will take you “back to normal.” This is something that you may grieve, especially if you have enjoyed the great privileges that the industrialized world has offered. The truth is, Laudato Si’ calls for the ecological conversion of “normal.” We are not going back to normal… ever! We cannot, if there is to be a sustainable future for life on the planet. Let that sink in. And once you are done letting it scare you, let it excite you.
2) Do the hard work that authentic relationships call for.
Laudato SI’ is, above all, about the hard call to relationship—with God, each other, and the Earth. As the Pope says, “Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.” (LS, 141). While the pandemic is keeping us physically apart from most, it is also keeping us physically closer to others, like our family members, for example. How are we responding to the challenges of those relationships? Are we willing to work through the conflicts that close contact creates? Or do we resort to neglect and violence when it gets tough? The sad reality of how many women and children are at risk of domestic abuse reveals how far we still are from living Laudato Si’ as a human family.
3) Give thanks to God at mealtime.
This is one of the simplest ways to foster a spirituality of interconnected relationships. The Pope specifically asks us to do this in Laudato Si’: “I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.” (LS, 227).
4) Support policies that create structural changes to our global energy systems.
Laudato Si’ calls for technologies that rely on fossil fuels to be “progressively replaced without delay.” (LS, 165). A recent report claims that carbon emissions will see their largest drop since World War II because of the pandemic. This underscores the truth of what science tells us—the economic system that is argued to enhance our quality of life is also one that imperils it. Mother Nature has pressed “pause” on that system. Many corporations are taking the opportunity to reflect on what can change after we press “play” again. If corporations lack the wisdom or will to do so, some governments are stepping in, placing conditions on business-saving bailouts that will result in greener operations. The pandemic can thus help kickstart what has been called the Green New Deal. You can support these policies both by your consumer choices and every time you vote in an election.
5) Change the way we eat.
Besides air, food and drink most intimately connect us to the Earth. Mother Nature pressed “pause” on the industrial economic system, and that includes the place of food within it. It is a good time to reflect on how to eat outside of that system. Many small-scale farmers in Canada are seeing unprecedented interest in their produce precisely because they fall outside the system. In the Global South, the historical erosion of local food systems is resulting in massive food insecurity as the shut-down of the pandemic continues. Laudato Si’ denounces the ills of the industrial food system. Among other things, it blames it for, “destroying the complex network of ecosystems, diminishing the diversity of production and affecting regional economies….” (LS, 134). There is no way to change how we eat, without some financial sacrifices. Some of us can make those sacrifices more easily than others, but all of us can do something. And when we all do something, we can move the whole system in the right direction, making local and culturally appropriate healthy food accessible for ever greater numbers of people. Let us all make the changes that we can. Eating well should not be the privilege of the rich.
Because the pandemic is global, it is important that this list be embraced within the context of a global dialogue—something Laudato Si’ stresses with great importance. Pope Francis envisions such a dialogue as moving us to an important consensus that could lead “to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources, and ensuring universal access to drinking water.” (LS, 164). Worthy goals to work on for Laudato Si’ Week no doubt!
* Photo by @jcomp on freepik.com.