New Zealand Bishops on the Environment
"Our World Is Facing an Ecological Crisis"
WELLINGTON, New Zealand, SEPTEMBER 10, 2006 - Here is the Statement on
Environmental Issues released by the bishops' conference of New Zealand.
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"The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal
deserts have become so vast. Therefore the earth's treasures no longer
serve to build God's garden for all to live in, but they have been made
to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction" (Benedict XVI,
homily at Inaugural Mass, 2005).
What does the commandment "Thou shall not kill" mean when 20% of the
world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs poorer
nations and future generations of what they need to survive?
What does it mean to respect life when 30,000 people die each day from
What does it mean to be stewards of the earth when up to half of all
living species are expected to become extinct in the next 200 years?
Science and technology have brought many blessings to human existence.
Over the last 50 years those blessings have included a greater capacity
to meet basic human needs. But the benefits of these advances have been
spread unjustly, often with an adverse effect upon the world's most
vulnerable populations. The existence of extreme poverty and
environmental destruction in our world are not natural forces, nor acts
of God, but result from human behavior. That behavior is driven by
values, priorities and decisions which do not see human life as a
Our world is facing an ecological crisis, which could equally be called
an economic crisis, or a poverty crisis. Its public face is the
suffering of the poor and the degradation of our environment, at a time
when accumulation of wealth and material goods has never occupied our
attention more. That is why we see it primarily as a spiritual or moral
Climate scientists warn us that the decisions of this generation over
the next 20 years will have an impact upon the future of humanity. For
the peoples of the Pacific, climate change is already among the most
urgent threats facing them. Rising temperatures and sea levels, and the
greater intensity of storms and natural disasters, are already
affecting the food and water supply for people on low-lying islands in
different parts of the Pacific.
Long before these islands disappear into the sea, life on many Pacific
islands will become untenable. It is predicted that in the Pacific
alone, there may be a million environmental refugees before the end of
As in other parts of the world, those most suffering the consequences
of climate change are those who have played the least part in
contributing to it. People we may never meet, as well as those who are
not yet born, will benefit or suffer as a result of the decisions we
make and take in New Zealand and in the rest of the developed world.
As Benedict said in his inaugural homily: "The external deserts are
growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast."
Protecting the environment involves moderating our desires to consume
and own more, which creates lifestyles that bring death to millions of
other people. Consumerism, global environmental change and suffering in
the developing world are inextricably linked.
At the personal level the suffering of others and the damage to our
planet demand that we look closely at our own lifestyles. Individual
acts of selfishness can create a society characterized by a desire for
short term gain and immediate gratification over longer term needs and
a wider view.
In response, both individual and collective acts of selflessness are
needed -- of self-sacrifice for the greater good, of self denial in the
midst of convenient choices, of choosing simpler lifestyles in the
midst of a consumer society. This does not mean abandoning the
scientific and technological advances which have given us such great
benefits. It means using them wisely, and in a thoughtful manner which
reflects true solidarity with all the people of the earth.
Ultimately, this is a global problem requiring real global solutions.
But individual Catholics, parishes, Catholic schools, religious
communities and church organizations can play a big part by making
different choices, such as using less energy or buying locally made
goods which require less transportation. The world needs to reduce its
carbon output by 80%, and some New Zealand households could achieve
that overnight by simply changing the kind of car they drive. Avoiding
water waste and excess packaging are two simple steps which can be
acted upon by individuals and households.
But vulnerable members of our own society -- such as the elderly --
have suffered previously during power crises by going without
necessities such as warmth and light, and we have to work to ensure
that the costs of any changes to our lifestyles are borne by those who
can best afford them.
Our faith and our religious tradition have much to offer the world at
this time, including the importance of simplicity, and of learning to
give up some things that we want, so others may have what they need.
Our understanding that we are stewards of God's creation, our
solidarity with the poor, and our respect for the common good make the
issue of environmental justice the responsibility of every person.