This opinion piece is by Kerry Weber, managing editor of America and author of “Mercy in the City.”
I read Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment, from the comfort of an air-conditioned office. As I read, I found myself challenged and moved by the pope’s words — and I raised the temperature on the air conditioning a few degrees. Yet Francis isn’t calling simply for a change in office temperature, but a change of heart. He’s asking us to truly reconsider how we interact with the creation and each other, urging consideration for future generations as well as immediate action. Here are a few ways to get started.
Get a roommate. Or join an intentional community. Or at the very least, reach out to your neighbors. Pope Francis chose to live in community, and we can too. Doing so not only means that we can cut down on the resources each of us use, but it also means we make the kinds of connections needed to sustain meaningful life on this planet. “Disregard for the duty to cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbor, for whose care and custody I am responsible,” Francis writes, “ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.”
Join the slow technology movement. This movement urges us to think deliberately about how we interact with our computers, mobile phones, and other devices; to consider crowd-sourced software; and not to get caught up in the immediacy so many of our apps and social networks seem to demand. Francis, while acknowledging the benefits of our world’s technological advances, also urges a deliberate relationship with it: “We have the freedom needed to limit and direct technology; we can put it at the service of another type of progress, one which is healthier, more human, more social, more integral,” he writes. “Our distractions dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.”
Pray. Or meditate. Or send “good vibrations” as Pope Francis recently requested. Whatever your approach, Francis urges us to work toward a peaceful, deliberate way of proceeding, seeking harmony of relationship with all of creation. “By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn to reject self-interested pragmatism …” Francis writes, “certain mindsets really do influence our behavior.”
Help create a “culture of care.” Pope Francis isn’t afraid to think big. He is willing to push for the accountability of governments and businesses on environmental issues and to think about policy change. He urges us to encourage similar interventions on behalf of the common good, whether globally or in our hometowns. “Some, for example, show concern for a public place (a building, a fountain, an abandoned monument, a landscape, a square), and strive to protect, restore, improve or beautify it as something belonging to everyone,” he writes. And he reminds us that the reason we do all of this is a love that “moves us to devise larger strategies to halt environmental degradation and to encourage a “culture of care” which permeates all of society.”
Go for a walk. Part of the challenge of battling indifference toward the environmental crisis is that so many of us have become disconnected from the creation. Francis argues for battling this isolation with interior peace and strong community relationships, but also by quite literally getting back to nature: “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal and deprived of physical contact with nature.” Start small. True understanding of our shared home on this planet begins with a better understanding of our local communities. Start a community garden at your church. Build a compost bin. Buy fruits and vegetables from local farmers. Francis writes that like the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, who did small things with great love, is an important part of creating “[a]n integral ecology … made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness.”
Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Or at a soup kitchen. Or go on a service trip. In our fast-paced world, we cannot simply address one problem at a time. Our approach to solutions must be integrated and work toward “combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature.” Too often our lack of care for the poor is in part due to the fact that we have no relationship with them, Francis argues. We must work toward restoring that relationship with the understanding that the poor are those most affected by climate change. We must “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” But in order to hear that cry, we must be truly present.
Stop wasting food. Or fuel. Or water. Take shorter showers. Ride the bus. Consider getting greener appliances. Recycle. “We know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded, and ‘whenever food is thrown out it is as if were stolen from the table of the poor.’ ” Francis writes. Waste of resources shows a disregard for creation and a selfishness that runs counter to the communal spirit for which we are all working. Francis reminds us that these small actions set an example for those around us, as well. He writes, “All it takes is one good person to restore hope!”