I teach environmental studies for a class of 500 students at University of Toronto (when I am not publishing books). I present students with the scary facts about climate change (I am afraid they are indeed scary). Part of our discussion invariably revolves around climate change deniers or those who doubt any radical change to our economic extractive system is needed.
Skepticism can be good, but when it involves little in the way of critical research and thinking, it is not. In short, our current crisis of a warming climate, the ensuing extinction of countless species of life, and the acidification of our oceans, we are inundated with either complacency, out-dated responses to new complex problems, conflicting statements, or dubious Internet “facts.”
For this reason, I’ve always admired St. Thomas; you know, the apostle who doubted Jesus’ resurrection until he was able to touch Jesus’ very wounds himself. I feel we could use more healthy doubt when it comes to understanding current political debates surrounding climate change.
Pope Francis in Laudato Sí states that “economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.” He continues, “Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is. As a result, ‘whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule’” (#56).
Long before Francis’ encyclical, theologian David Tracey recommended a solution to such thinking. He tells us that in regard to our faith, we need a, “willingness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead,” even if that evidence “may, in fact, negate a particular traditional belief” (David Tracey, Blessed Rage for Order: The New Pluralism in Theology. New York: Seabury Press, 1975, 12). That’s a radical approach! Yet, I think this approach is healthy, and that it should guide us in how we handle the environmental crisis as Christians.
In other words, we should become critical in our judgment, open-minded and skeptical about what we hear in regard to feel-good economic policies (and feel-good religious teachings for that matter) to address climate change.
In the spirit of St. Thomas, given the coming federal election this fall, let’s follow the research wherever it may lead: this means we research reputable sources for information on climate change (one that is science-based, not ideologically based), we judge critically the information before us, and we remain open to understanding the full (and let’s face it, difficult) work before us to ensure care for all of creation.
Simon Appolloni, Associate Publishing Director