Global warming statement a lesson in prudence
They spoke to Americans not as doctors with a prescription, but as ethicists. They provided all Americans with a phrase that cuts through both the scientific debate and the political and advocacy group posturing and maneuvering. The essentials in all ecological discussion, they said, are "the virtue of prudence, the pursuit of the common good and a concern for the poor."
Well said. Now let's look at what they meant.
They meant it is best to err on the side of caution, that the world should "take steps now to mitigate possible negative effects in the future." They spoke on their own accord, they said, and at the urging of church leaders in other parts of the world "who fear powerful interests will mute their voices."
And indeed that will happen.
"Global climate change at its core is not about economic theory or political platforms or partisan advantage or interest group pressures. It is about the future of God's creation and the one human family," the bishops wrote in the statement they titled "Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good."
"And while some uncertainty remains, most experts agree something significant is happening to the atmosphere," the bishops wrote.
Therefore we'd better stop doing some of the things we think may be creating the problem while the world community investigates further the consequences of what in fact we are doing. That's prudent.
Will anyone listen? This plea for dialogue, prudence and the common good both is and is not just one more voice crying in the wilderness. The world religions have found common ethical ground for ecological common good. The bishops' statement joins a body of statements from leaders of all the world's religions who have spoken on the ethics of dealing with creation.
The 1986 Assisi Declarations by Bahai'i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jain, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh leaders, for example, are bolstered by this plea from the U.S. Catholic church, even though the other declarations covered broader ground.
Here is an excerpt from the Muslim declaration at Assisi: "We often say that Islam is a complete way of life, by which it is meant that our ethical systems provide the bearings for all our actions. Yet our actions often undermine the very values we cherish."
That's what all the religions are saying: that we are already causing recognizable environmental havoc, that we are dealing with ecological consequences beyond our knowledge, that the risk of irreparable harm is real, that prudence is called for.
Indeed, Catholic teaching, said the bishops, calls for "bold and generous action on behalf of the common good."
Generosity of spirit and action, concern for the global common good, and prudence in the face of unknown risks are not contained in the intentions of a U.S. administration that takes our own nation's self-interests as a starting point for global ecological action -- or inaction.
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