“We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost’s familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress with great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road—the one ‘less traveled by’—offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of our earth” (Silent Spring, Rachel Carson, 1962).
On September 27, 1962, 54 years ago this month, Rachel Carson published her groundbreaking book Silent Spring. I remember reading this book, or parts of it, during high school. I was told the book sparked the ecological conservation movement and was responsible for bringing about environmental consciousness to the American public, for the elimination of DDT in industrial agriculture, and the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency. Yet over 50 years later, I can’t help but wonder, have we gone down the correct path? In an age of rapacious global commercialization, of the displacement of millions and millions of people all over the world because of climate change, environmental degradation, and violence, of the pursuit of double digit corporate profits over compassion – are we on the right course or have we missed our exit to the road less traveled by? Can we make a U-turn?
Certainly, we’ve come a long way in putting in place laws and best practices that help curtail whatever damage we’ve done or are currently doing to the environment. In general, perhaps naïvely, I think our level of ecological awareness and our conversation on environmental protection is in a better place than where it was prior to Rachel Carson’s book. And yet, I fear that no matter how far we’ve come or how successfully we’ve implemented ideas and actions in addressing specific issues of environmental protection in this country and the world, we will find ourselves constantly entrenched in the same system of environmental disregard and abuse if we do not experience a real and total conversion of heart and a renewed sense of solicitude for Creation, for its gifts, and for our poor brothers and sisters, who are closest to the Earth.
In Laudato Sí, Pope Francis wrote that “social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds” (219). This points to the realization that beyond legislation, preventative measures, or single solutions to our current problems, we must desire communion – to reestablish relationship with the Earth that sustains us, as well as with the poor and the other among us. In our poor, oppressed, and disenfranchised brothers and sisters we must discover the “Creator who lives among us and surrounds us, whose presence ‘must not be contrived, but found, uncovered’” (Laudato Sí, 225).
And so today, on the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, let us say a prayer for Communion. It is no longer enough to say a prayer for the passage of this law or that law, or a prayer for this issue or that issue. In order to remedy the ills currently plaguing our world, we must seek to reestablish true intimacy with our poor brothers and sisters, those who are most innocent of the destruction and the desecration of nature and who are most affected by our avarice and consumption. In this context (of relationships, of human dignity, and of human rights), I’ve come to realize that Rachel Carson’s divergent roads are not solely about policies and concern for sustainable, ecological best practices. Rather, when viewed through the lens of the universal kinship of Creation, the divergent roads refer to the bifurcation that has characterized our world as of late. It is a choice between a road of willful ignorance and disregard, or a road of consciousness, of compassion, of mercy.
We will come to the awareness that a reflection and focus on Care for Creation, as today calls us to, will lead us to a realization of the vast divides that currently pervades all aspects of society. In The Rich and the Rest of Us, Cornel West & Tavis Smiley identified divides that are not only about physical or technological proximity, economic and political power, or wealth and access to resources (political, economic, natural), but also personal, emotional, and spiritual divides. They point to the fact that inequity in our world, between rich and poor, whites and people of color, the global north and the global south, are responsible for the persistent injustices and the dehumanization of all peoples. In addition to the concrete actions and goals that are necessary for justice and restitution, we must work to reverse the course of a society that has “prostituted the theological interpretation of compassion,” and that has ruptured the bonds of universal kinship (Smiley & West, 2012).
This change in course must be a radical reversal, radical in that it will return us to the root (radix) of our common humanity and will restore us to proper relationship with the poor. This will have major ramifications in our quest for the Care for Creation, since we will come to the realization that the poor among us carry a disproportionate burden of the effects of environmental degradation, whether climate change, the pillaging of natural resources, the extortion of labor in developing countries, and the violent human rights abuses that come as a result of our greed and consumption. Our eyes will be opened to the vast insecurities affecting the global poor – the threats to their livelihood, safety, and access to basic human necessities (such as food, water, and shelter) – and which force millions of our brothers and sisters to be uprooted in the global migration phenomenon.
In today’s Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, Pope Francis states, “I renew my dialogue with ‘every person living on this planet’ (Laudato Si’, 3) about the sufferings of the poor and the devastation of the environment. God gave us a bountiful garden, but we have turned it into a polluted wasteland of ‘debris, desolation and filth’ (Laudato Si’, 161). We must not be indifferent or resigned to the loss of biodiversity and the destruction of ecosystems, often caused by our irresponsible and selfish behavior. ‘Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right’ (Laudato Si’, 33)” (Pope Francis, September 1, 2016).
For Pope Francis, “changing course thus means keeping the original commandment to preserve creation from all harm, both for our sake and for the sake of our fellow human beings” (September 1, 2016). Thus, our Care for Creation must be fundamentally rooted in the care and love of our brothers and sisters. In doing so, we love and care for the Divine Indwelling, who loves within us first and foremost, as well as “Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs” (Canticle of the Creatures, Francis of Assisi, FA:ED I, 113-114).
“The choice, after all, is ours to make. If, having endured much, we have at last asserted our ‘right to know’, and if, knowing, we have concluded that we are being asked to take senseless and frightening risks, then we should no longer accept the counsel of those who tell us that we must fill our world with poisonous chemicals; we should look about and see what other course is open to us” (Carson, 1962).