Category Archives: Ecological Justice

NETWORK Lobby Advocates for Catholic Social Justice

Ecological Justice Means Holistic Justice

Laudato Si Week Calls Us To Advocate For Our Whole Community

Virginia Schilder
May 27, 2022

This is part three in a three part reflection on Laudato Si Week, which is May 22-29, celebrates the anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on integral ecology and care for creation by inviting all people of goodwill and prayer and study to on how they can tackle the climate crisis.

Read Part One Here | Read Part Two Here

The Catholic tradition affirms this interrelationality and calls us to honor our interdependence in holistic, grounded, ecological communities. One of the key principles of Catholic Social Justice is “Care for Creation.” In addition to conserving the Earth and curbing climate change, this principle calls us to critically examine how we live — how we encounter and treat living, breathing bodies and how we understand ourselves and what we need to live well.

This means reflectively asking ourselves: What does it mean to live in ecological community?

Luckily, ecological community exists all around us – in the interactions between plants and animals (including humans) outside your window, for example, but also among humans anytime we help one another and work for our mutual flourishing. Alternatives to the alienation of our present structures are already in practice, modeled by those who choose, as best they can within damaging systems, to live out ecological harmony. Through even small acts of connection, we participate in our common ecosystem life, and thereby resist systems of destruction and disconnection.

Promoting ecological justice policies, especially as they arise in NETWORK’s Build Anew agenda, embody Catholic Social Justice in their care for the earth and its inhabitants. These policies include ending fossil fuel tax subsidies, guaranteeing clean, safe drinking water as a right in all communities, updating water infrastructure and protecting watersheds, restoring ecosystems, instituting widespread renewable energy access, and developing other green infrastructure and natural solutions. They include curbing the ongoing conversion and destructive development of land (especially Native lands), and supporting green economies, localized agriculture, and responsible and integrated land stewardship.

As we enact other social and economic policies, we have a responsibility to make equitable ecological impact a key consideration. Dr. Kate Ward writes that in a just economy, “The environmental costs of economic production, which impact human health and livelihood, would be borne equitably when they cannot be eliminated.”

The same goes for environmental benefits, which we must equitably share. Our economic restructuring, including with the recovery package, must center ecological impact while prioritizing equity and community needs – because protecting the most vulnerable communities necessarily means protecting the land, air, and water on which they depend.

But above all, we are called to adopt an integral ecological orientation in our advocacy work and in the way we envision a just society. This means taking an ecosystems-view: highlighting our interrelationality, rooting more deeply in the land, and working from and in communities to conserve and promote mutual flourishing. It means taking seriously our interdependence with and embeddedness in all of creation, and letting that realization transform our politics.

Additionally, we can never discuss ecological justice without speaking of colonialism. Colonialism operates in large part via the stealing and destruction of the lands, waters, and wildlife on which Indigenous peoples’ livelihoods and cultures depend. Native Americans and First Nations peoples have sustainably inhabited and skillfully stewarded North America for millennia. It is impossible to truly respect and honor Native communities without also respecting and honoring their rights to land access, inhabitation, protection, and stewardship. Ecological justice means ensuring that economic development does not further burden Native communities with environmental destruction, and that our policies cease the ongoing usurpation and poisoning of Native lands.

Regardless of our issue area or community role, we are called to see that building thriving communities requires not domination over but harmony with the Earth. Because in an ecological sense, justice means the fullness of all God’s holy creation in integrated community.

Virginia Schilder, a graduate student attending divinity school in Massachusetts, completed a one-year fellowship with NETWORK’s Communications team in early May 2022.

NETWORK Lobby Advocates for Catholic Social Justice

Ecological Justice Means Economic Justice

Laudato Si Week Calls Us To Reject Oppressive Structures

Virginia Schilder
May 26, 2022

This is part two in a three part reflection on Laudato Si Week (May 22-29, 2022) which celebrates the anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on integral ecology and care for creation by inviting all people of goodwill and prayer and study to on how they can tackle the climate crisis. 

Read Part One Here | Read Part Three Here

Ecological injustice is intimately linked to economic injustice. They both refer to how we live in our common home, Earth – in fact, the “eco” in both “ecology” and “economy” comes from the Greek word “oikos,” meaning house!

At present, we distribute the resources of our home through a global economy that is based on accumulation, consumption, competition, extraction, and exploitation. Global, imperial capitalism has long been driving the degradation of local sustainable economies and food systems, as well as natural resources depletion, habitat destruction, and the mass pollution that has created climate change. In this way, our capitalist system and its concentration of resources is fundamentally at odds with ecological flourishing, which is predicated on practices of sharing, cooperation, reciprocity, and respecting limits.

The central role of capitalism in ecological degradation further exemplifies the way in which the ecological crisis is inseparable from our structures of economic, racial, and social oppression. All of these interconnected realities reflect a need for something that Pope Francis calls “integral ecology” in his 2015 encyclical Laudato Si.

Integral ecology refers to an interstructural and holistic approach to political, social, economic, and environmental problems. What integral ecology gets at, essentially, is that we live in an interconnected world. We are connected to each other, as well as to the Earth’s lands, waters, air, non-human life, and climate. Similarly, structures of power and oppression – such as capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism – are also intertwined.

This is why Pope Francis observes, “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.” Francis emphasizes that the health of our institutions has implications for the health of the environment, our bodies, and our communities. As a result, Francis offers, “Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

Integral ecology has much to teach us about ourselves as holistic, interdependent communities. It helps us see the ways in which our present socioeconomic structures disrupt harmony with other humans and the Earth. Many of us may feel alienated from one another, from the land we inhabit and the other creatures around us, from what we produce and what we consume. But in ecosystems, all beings are enwrapped in an enormous web of reciprocal interrelation.

Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese highlights Pope Francis’ teaching that “Relationships take place at the atomic and molecular level, between plants and animals, and among species in ecological networks and systems. For example, [Francis] points out, ‘We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about.’”

We too are embedded in these webs. Pope Francis affirms that the natural world is not simply our “environment.” Nature is not something separate from us, nor the mere setting in which we live. Rather, “we are a part of nature.” Plants, animals, the air, water, fungi, bacteria, and soils are members of our communities — or rather, we are members of their communities! — and our flourishing is linked to theirs.

We have the choice of either participating in our ecosystems with care and respect, or forgetting our embeddedness, taking more than we need, and ravaging the land and each another.

Virginia Schilder, a graduate student attending divinity school in Massachusetts, completed a one-year fellowship with NETWORK’s Communications team in early May 2022.

NETWORK Lobby Advocates for Catholic Social Justice

Ecological Justice Means Racial Justice

Laudato Si Week Calls Us To Recognize Our Interrelatedness

Virginia Schilder
May 24, 2022

This is part one in a three part reflection on Laudato Si Week (May 22-29, 2022), which celebrates the anniversary of Pope Francis’ encyclical on integral ecology and care for creation by inviting all people of goodwill and prayer and study to on how they can tackle the climate crisis.

Read Part Two Here |Read Part Three Here

Ecological justice is about more than ending climate change and restoring damaged landscapes. It is about recognizing our interrelatedness and interdependence with one another, with land, air, and water, and with the non-human life forms alongside us — and then creating social and economic structures that affirm this reality.

At NETWORK, ecological concern permeates all of the policy areas we work in. As we promote the Build Anew agenda specifically, what does it mean to prioritize ecological health and cultivate an ecological orientation?

On one level, it means that our policies must always keep ecological impact in mind. No policy can be fully just if it comes at the expense of our lands, waters, air, or other living beings. This is especially true for job creation, which does not truly help our communities if the new jobs are in the business of exploiting the very resources we need to live. It is critical that as communities grow – with more housing, schools, libraries, parks, and food markets – that development is focused on meeting real needs instead of ceaseless land conversion that depletes natural spaces, pushes out long-term inhabitants (both human and non-human), and accelerates pollution.

Dr. Kate Ward, assistant professor of theology at Marquette University, wrote last year in Connection magazine, “Integral development is a distinctively Catholic reassessment of economic development. Just like national budgets can be both moral and immoral documents, so also economic development can impede or impel authentic human development.”

Rather than alienate us from ecosystems, all forms of development should strengthen our ecological relationships and uphold ecological well-being. All policies have ecological effects, meaning ecological impact should be at the forefront of all policy discussions.   But going even further, an ecological orientation in our policy work means a holistic, multi-issue commitment to transforming the structures that denigrate human beings and the Earth alike.

The intertwining exploitation of people and land is evident in the way that women, the economically marginalized, and Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are disproportionately harmed by ecological destruction. While climate change affects everyone, these populations are made especially vulnerable to inadequate infrastructure, poor water quality, deforestation, hazardous waste, and increased exposure to climate change-driven disasters and displacement.

Environmental racism refers to the reality that communities of color bear most of the burden of environmental degradation. Communities of color frequently face restricted access to clean air and water, green spaces, and nutritious and locally-sourced food. These forms of racism severely threaten the health of communities of color, especially as toxic waste facilities and highways are overwhelmingly (and intentionally) built in Black and Brown neighborhoods.

Environmental racism implicates housing, food, public health, and economic policy. Measures such as creating accessible, affordable housing and ending racist zoning practices have not only racial but also significant ecological justice dimensions.

Virginia Schilder, a graduate student attending divinity school in Massachusetts, completed a one-year fellowship with NETWORK’s Communications team in early May 2022.