II. Educating for the covenant between humanity and the environment [209 – 215]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

209. An awareness of the gravity of today’s cultural
and ecological crisis must be translated into
new habits. Many people know that our current
progress and the mere amassing of things and
pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy
to the human heart, yet they feel unable to give
up what the market sets before them. In those
countries which should be making the greatest
changes in consumer habits, young people have
a new ecological sensitivity and a generous spirit,
and some of them are making admirable efforts
to protect the environment. At the same time,
they have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism
and affluence which makes it difficult
to develop other habits. We are faced with an educational
challenge.

210. Environmental education has broadened
its goals. Whereas in the beginning it was mainly
centred on scientific information, consciousness-
raising and the prevention of environmental
risks, it tends now to include a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian
mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition,
consumerism, the unregulated market).
It seeks also to restore the various levels of ecological
equilibrium, establishing harmony within
ourselves, with others, with nature and other living
creatures, and with God. Environmental education
should facilitate making the leap towards
the transcendent which gives ecological ethics
its deepest meaning. It needs educators capable
of developing an ethics of ecology, and helping
people, through effective pedagogy, to grow in
solidarity, responsibility and compassionate care.

211. Yet this education, aimed at creating an
“ecological citizenship”, is at times limited to
providing information, and fails to instil good
habits. The existence of laws and regulations is
insufficient in the long run to curb bad conduct,
even when effective means of enforcement are
present. If the laws are to bring about significant,
long-lasting effects, the majority of the members
of society must be adequately motivated to accept
them, and personally transformed to respond.
Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be
able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A
person who could afford to spend and consume
more but regularly uses less heating and wears
warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions
and attitudes which help to protect the environment.
There is a nobility in the duty to care for
creation through little daily actions, and it is
wonderful how education can bring about real changes
in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility
can encourage ways of acting which
directly and significantly affect the world around
us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper,
reducing water consumption, separating refuse,
cooking only what can reasonably be consumed,
showing care for other living beings, using public
transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning
off unnecessary lights, or any number of other
practices. All of these reflect a generous and
worthy creativity which brings out the best in human
beings. Reusing something instead of immediately
discarding it, when done for the right
reasons, can be an act of love which expresses
our own dignity.

212. We must not think that these efforts are
not going to change the world. They benefit society,
often unbeknown to us, for they call forth
a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends
to spread. Furthermore, such actions can restore
our sense of self-esteem; they can enable us to
live more fully and to feel that life on earth is
worthwhile.

213. Ecological education can take place in a
variety of settings: at school, in families, in the
media, in catechesis and elsewhere. Good education
plants seeds when we are young, and these
continue to bear fruit throughout life. Here,
though, I would stress the great importance of
the family, which is “the place in which life – the
gift of God – can be properly welcomed and
protected against the many attacks to which it
is exposed, and can develop in accordance with
what constitutes authentic human growth. In the
face of the so-called culture of death, the family
is the heart of the culture of life”.149 In the family
we first learn how to show love and respect for
life; we are taught the proper use of things, order
and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem
and care for all creatures. In the family we receive
an integral education, which enables us to grow
harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family
we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank
you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for
what we have been given, to control our aggressivity
and greed, and to ask forgiveness when
we have caused harm. These simple gestures
of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of
shared life and respect for our surroundings.

214. Political institutions and various other
social groups are also entrusted with helping to
raise people’s awareness. So too is the Church.
All Christian communities have an important
role to play in ecological education. It is my hope
that our seminaries and houses of formation will
provide an education in responsible simplicity of
life, in grateful contemplation of God’s world,
and in concern for the needs of the poor and
the protection of the environment. Because the

149 John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus (1
May 1991), 39: AAS 83 (1991), 842.

stakes are so high, we need institutions empowered
to impose penalties for damage inflicted on
the environment. But we also need the personal
qualities of self-control and willingness to learn
from one another.

215. In this regard, “the relationship between a
good aesthetic education and the maintenance of
a healthy environment cannot be overlooked”.150
By learning to see and appreciate beauty, we learn
to reject self-interested pragmatism. If someone
has not learned to stop and admire something
beautiful, we should not be surprised if he or
she treats everything as an object to be used
and abused without scruple. If we want to bring
about deep change, we need to realize that certain
mindsets really do influence our behaviour.
Our efforts at education will be inadequate and
ineffectual unless we strive to promote a new
way of thinking about human beings, life, society
and our relationship with nature. Otherwise, the
paradigm of consumerism will continue to advance,
with the help of the media and the highly
effective workings of the market.

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