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A not infrequent question one hears, living in the Midwest these past few months, is: "What on earth is happening to the weather?" Endless rains and flooding have plenty of ordinary folks wondering. Scientists seem to be asking a few questions, too. A quip sloshing up and down the Missouri and Mississippi rivers goes something like this; "These hundred year floods seem to be occurring every few years now!"

It takes no sage to wonder if the harsh wounds we have been causing to Brother/Sister Earth are somehow taking their toll, causing climate change and unusual weather patterns. But until a future generation of supercomputers locks that answer down, we can only speculate. Given the stakes, a prudent response would seem in order.

Over breakfast coffee last week, I read some good news ion my morning Kansas City Star. Scientists, it seems, have again measured those tiny chlorofluorocarbons eating away at the planet's ozone layer and are predicting a leveling of chemical buildup. If what they are saying is correct, at least in this one instance we may be pulling back from the brink as we allow the planet to begin a process of self-healing. It would be a victory for human reason -- and it might show that the human family, acting together, can take the required steps to ward off ecological hara-kiri.

However, with our oceans dying, our rain forests being destroyed (at the rate of one football field per second) and an estimated 100 species of plants and animals being extinguished daily, self-congratulations are premature.

My father, a neuroanatomist, used to say scientists and theologians share the common task of mapping out the beauty of Creation, two eyes cast on the same wonder, each aiding the other in providing dimension.

I sense many in our church today might understand what my father was talking about. I think John Paul II in Rome would be among them.

Last week, in a message to 60 scientists meeting in Erice, Italy, to discuss "planetary emergencies," John Paul said that just a decade ago scientists alerted the world to the threat of a "nuclear holocaust,' and now they can alert the world to the need to protect the environment in a way that benefits all human beings.

"The enemy which threatens life and the progress of peoples today is called egoism, lack of love for one's neighbor and a desire for power in every sector: economic, political and industrial," the pope said, calling for a "profound cultural change."

Nothing less than planetary cultural change -- involving, among other things, what we value, how simply we live, and how we measure progress and success -- is indeed needed.

I hope it won't require a few more "100-year floods" to nudge us along.
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Title Annotation:environmentalism and religion
Author:Fox, Tom
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 3, 1993
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