This weekend marks a notable effort on the part of many world leaders and the world’s youth to halt the seemingly inexorable drift of the planet toward environmental catastrophe. On Friday an estimated four million young people and supportive adults took to the streets of the major capitals and other cities of the world to protest the slow pace or actual indifference toward addressing global climate change by government officials and agencies almost everywhere. On the same day in Monaco, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began its meeting to consider a special report on the ocean and the frozen areas of the planet, which are all under devastating assault by global warming.
Tomorrow, following the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York last Tuesday, a special Climate Change Summit will be convened, with over 100 countries represented and about 60 world leaders speaking. The United States will be represented but will not actively participate. In keeping with his disavowal of the epoch-making Paris Climate Accord of 2015, from which he intends to disengage the United States next year, the President will be singularly absent among many dozens of concerned heads of state from Canada to India.
Today’s gospel reading bears considerable relevance to these events. It concerns stewardship, a feature of several of Jesus’ stories and remarks. The
steward (oikonomos) was the person in charge of affairs, from a wedding feast to a vineyard to the business interests of an entrepreneur, as in today’s reading. It was a position of trust and responsibility, and in this case, the steward failed significantly in managing his property. He is dismissed, but first an accounting is required, and here he uses his position to win friends and influence creditors as he looks ahead to a difficult future. In this he may have been dishonest and self-serving, but he was at least “prudent.”
Stewardship entered the discussion of environmental crisis several decades ago as a relevant way of discussing humankind’s responsibility for managing the earth’s resources prudently, by not in effect squandering the wealth entrusted to us (Gen. 2:15 and elsewhere). But that is precisely what we have done, and an accounting is due. The heavy penalty will fall, perhaps not surprisingly, on the most vulnerable – the poor, the elderly, the infirm, and those caught through no fault of their own in the wake of natural disasters that are quite evidently increasing on a world-wide scale. If anything the rate of destruction will accelerate.
As Sir Crispin Tickell, President of Green College, Oxford University’s medical school, and former UK ambassador to Mexico, remarked in a lecture I attended in 1992, “The refugees of the future will be environmental refugees.” His prediction has already clearly come true as hundreds of thousands of refugees from Central America wander north after drought, crop failures, and plant diseases destroyed their livelihoods. Similarly in Africa and Asia, natural disasters and crop failures are driving millions of desperate people, the wretched of the Earth, to look for refuge in the more fertile and prosperous lands of the north.
The human world will not be alone in the calamity inexorably approaching. In less than 50 years, the US and Canada have lost more than 3 billion birds. Millions of animal and plant species will disappear within this century, as the planet’s life-giving biodiversity is swallowed up by drought, fire, and flood. Fish stocks will vanish, and even tens of thousands of species of insects necessary for pollination and other humble, life-supporting tasks will become extinct.
The world’s youth, increasingly alarmed by the prospect of a future of global climate catastrophe, will be watching and in many cases attending the conferences scheduled for the coming days. They are keenly aware that the present adult generation will not be around to experience the unparalleled and world-wide suffering predicted for the closing decades of the 21st century. They are just as keenly aware that the time for responsible action is at hand. They are prepared to do what their elders will not or cannot – not merely protest but responsibly undertake the stewardship entrusted to human race by its Creator.
“…wisdom is justified of all her children.” Luke 7:35, Mat 21:16, citing Psalm 8:2