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November 10, 2017
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Humanity’s vocation to caring for the environment

A photograph of the recent oil spill on the west coast of Trinidad. Source:

By Gabriel Yao Nyamah

A few weeks ago the Caribbean region experienced the ravages of hurricanes Irma and Maria. Islands such as Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, Turks and Caicos, and Puerto Rico, to name a few, are still grappling with the aftermath of these major hurricanes. Countless lives, both human and animal were lost; infrastructure was badly damaged.

Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit of Dominica rightly pointed out in his address to the UN General Assembly on September 23 that “to deny climate change is to deny a truth we have just lived”. He called on all nations to join hands to save the planet. This call stems from the recognition of the contribution of humans to the destruction of the planet. Failure in this responsibility leads to irresponsible treatment (pollution of the land, air and ocean) of our environment which eventually results in negative consequences.

The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants; for they have transgressed laws, violated statutes, broken the everlasting covenant. Therefore curse devours the earth, and its inhabitants suffer for their guilt,” says Isaiah 24: 5–6a. And this is exactly the situation in which we find ourselves. The frequency of oil spills has increased. Between December 2013 and January 2014, Petrotrin recorded 11 such incidents. There was another spill in September last year, and this year there have been incidents in January, April and October.

These oil spills bring about anthropological and ecological impacts. For example, they prevent social activities such as beach ‘limes’; social tension between those employed to clean up and those who want to be employed but are not; the livelihood of the fisher folk is taken away; human health is negatively affected by the chemicals which make their way into the food chain; the sacred space for people whose religion involve rituals by the sea is desecrated.

In terms of ecological impacts, marine life is destroyed; the lives of animals, birds, and insects along the coast are threatened; mangroves which are so essential for the sustenance of life in the Caribbean and the entire world radically affected.

The image of the garden in the first two chapters of Genesis bears telling implications. The accounts force us to accept the fact that we are existentially and essentially part of creation; “the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground” (Gen 2:7). The entire creation, for the very fact that it originates from the divine majesty of God, has its intrinsic value. Though we are part of creation, God raised us to a higher dignity by endowing us with his “image” and “likeness” (Gen 1:26) and “breath” (Gen 2: 7).

The inalienable vocation of human beings springs from this higher dignity which comes to us as a gift, a grace from God. And as we are supposed to know, gifts come with inherent responsibilities. The grace of higher intelligence and will with which God crowns humans is meant to guide the entire creation to its fulfillment. We can discern the direction of this fulfilment by discovering the laws embedded in nature and abiding by them.

Scholars over the years have called our attention to this ‘theogenic’ vocation. The leadership of the Catholic Church, especially the last three popes, has contributed tremendously to this discussion. Pope John Paul II urged us to reconsider our moral judgement in terms of the choices we make in life: ecological crisis is a moral crisis.

Pope Benedict XVI, in Caritas in Veritate, points to the reductionist view of development as the cause of our irresponsible treatment of the environment. Ecological crisis can be mitigated when development is not reduced to economic wealth, but understood in its integral nature as encompassing social, spiritual, environmental dimensions.

Pope Francis, in Laudato Si, invites us to repent from this ecological sin since it destroys our relationship with God, with fellow human beings and with the environment. The popes approached the crisis from different angles in order to present a panoramic view of the problem.

The Bishops of the Antilles Episcopal Conference appeal to us to consider caring for the earth as our responsibility. Theologian and writer Leonardo Boff pleads with us to extend our concern for the cry of the poor to encompass the cry of the ecology. According to theologians Neil Ormerod and Cristina Vanin, it takes ecological conversion of human beings to address the ecological crisis.

The diversity in these views point to the need for a multidimensional approach to solving the ecological crisis. Let us all be committed to this arduous but just and honorable course.

Gabriel Yao Nyamah is a Ghanian seminarian of the Holy Ghost Fathers studying in Trinidad & Tobago.