Source:  Literature and the Environment: A Reader on Nature and Culture. Eds. Lorraine Anderson, et. al.  New York: Longman, 1999.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) was founded in 1969 with the mission of “advancing responsible public policies in areas where technologyplays a critical role.” It represents the effort of some scientists to takegreater responsibility for how the products of their research are applied, an issue brought into troubling focus by the unleashing of atomic weaponsthe product of intensive scientific research in Los Alamos, New Mexico—on the citizens of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. The organization in its early years concerned itself with cautioning against the spread of nuclear weapons and power; more recently, it has expanded its concern to the impacts of technology on the global environment. In the words of executivedirector Howard Ris, ‘We believe that scientists bear a special responsibilityfor educating themselves, the public, the media, and policymakers’ aboutthese impacts.

Accordingly, in 1992 UCS prepared the warning you’re about to read,“outlining the damage already inflicted on the world’s life-support systems and the dangers that lie ahead, along with recommendations for action toavert a global catastrophe.” More than 1,600 scientists from around the world, including most of the living Nobel laureates in the sciences, signedthe warning, which UCS presented at a Press conference in Washington,D.C, in November 1992 and sent to more than 160 heads of state around



Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

The Environment

The environment is suffering critical stress:
The Atmosphere
Stratospheric ozone depletion threatens us with enhanced ultra-violet radiation at the earth’s surface, which can be damaging or lethal to many life forms. Air pollution near ground level, and acid precipitation, are already causing wide­spread injury to humans, forests and crops.
Water Resources

Heedless exploitation of depletable ground water supplies endangers food pro­duction and other essential human systems. Heavy demands on the world’s sur­face waters have resulted in serious shortages in some 80 countries, containing 40% of the world’s population. Pollution of rivers, lakes and ground water fur­ther limits the supply.


Destructive pressure on the oceans is severe, particularly in the coastal regions which produce most of the world’s food fish. The total marine catch is now at or above the estimated maximum sustainable yield. Some fisheries have already shown signs of collapse. Rivers carrying heavy burdens of eroded soil into the seas also carry industrial, municipal, agricultural, and livestock waste-some of it toxic.


Loss of soil productivity, which is causing extensive land abandonment, is a widespread byproduct of current practices in agriculture and animal husbandry. Since 1945, 11% of the earth’s vegetated surface has been degraded-an area larger than India and China combined-and per capita food production in many parts of the world is decreasing.


Tropical rain forests, as well as tropical and temperate dry forests, are being destroyed rapidly. At present rates, some critical forest types will be gone in a few years and most of the tropical rain forest will be gone before the end of the next century. With them will go large numbers of plant and animal species.
Living Species
The irreversible loss of species, which by 2100 may reach one third of all species now living, is especially serious. We are losing the potential they hold for pro­viding medicinal and other benefits, and the contribution that genetic diversity of life forms gives to the robustness of the world’s biological systems and to the astonishing beauty of the earth itself.
Much of this damage is irreversible on a scale of centuries or permanent. Other processes appear to pose additional threats. Increasing levels of gases in the atmos­phere from human activities, including carbon dioxide released from fossil fuel burning and from deforestation, may alter climate on a global scale. Predictions of global warming are still uncertain-with projected effects ranging from tolerable to very severe—but the potential risks are very great.
Our massive tampering with the world’s interdependent web of life-coupled with the environmental damage inflicted by deforestation, species loss, and climate change—could trigger widespread adverse effects, including unpredictable col­lapses of critical biological systems whose interactions and dynamics we only imperfectly understand.

Uncertainty over the extent of these effects cannot excuse complacency or delay in facing the threats.


The earth is finite. Its ability to absorb wastes and destructive effluent is finite. Its ability to provide food and energy is finite. Its ability to provide for growing num­bers of people is finite. And we are fast approaching many of the earth’s limits. Current economic practices which damage the environment, in both developed and underdeveloped nations, cannot be continued without the risk that vital global sys­tems will be damaged beyond repair.

Pressures resulting from unrestrained population growth put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future. If we are to halt the destruction of our environment, we must accept limits to that growth. A World Bank estimate indicates that world population will not stabilize at less than 12.4 billion, while the United Nations concludes that the eventual total could reach 14 billion, a near tripling of today’s 5.4 billion. But, even at this moment, one per­son in five lives in absolute poverty without enough to eat, and one in ten suffers serious malnutrition.

No more than one or a few decades remain before the chance to avert the threats we now confront will be lost and the prospects for humanity immeasurably diminished.


We the undersigned, senior members of the world’s scientific community, hereby warn all humanity of what lies ahead. A great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it, is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.

What We Must Do

Five inextricably linked areas must be addressed simultaneously:

1.We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the earth’s systems we depend on.

We must, for example, move away from fossil fuels to more benign, inex­haustible energy sources to cut greenhouse gas emissions and the pollution of our air and water. Priority must be given to the development of energy sources matched to third world needs-small scale and relatively easy to implement.

We must halt deforestation, injury to and loss of agricultural land, and the loss of terrestrial and marine plant and animal species.

2.We must manage resources crucial to human welfare more effectively.

We must give high priority to efficient use of energy, water, and other materi­als, including expansion of conservation and recycling.

3.We must stabilize population. This will be possible only if all nations recognizethat it requires improved social and economic conditions, and the adoption ofeffective, voluntary family planning.

4.We must reduce and eventually eliminate poverty.

5.We must ensure sexual equality, and guarantee women control over their own reproductive decisions.

The developed nations are the largest polluters in the world today. They must greatly reduce their overconsumption, if we are to reduce pressures on resources and the global environment. The developed nations have the obligation to provide aid and support to developing nations, because only the developed nations have the financial resources and the technical skills for these tasks.

Acting on this recognition is not altruism, but enlightened self-interest: whether industrialized or not, we all have but one lifeboat. No nation can escape from injury when global biological systems are damaged. No nation can escape from conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. In addition, environmental and economic insta­bilities will cause mass migrations with incalculable consequences for developed and undeveloped nations alike.

Developing nations must realize that environmental damage is one of the gravest threats they face, and that attempts to blunt it will be overwhelmed if their populations go unchecked. The greatest peril is to become trapped in spirals of environmental decline, poverty, and unrest, leading to social, economic and environmental collapse.

Success in this global endeavor will require a great reduction in violence and war. Resources now devoted to the preparation and conduct of war—amounting to over $1 trillion annually—will be badly needed in the new tasks and should be diverted to the new challenges.

A new ethic is required—a new attitude towards discharging our responsibility for caring for ourselves and for the earth. We must recognize the earth’s limited capacity to provide for us. We must recognize its fragility. We must no longer allow it to be ravaged. This ethic must motivate a great movement, convincing reluctant leaders and reluctant governments and reluctant peoples themselves to effect the needed changes.

The scientists issuing this warning hope that our message will reach and affect people everywhere. We need the help of many.

We require the help of the world community of scientists-natural, social, economic, political;

We require the help of the world’s business and industrial leaders;

We require the help of the world’s religious leaders; and

We require the help of the world’s peoples.

We call on all to join us in this task.


In a notorious essay entitled “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis”that appeared in the March 10, 1967, issue of Science magazine, historianLynn White, Jr., assigned a “huge burden of guilt” for humankind’s envi­ronmental predicament to the Christian tradition. “Christianity, in absolutecontrast to ancient paganism and Asia’s religions (except, perhaps,Zoroastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature but also insisted that it is God’s will that man exploit nature for his proper ends,”wrote White. “We shall continue to have a worsening ecologic crisis until we reject the Christian axiom that nature has no reason for existence save toserve man,” he warned. “Since the roots of our trouble are so largely reli­gious, the remedy must also be essentially religious, whether we call it thator not. We must rethink and refeel our nature and destiny.”
In the past decade many U.S. churches have begun to do just that, andthe resulting field of ecotheology boasts a burgeoning literature thatincludes such works as Creation Spirituality: Liberating Gifts for the Peoples of the Earth by Matthew Fox (I 991), Ecotheology. Voices from the South and North, edited by David G. Hallman (1 994), and Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology by John B. Cobb, Jr. (1995). Prompted by a statement issued by Pope John Paul II to commemorate the World Day of Peace on January 1, 1990, entitled “Peace with God the Creator. Peace with All of Creation,” the U.S. bishops of the Catholic Church turned their attention to the environment during their November 1991 meeting in Washington, D.C. They formulated their response in a statement entitled “Renewing the Earth: An Invitation to Reflection and Action on the Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching.” “With these pastoral reflections, we hope to add a distinctive and constructive voice to the ecological dialogue already underway in our nation and in our church, reads part of the Statement.
The statement in its entirety consists of five sections; a portion of thefirst section and the whole of the last section are reprinted here. The mid­dle sections discuss the biblical vision of the natural world, the perspectiveon environmental issues offered by the tradition of Catholic social teaching,and areas of potential disagreement (and thus areas where constructivedialogue can take place) between Catholic teachings and tenets of the envi­ronmental movement. The last section discusses the need for new attitudes and actions, touched on by Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati, pres­ident of the bishops’ conference, in these comments made at a news con­ference after “Renewing the Earth” was approved. “Americans are road hogs in the road of life. A lot of us think that the American way is the wayit ought to be for everyone, but that ain’t necessarily so.”


Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, People every­where are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past... A new ecological awareness is begin­ning to emerge.... The ecological crisis is a moral issue.

I.Signs of the Times
At its core the environmental crisis is a moral challenge. It calls us to examine how we use and share the goods of the earth, what we pass on to future generations and how we live in harmony with God’s creation.
The effects of environmental degradation surround us: the smog in our cities; chemicals in our water and on our food, eroded topsoil blowing in the wind; the loss of valuable wetlands; radioactive and toxic waste lacking adequate disposal sites; threats to the health of industrial and farm workers. The problems, however, reach far beyond our own neighborhoods and workplaces. Our problems are the world’s problems and burdens for generations to come. Poisoned water crosses borders freely. Acid rain pours on countries that do not create it. Greenhouse gases and chlorofluorocarbons affect the earth’s atmosphere for many decades regardless of where they are produced or used.
Opinions vary about the causes and the seriousness of environmental problems and their verification. Still we can experience their effects in polluted air and water, in oil and wastes on our beaches, in the loss of farmland, wetlands and forests, and in the decline of rivers and lakes. Scientists identify several other less visible but particularly urgent problems currently being debated by the scientific community, including depletion of the ozone layer, deforestation, the extinction of species, the generation and disposal of toxic and nuclear waste, and global warning. These important issues are being explored by scientists, and they require urgent attention and action. We are not scientists; but as pastors we call on experts, citizens and policy-makers to continue to explore the serious environmental, ethical and human dimensions of these ecological challenges.
Environmental issues are also linked to other basic problems. As eminent scientist Dr. Thomas F. Malone reported, humanity faces problems in five inter­related fields: environment, energy, economics, equity and ethics. To ensure the sur­vival of a healthy planet, then, we must not only establish a sustainable economy, but must also labor for justice both within and among nations. We must seek a society where economic life and environmental commitment work together to protect and enhance life on this planet.

V. God’s Stewards and Co-Creators

As others have pointed out, we are the first generation to see our planet from space—to see so clearly its beauty, limits and fragility. Modern communication tech­nology helps us to see more clearly than ever the impact of carelessness, ignorance, greed, neglect and war on the earth.
Today humanity is at a crossroads. Having read the signs of the times, we can either ignore the harm we see and witness further damage, or we can take up our responsibilities to the creator and creation with renewed courage and commitment.
The task set before us is unprecedented, intricate, complex. No single solution will be adequate to the task. To live in balance with the finite resources of the planet, we need an unfamiliar blend of restraint and innovation. We shall be required to be genuine stewards of nature and thereby co-creators of a new human world. This will require both new attitudes and new actions.
A.New Attitudes
For believers, our faith is tested by our concern and care for creation. Within our tradition are important resources and values that can help us assess problems and shape constructive solutions. In addition to the themes we have already out­lined from our social teaching, the traditional virtues of prudence, humility and temperance are indispensable elements of a new environmental ethic. Recognition of the reality of sin and failure, as well as the opportunity for forgiveness and rec­onciliation, can help us face up to our environmental responsibilities. A new sense of the limits and risks of fallible human judgments ought to mark the decisions of policy-makers as they act on complicated global issues with necessarily imper­fect knowledge. Finally, as we face the challenging years ahead, we must all rely on the preeminent Christian virtues of faith, hope and love to sustain us and direct US.
There are hopeful signs. Public concern is growing. Some public policy is shift­ing and private behavior is beginning to change. From broader participation in recy­cling to negotiating international treaties, people are searching for ways to make a difference on behalf of the environment.

More people seem ready to recognize that the industrialized world’s over­consumption has contributed the largest share to the degradation of the global environment. Also encouraging is the growing conviction that development is more qualitative than quantitative, that it consists more in improving the quality of life than in increasing consumption. What is now needed is the will to make the changes in public policy, as well as in lifestyle, that “ill be needed to arrest, reverse and pre­vent environmental decay and to pursue the goal of sustainable, equitable develop­ment for all. The overarching moral issue is to achieve during the 21st century a just and sustainable world. From a scientific point of view this seems possible. But the new order can only be achieved through the persevering exercise of moral responsibility on the part of individuals, voluntary organizations, governments and transnational agencies.

In the Catholic community, as we have pointed out, there are many signs of increased discussion, awareness and action on environment. We have offered these reflections in the hope that they will contribute to a broader dialogue in our church and society about the moral dimensions of ecology and about the links between social justice and ecology, between environment and development. We offer these reflections not to endorse a particular policy agenda, nor to step onto some current bandwagon, but to meet our responsibilities as pastors and teachers who see the terrible consequences of environmental neglect and who believe our faith calls us to help shape a creative and effective response.

B. New Actions

This statement is only a first step in fashioning an ongoing response to this challenge. We invite the Catholic community to join with us and others of good will in a continuing effort to understand and act on the moral and ethical dimensions of the environmental crisis:
—We ask scientists, environmentalists, economists and other experts to con­tinue to help us understand the challenges we face and the steps we need to take. Faith is not a substitute for facts; the more we know about the problems we face, the better we can respond.
—We invite teachers and educators to emphasize, in their classrooms and cur­ricula, a love for God’s creation, a respect for nature and a commitment to practices and behavior that bring these attitudes into the daily lives of their students and themselves.
—We remind parents that they are the first and principal teachers of children. It is from parents that children will learn love of the earth and delight in nature. It is at home that they develop the habits of self-control, concern and care which lie at the heart of environmental morality.
—We call on theologians, Scripture scholars and ethicists to help explore, deepen and advance the insights of our Catholic tradition and its relation to envi­ronment and other religious perspectives on these matters. We especially call upon Catholic scholars to explore the relationship between this tradition’s emphasis upon the dignity of the human person and our responsibility to care for all of God’s creation.
—We ask business leaders and representatives of workers to make the protec­tion of our common environment a central concern in their activities and to collab­orate for the common good and the protection of the earth. We especially encour­age pastors and parish leaders to give greater attention to the extent and urgency of the environmental crisis in preaching, teaching, pastoral outreach and action, at the parish level and through ecumenical cooperation in the local community.
—We ask the members of our church to examine our lifestyles, behaviors and policies, individually and institutionally, to see how we contribute to the destruction or neglect of the environment and how we might assist in its protection and restora­tion. We also urge celebrants and liturgy committees to incorporate themes into prayer and worship which emphasize our responsibility to protect all of God’s cre­ation and to organize prayerful celebrations of creation on feast days honoring St. Francis and St. Isidore.

—We ask environmental advocates to join us in building bridges between the quest for justice and the pursuit of peace and concern for the earth. We ask that the poor and vulnerable at home and abroad be accorded a special and urgent priority in all efforts to care for our environment.

—We urge policy-makers and public officials to focus more directly on the ethi­cal dimensions of environmental policy and on its relation to development, to seek the common good and to resist short-term pressures in order to meet our long-term responsibility to future generations. At the very minimum we need food and energy policies that are socially just, environmentally benign and economically efficient.

—As citizens, each of us needs to participate in this debate over how our nation best protects our ecological heritage, limits pollution, allocates environmental costs and plans for the future. We need to use our voices and votes to shape a nation more committed to the universal common good and an ethic of environmental solidarity.

All of us need both a spiritual and a practical vision of stewardship and co-­creation that guides our choices as consumers, citizens and workers. We need, in the now familiar phrase, to “think globally and act locally,” finding the ways in our own situation to express a broader ethic of genuine solidarity.

C.Call to Conversion

The environmental crisis of our own day constitutes an exceptional call to con­version. As individuals, as institutions, as a people we need a change of heart to save the planet for our children and generations yet unborn. So vast are the problems, so intertwined with our economy and way of life, that nothing but a wholehearted and ever more profound turning to God the maker of heaven and earth win allow us to carry out our responsibilities as faithful stewards of God’s creation.

Only when believers look to values of the Scriptures, honestly admit our limitations and failings, and commit ourselves to common action on behalf of the land and the wretched of the earth will we be ready to participate fully in resolving this crisis.

D. A Word of Hope

A just and sustainable society and world is not an optional ideal, but a moral and practical necessity. Without justice, a sustainable economy will be beyond reach. Without an ecologically responsible world economy, justice will be unachiev­able. To accomplish either is an enormous task; together they seem overwhelming. But “all things are possible” to those who hope in God. Hope is the virtue at the heart of a Christian environmental ethic. Hope gives us the courage, direction and energy required for this arduous common endeavor.
In the bleak years of Britain’s industrial revolution, Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of the urban decay wrought by industry, and of Christian hope for nature’s revival. His words capture the condition of today’s world as it awaits redemption from ecological neglect:
And all is seared with trade;
bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge
and shares man’s smell:

the soil

Is bare now, nor can foot feel,

being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent:

There lives the dearest

freshness deep down things...

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast

and with ah!

bright wings.

Saving the planet will demand long and sometimes sacrificial commitment. It will require continual revision Of Our Political habits, restructuring economic insti­tutions, reshaping society and nurturing global community. But we can proceed with hope because, as at the dawn of creation, so today the Holy Spirit breathes new life into all earth’s creatures. Today we pray with new conviction and concern for all God’s creation:

“Send forth they Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.”

“Send forth thy Spirit, Lord, and renew the face of the earth.” -iggi