There is an old Chinese proverb that says “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” I appreciate how this saying recognizes feelings of frustration and anxiety about lateness, while encouraging action today. It certainly applies to much in life, but today I thought of the saying when I read about statement made by the USCCB (US Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops) in 1991:
“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 whole human race suffers as a result of environmental blight, and generations yet unborn will bear the cost for our failure to act today. [T]he poor and the powerless . . . most directly bear the burden of current environmental carelessness. Their lands and neighborhoods are more likely to be polluted or to host toxic waste dumps, their water to be undrinkable, their children to be harmed.”
“We ask the Catholic community: How are we called to care for God’s creation? How may we apply our social teaching, with its emphasis on the life and dignity of the human person, to the challenge of protecting the earth, our common home? What can we in the Catholic community offer to the environmental movement, and what can we learn from it?” (From An Invitation to Reflection and Action on Environment in Light of Catholic Social Teaching; A Pastoral Statement of the United States Catholic Conference November 14, 1991)
To be honest, it’s disheartening to hear these questions that were posed almost 30 years ago, but we are facing an ever more urgent and increasing threats both to our climate and the poor. I know there has been some progress in this sphere both within the Catholic community and globally, but not nearly enough. Yet, as I remember this Chinese proverb, today is the next best time to plant a tree. Let us pray for and work towards tackling these questions with hope and zeal.