How the Syracuse Diocese is learning to respect the environment

By Jennika Baines
assoc. editor

Usually, people who are pro-life define themselves as being against abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, embryonic stem-cell research and the death penalty.

But should climate change be included on this list?

The Catholic Coalition on Climate Change has suggested that climate change issues be seen as consistent with pro-life concerns in a Catholic Climate Covenant issued on its Web site.

“Scientists predict millions of people (mostly poor people) will be subjected to deadly droughts, floods, heat-waves and extreme weather events such as tropical storms and hurricanes,” the covenant states. “In addition, a dramatically altered climate will impact generations yet to be born. Our actions today could reduce or increase this future risk.”

The Coalition was formed three years ago to help the U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops address issues of climate change. It has focused on three basic principles regarding tclimate change: prudence, poverty and the common good.

These principles encourage wise and careful stewardship of the earth, including taking precautions against causing further global warming. The Coalition serves as a representative of the impoverished who are often among the most gravely affected by natural disasters arising from shifts in the climate.

A statement on the Coalition’s Web site says, “Climate change provides an opportunity to act with courage and creativity as individuals, as people of faith, and as a nation. As a wealthy nation and as the top contributor to greenhouse gases, we in the United States must help to shape responses that serve not only our own interests but those of the entire human family.”

As part of this effort at shaping responses, the Coalition offers several Catholic social justice education programs, one of which is dedicated to climate change. The program, entitled “God’s Creation Cries for Justice,” urges actions that will stop further global warming and will help those most impacted by climate change.

The Secular Franciscan Order at Holy Family Church in Vernon will host this eight- week “God’s Creation Cries for Justice” program from Oct. 11 through Nov. 29. The weekly sessions, which are open to all, are scheduled to take place on Sundays at 4:30 p.m. There is no fee for the program, but a free-will offering will be accepted.

By incorporating films, assigned readings, videos, meditation, group discussion, a guest speaker and a field trip to a landfill or wind farm, the Secular Franciscan Order group hopes to bring a new awareness to those involved.

Tutti Wagner, SFO, co-facilitator for the program, said there will also be an opportunity to calculate each participant’s carbon footprint and to learn ways of decreasing it. Wagner said another important feature will be discussing how climate change affects the poor and whether this issue is hopeless or if there is still a chance to make a positive impact.

“It’s to help increase our understanding of God’s creation and how to take care of God’s creation,” said Mary Walker, SFO. “For those people who are faith-based, it’s to get closer to understanding that God made everything.”

Delores Faulkner, SFO, said she is reminded of the fragility of nature whenever she sees her grandchildren looking at the hummingbirds through her picture window. “They’re so innocent, and they’re so taken with this little tiny bird. And you know it’s so hard for them to keep still, but they’re just fascinated,” she said.

Faulkner said she will take part in the “God’s Creation Cries for Justice” program because she sees a connection between her faith in God and her responsibility to the planet. She said this is especially imperative for her because she is a Secular Franciscan.

“Francis loved God and loved nature, so I think this all comes together in helping promote what he would have wanted,” she said.

Sister Caryn Crook, OSF, said she also sees a connection between St. Francis’s message and her work as an ecology coordinator for Alverna Heights in Fayetteville. She used to work for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and she said working in the wetlands helped her realize the interconnectedness of all life. “This ecosystem is always in flux, and everything always works together, and it’s a wonderful community,” she said. “The more we learn about science, the more we see God.”

Sister Caryn manages the property at Alverna Heights, and she said she plans to coordinate a reflective book club that will consider the relationship between science and spirituality. She hopes to have the book club running in about a month.

When people learn about how their actions impact the environment and the poor and marginalized, Sister Caryn said, “then we are truly the family that God created.”

This call to responsibility is being shared throughout the diocese. Several organizations are “going green” by incorporating environmentally-safe products and energy-efficient practices.

About a dozen Catholic schools in the Syracuse Diocese have taken steps to incorporate more environmentally-safe cleaning products in their buildings.

Hand soaps have been changed from liquid to foam so that less soap is used with each dispense and less drips onto the counter. “It’s also a lot less expensive because there’s air in with the soap so it goes a lot further,” said Jeff Crooke, account manager for Hill and Markes Wholesale Distributors, the company that helped the schools make the change to environmentally-safer products. “And the kids like to use it and that’s what we want, for kids to wash their hands.”

Paper towels and toilet paper are “core-less” which means all of the paper can be used and the paper towel dispensers are mechanically pulled to stop the spread of germs. And they’re not the electric motion-detector type of towel dispensers either, “because remember,” Crooke said, “batteries are not sustainable.”

Le Moyne College has installed 200 LED lights that use half the energy of conventional lightbulbs and have a longer life. The catch is the price: $75 each.

But if the LED lights were to replace the approximately 25,000 lights that are currently in place on the Le Moyne campus, there could be a long-term savings of nearly $200,000. And the College’s carbon emissions would decrease by 17 percent, which equates to 780 metric tons a year.

Le Moyne is pursuing funding opportunities to have the old lightbulbs replaced.

In 2011, St. Joseph’s Hospital in Syracuse will open its new energy-efficient and environmentally-friendly Emergency Services building. Among its other features, the building will have a rooftop storm water management system that routes water to a reservoir rather than flowing it through the water treatment plant; solar panels that will contribute toward energy consumption and a data center that controls the building temperature through several smaller systems rather than relying on one large, wasteful system.

“In the past it’s been about energy conservation,” said Marylin Galimi, director of engineering and construction for St. Joseph’s. But studies have shown that the cleaner air and natural lighting which come along with environmentally-friendly building sites actually improve patient recovery outcomes, as well as increasing staff satisfaction and wellness. “Incorporating these issues lines up with the healing environment,” Galimi said.

While Galimi said that these new building systems were expensive to put in place, many will also save the hospital money. “And it’s just the right thing to do,” Galimi said, “for the environment and for the community.”

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