Shelter from the Storm

By Clint Springer

Over the last few weeks, the United States has seen a number of natural disasters that have boggled the mind. First, Hurricane Harvey dropped the largest amount of rainfall ever recorded in North America. Not to be outdone, Hurricane Irma decimated several Caribbean nations and then headed north on a destructive path through Florida. The devastation left behind by Irma has resulted in the island nation of Barbuda being uninhabited for the first time in approximately 300 years. While I write this post, Hurricane Maria has left every resident of the island of Puerto Rico without electricity. Finally, happening simultaneously to these storms, the western portion of the United States is engulfed in wildfires that have been increasingly widespread and more dangerous in recent years.

In short, many of our sisters and brothers are seeking sanctuary from the changing climate that human activities have caused.

As Jesuit universities we are called to be witnesses to the truth and promote social justice wherever possible. Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical Laudato Si  states that “climate change is a global problem with grave implications...” This, he convincingly argues, will disproportionately affect the poor. For example, increasing frequencies of heat waves will have profound effects on those of our sisters and brothers who do not have access to relief from the heat, making the sickness and death related to these events much more severe.

This call by His Holiness should be heeded and with a passion on our own campuses. Nearly all of the 28 Jesuit colleges and universities are working to reduce the impact of our campus activities on the environment but we can do more. Some activities can include:

  • Reduce our carbon footprints by utilizing only energy derived from renewable sources
  • Divest our endowments from fossil fuel companies
  • Continue to educate our students about the causes and consequences of climate change in as many as areas of our curricula as possible. One possible tool for this is Conversation Magazine’s 50th issue which focuses explicitly on campus responses to Laudato Si’.

Given that our institutions are to be sanctuaries for truth and justice, there is no easier way for each of us to be “women and men with and for others” by committing to defending our bruised Earth and standing in solidarity with the people who inhabit it than reducing our campus and individual ecological footprints.

Continue the conversation on this page. What is your Jesuit college or university doing to support sustainable living? What ideas could help us continue to build a better world and protect our earth? 

Clint Springer is an Associate Professor of Biology at Saint Joseph University in Philadelphia, PA. He publishes and teaches courses on environmental science, plant physiological ecological, and the responses of ecosystems to human-induced climate change.

The cover photo is a photo of Hurricane Harvey in Texas and is featured courtesy of Junaidrao of the Flickr Creative Commons.