Ecological Conversion Pledge
In Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes, “‘The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast. For this reason, the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.” (Laudato Si’ 217). To live a “faith that does justice” at this point in history, we must take Pope Francis’ prophetic call to care for creation seriously through deep introspection and prayer about our personal levels of consumption. In this context, we unite as an Ignatian family to commit to personal and institutional ecological conversion, specifically with regard to single-use plastics.
Since the 1950s, our use of plastics in the United States and around the world has increased tremendously. We have manufactured almost half of the plastics ever created since the year 2000. Studies have shown that we produce about 300 million tons of plastic each year globally and that greenhouse gas emissions in this sector are anticipated to rise (an increase we cannot afford according to a new UN report). Additionally, we know that plastics have become the largest source of marine debris in the oceans, threatening ecosystems and wildlife, and ultimately raising questions about the safety of seafood consumption for human health.
Of all the plastics currently produced, 40 percent are used for packaging which means that they are only used once before being thrown away. 20 percent of plastics are recycled globally; however, in the United States, only 9 percent of plastics used are recycled. As we can see, while recycling is essential, we must go to the source of the problem to solve it: consumption and the emergence of a “throwaway culture”.
As the news has recently reported, our recycling system is broken. To fix the system, we must reduce our levels of consumption. This is a central theme in Pope Francis’ prophetic call in Laudato Si’. The phrase “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” aligns with Pope Francis’ mandate, and the order of the phrase is important. Our first goal is always to reduce our level of consumption before reusing what we must consume. Recycling, while it is an essential piece of the puzzle to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, is not enough and should only be used as a last resort.
As students of Jesuit institutions, we recognize that we are likely the recipients of cultural and economic privilege and power and that, as a result, we have a special responsibility to act on this matter. The context of this call to reduce consumption also comes with the recognition that there are individuals and groups in the U.S. (and in countless places around the world) living with the undue burden of environmental injustice. As Pope Francis states:
The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet. . . we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. (Laudato Si’ 48-49).
In the U.S. context, some communities do not always have equitable access to resources such as clean water, as we saw in Flint, Michigan. This is not a call for communities that do not have safe access to water or other resources to stop using items such as bottled water but rather for any person who uses a disproportionate amount of unnecessary resources (consider iced-coffee cups, sports drinks, pop bottles, plastic plates and cups, etc.) and who has access to alternatives to use them, while also advocating to end environmental injustice and racism that leads to the inequitable distribution of resources.
Our current reality is grim, but as Christians we remain hopeful and turn to scripture for guidance on how to proceed in seemingly hopeless situations. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, prophets exhort people to practice conversion, from the Latin convertere, which means “to turn around” or “to transform.” Prophets called communities to turn from their old ways of living in order to transform their lives and avert disaster.
We too live in a time where we must turn away from instant gratification, convenience, and mindless consumption in order to avert the most devastating effects of climate change by practicing ecological conversion. The good news is that conversion is a cyclical process that happens from moment to moment. Every second of each day we have the opportunity to transform our lives and imagine new alternatives to the world in which we live.
Pope Francis states that “Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment . . . Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.” (Laudato Si’ 211) He calls us to practice ecological virtues such as prudence, solidarity, and humility in order to radically transform our interior landscape as we work to be stewards of the exterior world.
While conversion is a deeply personal experience, Laudato Si’ reminds us that “Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds . . . The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.” (Laudato Si’ 219) For this reason, we come together as an Ignatian family, a network of over 75 schools, in order to make a pledge to Ecological Conversion in order to reduce our consumption of single-use plastics. Our individual and institutional commitments will have an impact that is multiplied through our unity.
As members of the pledge, we commit to:
Educate ourselves and teach others about the detriments of single-use plastics on the Earth, people, communities, and animals, how plastics emissions are speeding up the effects of climate change and the direct connections between plastics and social justice issues.
Pray for the grace to uncover the roots of our desires to consume and for the virtues “to make a selfless ecological commitment” through intentionally choosing to consume less and living lives characterized by simplicity (Laudato Si’ 211). We also pray for the people who are experiencing the unintended consequences of our unchecked consumption through, environmental injustice, pollution, illness, intensifying natural disasters, and in all other ways we may not yet have the eyes to see.
Act by reducing, with the goal of eliminating, consumption of single-use plastics on an individual and institutional level through exploration of reduction methods and alternatives and through the development of an institutional action plan.