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  • Writer's picturethewrightecotheologian

Awakening of Green to Black

Updated: Feb 11, 2023

As an ecotheologian and person living in a broken and beautiful world, I have had the privilege of studying our universe from its quantum to the galactic levels. I also am familiar with the way faith traditions speak of the making and maker of this world. But I'm not the only one. Pope Francis’ groundbreaking green encyclical Laudato Si’ celebrated its 5th birthday on May 24th and in it he calls for ecological conversation. He also called for a year of reflection and action.

Pope Francis said, “I sought to draw attention to the cry of the earth and of the poor.”

And then 8 minutes and 46 seconds on May 25th changed the world.

People are asking me how the movement “black lives matter” and caring for Earth connect. Should they? Can they? How does a year reflecting on a green papal letter help? Do we need to drop our environmental activism in light of the oppression of our human brethren?

This is not the first time this has been asked. Decades ago Thomas Berry was asked the same thing by liberation theologians in light of the oppression and killing happening in South America.

How could Berry care for the lives of sparrows when human brothers and sisters were being killed in South America. To paraphrase his answer, both forms of oppression are intimately


Yes. My answer like Berry's speaks of an inclusive vision of ecojustice and planetary citizenship. When it is not, justice cannot be had.

This must be the beginning, middle, and end of a year of reflection Laudato Si.' Justice for George Floyd must be the litmus test for living out an ecological conversation.

Human injustices like racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, and oppression of Earth intersect. We cannot care for people yet destroy the air, water, and land they need for spiritual, social, and physical well being. We also cannot kick people out of their homes to make space for animal sanctuaries or place the burden of moving to sustainable living on the backs of those who have contributed the least to the ecological crisis.

We must live in the tension and vulnerability of the intersectionality of ecological, social, and economic justice.

Just a day ago I began to see more responses by ecological advocates to current events. One recent anonymous quote was posted on social media really explains this intersectionality well -- my only hesitation is the use of environmentalism since this historically assumes that humans are inherently separate from the environment which is just not true:

“This is an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for both the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silent social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people + the planet.”

This is a moment to reflect on ecojustice to make sure that it is not separate from a vigorous and vocal call for justice for our vulnerable and marginalized -- and terrorized communities.

Ask yourself this:

  • Where are the poor forced to live, work, and play? Do they have the same access to green areas that affluent, influential communities have? Is there the same access to fresh produce, recreational areas, beautiful parks, and clean water? If not, then this is where work needs to be done and done in a way that allows pollinators, soils, and lakes to thrive too.

  • Where are land waste facilities or coal mining operations placed? Are they distributed fairly? From my research, they are not located in wealthier areas since these individuals have the time and social capital to fight this placement. This is an area of ecojustice work. Every parent has the right to provide a safe space for their children -- and ecojustice calls forth the responsibility to become aware of who is being denied this right. We also need to look at why there is a need for more waste sites and nonrenewable carbon-based fossil fuels and diminish this need so there is no site to fight against.

  • And when a pandemic like COVID19 hits, who are the most vulnerable to its effects? Evidence is pointing more and more to the fact that communities of color are bearing the brunt of the medical effects as well as the long term social and economic hardships.

This is why on June 5th Governor Roy Cooper called for a task force to address disparities in healthcare, patient engagement, economic opportunities, environmental justice, and education in communities of color. LINK

But what the Governor is doing is not new. In 2015 the United Nations agreed to a plan for a peaceful and prosperous world -- and these sustainable development goals for 2030 are ecosocial justice ideas: reduced inequalities, climate action, no poverty, life below the water, gender equality, life on land, and so on...

Intertwining well-being for the planet and people.

I am sad that it took George Floyd's death to move it forward in North Carolina.

But many black activists and environmentalists have been speaking loudly about this for a while. We need to listen to them and make changes:

  • “Black Environmentalists Talk About Climate and Anti-Racism” NY Times June 3, 2020, written by Somini Sengupta

It is past time that green awakens to Black in the US -- and this is an essential part of the ecological conversion called for by Pope Francis and other faith leaders.

My future blogs will be highlighting the theology and ideas of Laudato Si' as a springboard to this conversation to green. Pope Francis challenged people of faith to spend a year reflecting on the wisdom in this green encyclical and how to live this every day.

My goal is to highlight not only what it says but also what it does not name - how to live Laudato Si' and the justice this demands.

For that, I will be offering reflections, activities, challenges, group discussions alongside examples of places, religious organizations, businesses, non-profits, and compassionate people who are living Laudato Si' creatively, vigorously and faithfully.

And I hope you take the time to reach out with your ideas, reflections, and examples of living Laudato Si.' I would love to showcase them ... it will take a village to enact the vision of justice held in the pages of this green letter from Pope Francis.

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1 Comment

Gabriela Cabrera
Gabriela Cabrera
Jun 08, 2020

What a great post!

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