Righting wrongs through legislation

Our Mother Earth

By Deacon Tom Cervone, Ph.D., Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C., and Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. M.S.

Editor’s note:This series takes a deeper look at Pope Francis’ 2015 encyclical, “On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’”

Historically, we’ve learned much about righting wrongs to promote environmental protection. Two notable authors are Aldo Leopold (“A Sand County Almanac”) and Rachel Carson (“Silent Spring”). Both were helpful in passing legislation like:

  • 1970 National Environmental Policy Act; Clean Air Act; Clean Water Act
  • 1972 Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act
  • 1973 Endangered Species Act
  • 1976 Resource Conservation and Recovery Act
  • 1980 Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act

Today, we have Pope Francis, Cardinal Robert McElroy, Archbishop Paul Coakley, Greta Thunberg and many others – maybe even you – advocating for social and environmental justice.

In the 1940’s, DDT was used as an insecticide for insect-borne human diseases. It was also effective in crop and livestock production, institutions, homes and gardens (EPA, A brief history and status, 4/21/2022). But due to its toxicity, classification as a possible human carcinogen (Center for Disease Control, 11/2009) and its ability to bio accumulate in animals, it was banned in the United States in 1972. Banning DDT helped populations of bald eagles and other birds of prey recover.

Another example of righting wrongs is the total worldwide ban of lead in gasoline in 2021. Lead was added to gasoline in the 1920s to reduce engine noise, but it proved to be a toxic pollutant – especially for children (Hannah Ritchie, 1/11/2022, How the world eliminated lead from gasoline, Our World in Data).

The Montreal Protocol has protected our ozone layer for 25 years by banning the global production and use of ozone-damaging chemicals. Because of it, the ozone layer is expected to return to 1980 levels by 2045-2060 (Ian Rae, 9/9/2012, Saving the ozone layer: Why the Montreal Protocol worked, The Conversation). But other concerns exist today – e.g. global warming, use of neonicotinoids, and habitat destruction.

Global warming comes from greenhouse gases. To solve, a transition from fossil fuels to renewable forms of energy is needed. A national bill passed in 2022 called the Infrastructure Reduction Act contains money to help with this transition. In Indiana, a hearing was held Feb. 20 for Senate Bill 335 (Climate Solutions Task Force bill). The Hoosier Environmental Council called the hearing itself a milestone, but said, “While SB 335 did not advance in the Environmental Affairs Committee, we must keep the conversation going.”

Neonicotinoids are insecticides used on agricultural crops, lawns, gardens, golf courses, and in flea and tick pet treatments. Developed in the mid-1990s, they’re now the single most popular insecticide in the United States, and found to kill pollinators (Courtney Lindwall, 5/25/2022, Neonicotinoids 101: The effect on humans and bees). Today, a few states and some major change stores have banned using and/or selling them.

Also under consideration nationally is the FOREST Act of 2021 (S2950/HR5508), written to protect and restore tropical forests globally by restricting goods originating from illegally deforested lands. Visit the USCCB website below for more information.

What can we do?

Visit: https://rainforestfoundation.org/engage/10-things-you-can-do/                    https://www.usccb.org/resources/letter-congress-support-forest-act-may-23-2022

“There is a growing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it” (Laudato Si’, 19).

Dr. Tom Cervone is a deacon at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Evansville, Indiana with 50 years of experience in ecology. He graduated from St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan University. Sister Maureen Houlihan, D.C. is a support sister on the Seton Harvest Farm started by the Daughters of Charity in response to the Communities - Care of Mother Earth. This CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Farm grows all natural produce for shareholders and the poor. Nicole Cervone-Gish, Ed. MS. is an award winning ELL (English Language Learner) teacher, who lives in Evansville, Indiana with her family.