Let in the Light: Integral Ecology and Nonviolence

By Eli McCarthy, PhD
Director of Justice and Peace, CMSM
Professor of Justice and Peace Studies, Georgetown University 

The Lenten journey invites us to improve our sight by ‘letting go’ of those ways that obstruct our intimacy with Jesus. Such a path invites us to a more sustainable transformation which more clearly sees the root causes of issues. In order to see such causes, part of the journey is to see the intersectionality of critical issues, such as climate and violence.

Pope Francis points us in this direction with his general theme of integral ecology that helps us see the interrelations of the ecological, social, economic, and cultural spheres. Likewise, when we approach more specific issues, Jesus’ way of active nonviolence offers us a cross-cutting, intersectional praxis. It helps us to better see the interconnections, i.e. how issues impact, exacerbate, and often depend on each other. But it also helps us to imagine more faithful, effective strategies and policies to address the root causes of such intersectional issues. 

Using the lens of nonviolence to explore the intersection of climate and violence, we can more clearly see that climate change is strongly linked to human violence. When significant shifts in climate occur, studies have shown increases to domestic violence, rape, assaults and murders, ethnic violence, land invasions, police violence, and war. For instance, the loss of arable land due to climate change was a key factor in the mass atrocities and extensive violence in Sudan. The link between environmental degradation and increasing gender-based violence is also being more clearly identified, as well as how gender-based violence is used to suppress environmental defenders; and thus, disrupts our capacity to address climate change. 

Yet, nonviolence also helps us to see how the ecological destruction that spurs climate change is systematic, and thus, a form of structural violence itself. Further, such destruction is also enabled by other forms of structural violence, such as massive inequality and fossil fuel extraction; cultural violence, such as habits and attitudes of indifference or domination; and direct violence, such as the preparation for and engagement in war. For example, research has shown that “war and preparation for it are fossil fuel intensive activities. The US military’s energy consumption drives total US government energy consumption. The Department of Defense is the single largest consumer of energy in the US, and in fact, the world’s single largest institutional consumer of petroleum… Since 2001, the DOD has consistently consumed between 77 and 80 percent of all US government energy consumption.” War itself also does grave and lasting harm to the environment, such as to water, air, soil, forests, species, and habitats.

Once we improve our sight with the light and lens of nonviolence, and see these interrelationships more clearly, we become better equipped to imagine ways of sustainable transformation. We realize that although it is wise to recycle more and take public transportation more, we also need to change our attitudes of domination, significantly reduce our investments in preparing for war, and increase our investments in nonviolent strategies. In turn, the nonviolence tradition offers us a set of normative guidelines for action in the just peace ethic. This ethic turns our focus to enabling constructive conflict, breaking cycles of violence, and building sustainable peace.

As we live our Lenten journey to let in the light by letting go of those ways that obstruct our intimacy with Jesus, I invite you to consider letting go of 2 or 3 specific practices and ways of thinking that increase climate change and legitimate violence or war. In turn, I invite you to re-commit to increase practices and the spirituality of nonviolence, which honors the sacred dignity of all people and the sacred value of all creation.

For example, you might join Pace Bene’s Campaign Nonviolence which connects the dots between environmental destruction and war. You also might get involved with Pax Christi International’s project called the Catholic Nonviolence Initiative (CNI), which is deepening the understanding and commitment to nonviolence in the global Catholic church. You can read a more in-depth essay on these interconnections, which was written for CNI and in collaboration with the Global Catholic Climate Movement. 

May we let in the Light offered by integral ecology and Jesus’ way of active nonviolence.

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