God gave the environment as a gift to use carefully, not use up.

Pope Francis affirmed last month what Pope Benedict consistently taught: We have a deep responsibility for creation. It’s not property to be ruled over at will, Pope Francis said. It is to be cared for and used for the benefit of all.

A recent federal report demonstrates what is almost certain to happen right here in Oregon should the world fail to heed our popes’ pleas.

The National Climate Assessment warns that Oregon’s economy, roadways, public health, ecosystems and farming are all at risk. Carbon emissions are shifting water patterns, altering the life cycles and habitats of forests and animals. Scientists predict a die-off of trees by 2040 and the end of dense forests by 2080. We can expect plenty of large fires in the interim.  

The Northwest’s average temperature has increased by 1.3 degrees since 1895. The federal report says snowmelt will come three to four weeks earlier than the average of the last century. That means our coveted fish will have too much water in winter and not enough in the summer, leading to die-offs.

Farmers will have even less water for summer irrigation. While some crops will benefit from a longer growing season, others will be hurt by heat stress.

Increased carbon dioxide means a drop in ocean pH levels, which will harm fish and shellfish. Water temperatures will go up, as will sea levels, especially in light of new findings about the quick melting of Antarctic glaciers.

We have made strides in renewable energy like solar and wind. But our thirst for coal and oil seems to be ramping up again. We must change, starting with how we get around. Walk to work and to church. Get a bike. Ride the bus. Buy a hybrid or electric car. The world, God’s world, is counting on us.    

Pope Francis said humanity’s destruction of the planet is a sin, making an idol of ourselves.

“When we exploit Creation we destroy the sign of God’s love for us,” the pope said. “In destroying Creation we are saying to God: ‘I don’t like it! This is not good!’ ‘So what do you like?’ ‘I like myself!’ – Here, this is sin! Do you see?”

It is time for us to stop this sin that could bring an end to precious human life.