"Who's under your carbon footprint?"
This question was recently posed to the 87 members of the senior class at Elk County Catholic High School as they studied environmental stewardship and learned about how the impact they have on the environment affects others around the world. The discussions have taken place in the students' theology class, which is taught by Fr. Ross Miceli.
Miceli explained that the class has been reading "Environmental Stewardship in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: Jewish, Catholic, and Protestant Wisdom on the Environment" by the Action Institute, while also utilizing material provided by the Catholic Climate Covenant. In particular, the Catholic Climate Covenant encourages individuals to take the St. Francis Pledge, which calls for people to pray, learn, assess, act, and advocate to care for both creation and the poor. According to the organization's website, individuals who make the St. Francis Pledge agree to "pray and reflect on the duty to care for God's Creation and protect the poor and vulnerable; learn about and educate others on the causes and moral dimensions of climate change; assess how we -- as individuals and in our families, parishes and other affiliations -- contribute to climate change by our own energy use, consumption, waste, etc.; act to change our choices and behaviors to reduce the ways we contribute to climate change; and advocate for Catholic principles and priorities in climate change discussions and decisions, especially as they impact those who are poor and vulnerable."
"We're kind of bringing a spiritual approach to real environmental issues," Miceli explained.
According to Miceli, the students have been working through issues such as 'Is there global warming?,' 'What's causing global warming?,' 'What is our response to global warming?,' and 'How do you discern the facts from certain political agendas or ideas you hear at home or read?'
After learning about the environmental issues, the students were encouraged to sign the St. Francis Pledge earlier this week in conjunction with Earth Day, though doing so was not mandatory.
"They've been through it deciding what level of commitment they're interested in making, and their job over the next couple of weeks is to invite other people to also make that commitment," Miceli said.
Miceli noted that the class has engaged in a "fair and honest debate" about religious responses to environmental issues.
"[Learning about these environmental issues] is important because we need to learn how to take care of the most vulnerable in the world - the poor, not only in the world, but in our own community," Miceli said. "Another thing is that the United States is the second-largest producer of greenhouse gas, so we have a huge impact on how the world is taken care of."
Additionally, he explained that it is important for the students to be able to make informed decisions, especially as they prepare to enter college in the fall.
Senior Jared Schaut remarked that, after spending the last couple weeks discussing the world's carbon footprints, he was surprised by how much damage people are actually doing to the Earth.
"I thought about what I could change and I definitely realized I take things for granted," Schaut said. "We read a lot on the food crisis in the world and it surprised me just how much food we basically take away from the rest of the world. We really don't need as much food as we take in."
"I like the fact that the church is taking a stand on more current issues that are affecting many people today," added senior David Bojalad. "Anything that we can do to reduce the impact we make, in the long run, will help the people who are now suffering from it."
The students agreed that discussing these types of issues in class helps provide them with a better understanding of world issues.
"I think the education about the environment, what's happening to it, and what's going on is important, because if you're not educated [about the problem] you can't find a way to fix it," said senior Alissa Fleming.
Senior Thane Barber also added that, in addition to helping the rest of the world, Americans need to help people within the United States as well.
"There's a lot on our laps," Barber said. "We've got to do all that we can and hopefully God will be behind us every step of the way."
As of Thursday afternoon, 4,585 people have signed the St. Francis Pledge. For more information on the Catholic Climate Covenant or the St. Francis Pledge, visit http://catholicclimatecovenant.org.