In his 2015 Encyclical Laudato Si, “On Care for Our Common Home,” Pope Francis calls us to repent of our “sins against Creation” and the ways in which, as individuals and societies of the global family, our wastefulness, greed, and short-sightedness have degraded forests and wetlands, polluted air and water, and changed the climate in ways that cause all forms of life – plant, animal, and human – to suffer.
Focusing on the “spiritual roots of environmental problems,” Pope Francis invites us to look not only toward technological changes in our behaviors that are hurting our common home, but also to “a change of humanity” that moves us to act in humble recognition of the sacred connection between all things “in the seamless garment of God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet.”
This spirit animates the Sisters’ ecological ministries, their efforts to live sustainably in caring for the 80-acre Baden campus, and their outreach to the dear neighbor through the Sustainability Committee, which offers ideas on simple changes we can all make to honor the gift of Creation through conserving and protecting our air, land, and water.
As we approach Earth Day, we hope you’ll join us in embracing opportunities to reduce our carbon footprint, as individuals and as a community. One of the best ways to do this is to plant a tree, explains Sister Lyn Szymkiewicz, a member of the Leadership Team member and of the Congregation’s Sustainability Committee. “Trees are the number one sequester of carbon dioxide (CO2),” she says, grateful that in both 2019 and 2020, the Sisters were able to plant 50 trees on the grounds.
“If we’re looking at engaging climate change or decreasing the amounts of CO2 in our environment, then we need to look at taking a carbon footprint challenge – and see what your carbon footprint is, and if there’s a way you can decrease it,” Sister Lyn says.
She offers a few simple changes we can all make to begin to do this:
Swap a bike ride for a car ride: While it may not be feasible for everyone to bike to work, based on the length of your commute or the safety of the route, swapping a bicycle for a fossil-fuel powered automobile is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. A person with a 10-mile round trip commute could reduce their CO2 emissions by 4,040 grams in just one day. Carpooling or utilizing public transportation also use less energy than driving alone.
Plant a garden: Growing your own food reduces carbon emissions generated by the transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables from large agricultural farms to your local grocery store. Collecting fresh rainwater by using rain barrels and composting organic waste to provide nutrients to the soil, as the Sisters do in their gardens, helps to conserve water, decrease energy use, and keep trash out of landfills – a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution.
Plant a tree: Providing a home for birds and squirrels, shade for people and plants, and enjoyment on breezy days, trees are also the best way to stop carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere and heating up the planet. Trees naturally sequester carbon emissions, absorbing CO2 and using it as fuel, along with water and sunshine, to build their roots, trunk, branches, and leaves. A mature tree can remove up to 48 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere (releasing oxygen in exchange) in just one year.
These are just a few simple but significant steps each of us can take to protect our common home, Sister Lyn explains, adding that “it’s a challenge for any of us that we just look at another way of caring for our Earth, and one another.”