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Guest Commentary: Right to clean water can transform policies that hurt planet and people

By JOSEPH BONASIA - Southwest Florida regional director for FloridaRightToCleanWater.org | Sep 15, 2023

Joseph Bonasia

The good folks at St. Andrew’s R.C.C. have been very helpful and generous in collecting food for a Cape Coral food bank. It’s how they help care for their neighbors in need, and it reflects how live their faith.

Inside St. Andrew’s, a mural dominates one wall of the church. It is of Jesus sitting on a grassy hillside with open blue waters and a nearby hamlet in the distance. A small child sits in Jesus’ lap and others are at his feet.

If the water wasn’t there the hamlet wouldn’t be there because the water provides food and livelihoods. But the water is there, and the mural offers a lovely image reminiscent of Psalm 23: of lying down in green pastures and beside still waters, free of want, and feeling restored.

On Oct. 4, Pope Francis will publish an update to Laudato Si’, his globally influential environmental encyclical, which was addressed to all people, not only Roman Catholics. It will be an emphatic call to take urgent, meaningful environmental action because doing so is a spiritual responsibility and a moral imperative.He stresses that because everything is connected, caring for the natural world is simultaneously caring for our neighbor. Consequently, when our stewardship falters, people suffer. What if the Pharisees permit a mining operation to pollute the pristine water the children swim in, their fathers fish in, and which provides everyone with drinking water? What if nutrient run-off from human and animal waste of a Roman encampment pollutes the water making people sick and causing fish die-offs? What if Herod builds a palace in shoreline wetlands that serve as breeding areas for the fish the village depends upon?

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social,” writes the pope, “but rather with one complex crisis which is both environmental and social.” You wouldn’t have to tell these villagers that.

Often, those least responsible, like these villagers, suffer the most, and none are less responsible than children today. The children in Jesus’ lap have no clue of the impending environmental and social crisis awaiting them. Sept. 1 through Oct. 4 is the Season of Creation when Christians unite for prayer and action regarding the natural world. This year’s theme is “Let justice and peace flow,” like a mighty river. What if these villagers appeal to the proper authorities to stop the pollution that threatens the water and thus their well-being, but the authorities take no meaningful action, putting their own interests before that of the villagers?

This is why Season of Creation guidelines expressly encourage “practical advocacy.” In his recent Season message Pope Francis insists “We must transform the public policies that govern our societies and shape the lives of young people today and tomorrow.”

This is certainly true in Florida, for whom this Season’s theme should more aptly be “Let justice and peace flow” like a mighty and clean river, for there is no justice or peace in a mightily polluted river, of which is no lack in Florida.

Nine thousand miles of rivers and streams here are contaminated with fecal bacteria. Eight hundred of the state’s 1,000 springs are polluted. Additionally, red tides have increased in alarming frequency and duration. Blue-green algae blooms commonly choke Florida waters, and manatees are starving as seagrass beds disappear.

Floridians have appealed to our state government for years to stop the degradation, but our waters grow worse, and we are suffering the consequences to our health, local economies, and the wildlife we cherish.

There are efforts to amend Florida’s state constitution with a right to clean and healthy waters for all citizens. With this fundamental right, we could “transform public policies” as Pope Francis insists we must.

Virtually all faith traditions “get it,” and they teach sound stewardship is caring for Creation and for one’s fellow man.

The National Association of Evangelicals, for example, states, “Clean air, pure water and adequate resources are crucial to public health and civic order. Therefore, government has an obligation to protect its citizens from environmental degradation and from human suffering that it causes,” and The United Methodist Church urges it members to “Advocate for water as a basic human right.”

FloridaRightToCleanWater.org is calling upon all Floridians to sign the petition to qualify the proposed amendment on the 2024 and get five others to sign.

With only months left to collect enough petitions, we need a minor miracle, but 76 percent of Floridians live faith-based lives. Compelled by spiritual responsibility and moral imperative, understanding that collecting signed petitions is just as much a reflection of their faith as is collecting food for those in need, they can make this happen. Learn more at floridarighttocleanwater.org/creationcare.

— Joseph Bonasia is Southwest Florida regional director for FloridaRightToCleanWater.org.