For World Environment Day, ANDY HAMILTON SJ writes that the COVID–19 pandemic offers a valuable opportunity to pause and reconsider our relationship with our environment and the communities it sustains.

This year many people may find contemplating World Environment Day too big a stretch, as we are only beginning to adjust to the ravages of bushfires, the COVID–19 pandemic and the way these events have reduced our world to our immediate street and suburb. The environment can seem too big to think about, and the world too difficult to imagine.  In this context, we can be forgiven for keeping our concerns entirely local.

The coronavirus has focused our attention on the human environment, and on the ways in which we shape our relationships with one another and with the natural world. World Environment Day encourages us to reflect on these relationships too.

In the human world, greed is like a virus that affects societies and destroys our respect for the nature. It destroys the rich and delicate network of interlocking relationships that shape human beings into the communities in which all can prosper. It does this by taking over individuals and turning them into rogue competitors with one another. Like the coronavirus, greed is the prick that penetrates and enters the cells of the human spirit and arms it against others. It leads people to duplicate the effects of greed on their spirit in their human interactions with the world, so destroying the delicate sets of relationships that keep it in balance and supporting human life.

The virus of greed destroys the environment by producing gross inequality, in which some people amass enormous wealth while others live in poverty. The exploitation of the natural world causes pollution of waterways and the destruction of people’s livelihoods. It impoverishes people, who then further stress the environment by destroying vegetation for firewood and crowding together in cramped, unsewered housing. It creates the conditions for more severe global warming.

World Environment Day, then, is vital to keep in mind as we think of rebuilding our society. Will we build it, and eventually destroy it, by founding it on greed? Or will we build it on respect for the environment of which we all are part? At Jesuit Social Services we are committed to ensuring that our programs, practices, relationships and our reflection embody that respect.