On the occasion of the release of the encyclical Laudato si’ at the Colegio Santo Ángel de la Guarda in Gijón, Asturias in Spain, a course on environmental ethics was taught and intended to address crucial questions for understanding the care of the land and sustainability in the region.
The ethics course has a very flexible structure and yearly they focus on a case study. As Laudato si’ was released in June 2015 and the Climate Summit COP 21 held December 2015, they decided to focus on environmental ethics.
Apart from the reading materials, students watch television documentaries and search for information on the Internet that can be shared and discussed during the classroom sessions. As part of the course, some students developed a recycling plan for the school, some shared their experiences on bartering, others analysed the products consumed, mostly food and clothing, figuring out what countries these products came from and considered the labour conditions of producers and the environmental impacts. Another group got interested to develop an article about the environmental challenges of Asturias as their final essay for their academic requirements, and this is now shared with Ecojesuit.
Raquel Caso, the ethics teacher, recognizes that the position of the Catholic Church keeps up with the times. “It advocates for life and for the poor; this is exactly what Laudato si’ says, and this is what people expect from the Church,” affirms Ms. Caso.
Ecology and environment in Asturias
Nowadays, the environment is viewed as one of the most important and troubling issues for society. We all live on the same planet and we all consume and contribute to the exploitation and destruction of the environment. However, there are also major efforts in regenerating, caring, and using resources in a sustainable manner. The environment affects all of us without exception and the negative impact of human activity man on the natural environment is a global concern. But since we are the cause of the problem, then we must also be the solution.
Asturias is a mountainous and coastal region with an overall humid climate located in northwest Spain. It has several natural parks, reserves and monuments and some of the protected areas are characterized by a remarkable diversity of environments such as the following: the Natural Park of Somiedo (Belmonte de Miranda, Somiedo and Teverga), Protected Landscape of the West Coast of Asturias (Cudillero and Valdés), Protected Landscape of the East Coast of Asturias (Llanes and Ribadedeva), Protected Landscape of Sierra del Aramo (Morcín, Quirós and Riosa), Partial Natural Reserve of the Ría de Villaviciosa, Protected Landscape of Cabo de Peñas (Gozón), and Gulpiyuri Beach (Llanes).
Picos de Europa is an important protected area as it has most of the endangered and threatened wildlife and flora in Asturias. Amongst the threatened wildlife is the Cantabrian capercaillie (Tetrao urogallus cantabricus), a large grouse with dark grey plumage and is listed in the Asturian Regional Catalogue of Threatened Vertebrate Wildlife Species of Asturias. This Asturian bird’s population has been reduced significantly due to hunting and the destruction of its habitat as a result of forest fragmentation and road building. The Cantabrian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos), locally referred to as osu, is affected by lack of food and also by the destruction of its habitat for human use. It is listed as in danger of extinction in the Spanish Red List of Endangered Species (Catálogo Español de Especies Amenazadas).
In Asturias, the issue of climate change, as in the rest of the world, is a major problem and a challenge to overcome. We need to develop strategies and projects to respond effectively in protecting our common home. To do this, we have to consider different options for mitigation and adaptation. Studies based on historical data have established that climate change will lead to a decrease in precipitation, increased atmospheric temperature, and rising average temperature of the seawater in Asturias. This will have a severe impact on terrestrial and marine ecosystems, especially the more vulnerable ones. The most important changes are expected to affect rainfall and temperature during summer. Major changes are expected east and west of the mountain range.
Sustainable policies demand that people and economies do not abuse nature and ensure a better environment for human development, and we are invited to be part of this movement to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), despite the inconveniences and challenges.
In Asturias, we are working on a few steps to try to reduce the impact of climate change, such as reducing electricity consumption as well as losses in its distribution and transport and favouring low energy investments that operate through local communities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
We have a lot of potential in Asturias to take care of the environment and there is an urgent need to review our education and shift the entrepreneurial mindset that dominates our relationships. Asturias’ industries could get involved in regenerating the region’s forests using our own species and a new economy that makes use of the natural environment such as the sea in rural tourism needs to be promoted. We could all make these happen without damaging the environment.
This article comes from the collective contributions of Myeong-zhi Song Lim, Aiyana García Huch, Elena Alcoba Fernández and Ángela Méndez Suárez, students at Colegio Santo Ángel de la Guarda who all took the ethics course taught by Raquel Caso Roiz during schoolyear 2015-2016.