Throughout my life I’ve been confused about the complex structure of our society and our goals for humanity. It started in third grade when I told my class that I wanted to be a humanitarian. Not understanding the goals of a capitalistic society at the time, I was confused why we did harmful things to each other and our environment for superficial profits and lifestyles. Why do we spend so much time creating differences between ourselves, when we are all the same and need the similar natural resources to sustain our culture? Why do we separate our religions, while worshiping the same Creator?
Recently, I was introduced to the Encyclical Writing of Pope Francis, On Care For Our Common Home. I’ve been waiting my whole life for validation of my thoughts and feelings about nature and humanity, not wanting to totally spill my guts, in fear of being labeled by society and characterized to a certain group. Even though I’m not Catholic, I know the influence of the religion, and always remember watching the Pope on television at a young age with my Mother, Iveara Peoples, with all seriousness. I had never heard the Pope speak upon the environment, until now.
Every other Wednesday, our 1 Mississippi Outreach Assistants attend a conference call to catch up on River issues and to keep us focus on our goal of connecting River Citizens to the River and providing education on opportunities for people to take action to create a healthier River.
We each take turns discussing our work. I’m usually last, but that day, I was first.
I blurt out, “I’m paddling with the Pope!”
The quiet of confusion rang throughout the call, as I start over to explain myself.
“Have you guys started reading the Pope’s Encyclical?”
Finally informed of my outburst, I share my passion for his insight and explain to them that is the breakthrough we need to get the world on the same page when it comes to freshwater and its importance to all living things. The Pope put a lot on my mind, but his sections about poverty and freshwater really fueled my intestinal fortitude.
It would be impossible to talk about the whole Encyclical, so I’m gonna focus on freshwater because of my stewardship to the Mississippi River. The Pope discusses that it should be our moral duty to protect and preserve freshwater since it’s essential to life of all living things. It should be available to all. He warns us of the privatization of freshwater sources and how this is a mistake for humanity. Corporations sometimes operate in foreign non-developed countries, extracting resources, and leaving environmental hazards behind. Poisoning aquifers by inhuman practices. Clearing rain forest for farmland, that within a few years, becomes arid. The loss of these forests put stress on the balance of oxygen and carbon, making ocean waters more acidic, affecting marine life.
Think about the floodplain: If we continue to block and disrupt the floodplain, we will slowly kill off thousands of species. (Read more about the importance of the floodplain in my last blog The Spawn.) These animals who live in these sacred areas like floodplains and wetlands are essential to humanity. As these delicate ecosystems are lost, we too get closer and closer to extinction. Without freshwater, there’s no plants; without plants, no herbivores; without herbivores, no carnivores. Our culture of entitlement and wasteful practices, continues to move us closer to extinction. Some advances in technology has fooled us to believing we can control our destiny within our fingertips.
Reading the Encyclical has given me the confidence that all walks of life can come together for humanity. The Pope’s influence on the world is at the forefront and could be the bond that brings us together on the problems we are creating for ourselves. This goes beyond race, religion and the superficial reasons we find to separate our lives and well-being. Protecting our environment is a moral issue. We can’t deny any walks of life freshwater , nor can we sit back and bleed our ecosystem of commodities and resources for the sake of profit.
At 1 Mississippi we understand how important the Mississippi River is to humanity. That freshwater fuels life and creates a diversity of habitats needed to sustain a livable environment on this planet. 18 million Americans drink water from the Mississippi River, while thousands species along the River thrive, giving us the quality of life we take advantage of daily. When will we put profit, greed, and wastefulness aside and come together to protect and preserve our natural world for humanity? We are all the Creators protectors of Mother Earth and it’s time to redirect our attention to what’s real.
So when I say, “I’m paddling with the Pope.” I don’t mean it literally, but letting everyone know, I’m on his team. And by the way, I’m a Baptist.
St. Louis born Mark “River” Peoples is a river guide and youth leader with the Quapaw Canoe Company. Mark grew up hunting and fishing along the river with his father. Mark is the Southern Region leader for 1 Mississippi and also serves on the board of the Lower Mississippi River Foundation. When not on the water, Mark mentors Delta youth and educates them on the importance of the protection and preservation of our national treasure for generations to come. Mark works hard on changing the perception of our great River and its tributaries. Through river trips, cleanups, and workshops, Mark’s goal is overall systemic health of the Mississippi River.