Friday, June 19, 2015

Praised Be

Yesterday, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment. It's called "Praised Be" or "Laudato Si'", in the original Italian. In Latin, that's Laudato Sit". In case you were wondering if Latin and Italian are basically the same, they are.

Here's how the encyclical goes. He starts by summarizing what the various Popes since 1963 have said on the issue, as well as what Patriarch Bartholomew and Saint Francis of Assisi have said. Pope Francis gives an urgent appeal "for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all."

Then we have Chapter One, "What Is Happening To Our Common Home", which lays out all the various ecological problems that the world is facing. There is a huge amount of pollution and trash; "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth." Products are not being recycled. Even if humans haven't caused global warming, they have certainly helped it along. Stopping global warming, by replacing dependency on fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, is of paramount and immediate importance.

People are depleting natural resources, especially water. Not only is the amount of water going down, but the quality of that water is going down, too. Poor people do not have access to clean water, and forcing people to pay for water is not an acceptable solution. "Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights"

Forests and woodlands are being destroyed, for the sake of economy and industry. This has resulted in mass extinctions. We have no right to destroy species that give glory to God, by their very existence. "Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation." Creating land and ocean sanctuaries is important, and efforts to replaced destroyed habitats have fallen short.

This affects human lives, as well. Cities "have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature." Nicer areas of cities, with more green spaces, tend to be in the "safer" areas, where the poor and homeless are excluded.

"The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity." The media and the digital world help isolate us from other people, their problems, and experiences, which can be called a sort of "mental pollution".

The poor are most affected by environmental problems, especially people in fishing communities or costal populations with nowhere else to go. They are the majority of the planet's population, numbering billions, yet they are most often an afterthought in international/political discussions. "This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population."

Some people believe the "solution" is to reduce the human population, usually through inhumane methods, like forced abortions or international political pressure (usually in the form of "we won't give your country economic assistance, unless you do x, y and z first"). That is wrong. To blame population growth is to refuse to face the real issue; this is a result of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of a minority. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food produced is discarded; changing the methods of food distribution is a much better way to address the issues of a large population.

On the international scale, there is a huge imbalance between the global north and south. The north likes to use foreign debt to control the south. The north creates horrible pollution and ecological devastation in the south, as well as physically importing waste and toxic liquids to those locations. The Bishops of the Pope's home country, Argentina, “note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.

"It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been." Repeated international failures have proven that people care more about technology and money than about the environment. "There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected." A simple example would be air conditioner companies. They really WANT global warming, because that way, they will sell more product and make more money. And so, they will go to great lengths to prevent any changes in the current system; their efforts have been successful.

This reminds me of oil companies, in particular, who are funding Presidential campaigns of both Republican and Democratic candidates. If you bet on every horse in the race, you'll end up with a winning ticket; no matter who becomes President, they'll likely have a debt to big oil, meaning their policies will favor big oil, ahead of the environment.

In the end, we have two extremes. One extreme thinks all environmental problems will be solved by technology, so there's no need for ethical considerations or deep change. The other extreme thinks humans are a huge threat, so we should eliminate humans as much as possible and prohibit all forms of intervention. The true solution to our environmental problems lies between those two extremes.


That was all a summary of Chapter One. There are six chapters in total. Should I continue summarizing the letter? The Pope also Twitter-quoted himself at least fifty times yesterday, in case you want an idea of what else he says in the encyclical.


Anonymous said...

Honestly, reading your summary is a lot easier, so i would love another one.

lence said...

me too, I enjoyed it, thanks ;)