On Care for Our Common Home

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

This is my first comment on the Pope's encyclical: On Care for Our Common Home.  In a sense, it is much too soon to prejudge it.  I have, however, been impressed by the range of commentators.

There's George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, who says that the encyclical is a “potential turning point [as it argues] that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world."  Monbiot asks why the defenders of the living world are so ineffective, and his response is that we are all complicit.

We have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost.”

Thursday morning's Daly News covered it as well.  Here's a flavour:

"He skates fairly close to the idea of steady-state economics, of qualitative development without quantitative growth in scale, although this concept is not specifically considered. Consider his paragraph 193:

In any event, if in some cases sustainable development were to involve new forms of growth, then in other cases, given the insatiable and irresponsible growth produced over many decades, we need also to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late. We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to experience healthy growth.

In the last sentence “decreased growth” seems an inexact English translation from the Spanish version “decrecimiento,” or the Italian version “decrescita” (likely the original languages of the document), which should be translated as “degrowth” or negative growth, which is of course stronger than “decreased growth.”

Yesterday's Reuters UK Blog by Edward Hadas Unforgiving pope is right on money, was a thoughtful piece on what the encyclical has to say about debt and poverty.  Worth reading twice, I thought as I read it for the first time.  It ends:

"As Francis points out, poor lands suffer most from non-payment of ecological debts. Many of them are plagued with dirty water, toxic wastes, blighted cities and destructive mines. The rich suffer relatively little, but their “throwaway culture”, as the pope calls it, is a big part of the problem. Manmade global warming, accepted by Francis as scientifically demonstrated, fits right in. The rich are largely responsible but they expect the poor to take a disproportionate share of the pain required to reverse the trend.

Those prone to righteousness might expect careless miners, farmers and industrialists, as well as insatiably greedy consumers, to get their comeuppance in desolation and misery. Mercifully, nature has up to now been a generous creditor. It is slow to punish and fast to reconcile. But the largest ecological debtors – everyone in industrial economies – should not use this forbearance to excuse inaction, any more than they should ignore the obligation to the poor because they are too weak to cause much trouble.  Justice, as the pope says, requires unceasing attention to 'both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.'  Some debts last forever."

In contrast, there's Mark Lynas who (with Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger) took a critical turn.  The headline was: A Pope Against Progress.  Here's the drift:

Rising Freedom vs. Sinful Fall

The story told by the Pope in the encyclical stands in striking contrast to the one told by 18 leading environmental scientists, scholars and activists, including ourselves, in “An Ecomodernist Manifesto,” released in April.  Where our manifesto argues that big environmental problems like climate change and species extinction are unintended consequences of prosperity — of people trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children — the Pope argues that they are the result of sin, specifically greed, and irresponsibility.

Let's end, for now, with the NAEE blogA strong voice sounds against the denial of climate change.  It said: "... a new voice has been added to the arguments – and it’s a considerable one.  At the very least, the encyclical adds to the resources we have in our work to educate each other about the endangered world we live in, and, one way or another, which we cherish."

Read on, I say, to all of this, and more ...

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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