Laudato Si’ came out at the beginning of this summer. This papal encyclical by Pope Francis, all 157 pages of it, addresses the climate crisis but so much more. It addresses it in the context of the overall environmental crisis as well as the crisis of economic inequality and poverty worldwide.
To Pope Francis, “We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis, which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded and at the same time protecting nature.” (page 94)
“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.” (pages 134-135)
I have heard this book described as reflecting an anti-capitalist analysis, but that word is found nowhere in its pages. Pope Francis does, however, make clear what he sees as the root of the “complex crisis” we are faced with. He describes it in these ways, among others, throughout the book:
- “current models of production and consumption” (page 23)
- “business interests and consumerism” (page 27)
- “huge global economic interests” (page 29)
- “present model of distribution, where a minority believes that is has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized” (page 35)
- “new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm” (page 38)
- “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which becomes the only rule” (page 40)
- “powerful financial interests” (page 40)
- “When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society." (page 57)
- “The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and ‘the first principle of the whole ethical and social order.’” (page 64)
- “The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economic and political life. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings.” (page 74)
- “The culture of consumerism, which prioritizes short-term gain and private interest, can make it easy to rubber-stamp authorizations or to conceal information.” (page 122)
- “Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention.” (page 125)
For me, I find this kind of specificity about how the dominant system in the world operates refreshing and helpful.
The people’s Pope puts forward a wide range of ideas and proposals for how to effect the kind of fundamental social and economic transformation needed. Most of the ideas are not new. Here is an example of the kind of mix he sees as absolutely necessary:
“A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries. Such a consensus could lead, for example, to planning a sustainable and diversified agriculture, developing renewable and less polluting forms of energy, encouraging a more efficient use of energy, promoting a better management of marine and forest resources and ensuring universal access to drinking water.” (page 110)
What I found of singular and great importance in Laudato Si’ is how the Pope personalizes the solution to our multiple, complex crises. He definitely doesn’t see the solution coming about via new technology or some new ideology or even an updated Catholicism, though, as the Pope, he certainly sees the importance of active Catholic participation in the process of change and renewal. Instead, he says, speaking of our individual responsibilities, that “our goal is not to amass information or satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” (page 18)
He calls for “a bold cultural revolution ... we need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.” (page 78)
“Men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.” (page 41)
“Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” (page 63)
“It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The issue is one which dramatically affects us, for it has to do with the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.” (page 107)
“If we can overcome individualism, we will truly be able to develop a different lifestyle and bring about significant changes in society.” (page 136)
Just in time, from out of the Global South and an institution with many serious internal challenges, a new Pope has emerged to help lead that institution and the world away from the brink. Thank God.
Ted Glick will join with others in an 18-day, water-only fast in front of FERC starting on Sept. 8, continuing until the day after Pope Francis speaks to the U.S. Congress. Past writings and other information can be found here and he can be followed on Twitter.
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