“The world’s resources cannot continue to be looted by mankind” – The Importance of Pope Francis’ Encyclical on the Environment

namib times 19 June 2015

The Pope’s 184-page (246 paragraphs) Encyclical on the EnvironmentPopeFrancis was released yesterday. It is sweeping in ambition and scope. He describes a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, which he blames on apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology, and political short-sightedness.

The golden thread throughout the entire Encyclical is: the world’s resources cannot continue to be looted by mankind.

His most stinging rebuke is a broad economic and political critique of profit-

seeking and the undue influence of technology on society. He praises the progress achieved by econo-

mic growth and techno-

logy, singling out achievements in medicine, science and engineering. But, he adds:

“Our immense technolo-

gical development has not

been accompanied by a de-

velopment in human responsibility, values and conscience.”

The impact of the Pope’s message is likely to be considerable. Although the number of church-going Catholics has dropped in Europe and many other parts of the industrialised world, the influence of the church is growing in many areas, particularly in Africa.

He immediately makes clear, moreover, that unlike previous Encyclicals, this one is directed to everyone, regardless of religion – not only at an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics around the world. On the very first page he writes:

“Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet. In this Encyclical, I especially propose to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home”.

Pope Francis makes it clear that he hopes the Encyclical will influence energy and economic po-

licy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the Encyclical in services this coming Sunday.

Some pertinent excerpts are quoted below. We have taken the liberty of highlighting a few of the sentences.

  1. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness
  2. We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.
  3. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analysing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.
  4. … by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: We 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, ri-ven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable.
  5. Due to the number and variety of factors to be taken into account when determining the environmental impact of a concrete undertaking, it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interaction, and to ensure broad academic freedom. Ongoing research should also give us a better understanding of how different creatures relate to one another in making up the larger units which today we term “ecosystems.”
  6. Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community.
  7. Let us also mention the system of governance of the oceans. International and regional conventions do exist, but fragmentation and the lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control and penalization end up undermining these efforts. The growing problem of marine waste and the protection of the open seas represent particular challenges. What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called “glo-bal commons.”
  8. Environmental impact assessment should not come after the drawing up of a business proposition or the proposal of a particular policy, plan or programme. It should be part of the process from the beginning, and be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure. The local population should have a special place at the table; they are concerned about their own future and that of their children, and can consider goals transcending immediate economic interest. We need to stop thinking in terms of “interventions” to save the environment in favour of policies developed and debated by all interested parties. The participation of the latter also entails being fully informed about such projects and their different risks and possibilities; this includes not just preliminary decisions but also various follow-up activities and continued monitoring. Honesty and truth are needed in scientific and political discussions; these should not be limited to the issue of whether or not a particular project is permitted by law.
  9. This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the qua-

lity of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account, and that, when significant new information comes to light, a reassessment should be made, with the involvement of all interested parties. The outcome may be a decision not to proceed with a given project, to modify it or to consider alternative proposals.

  1. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations?
  2. … Yet only when the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations, can those actions be considered ethical.
  3. Ecological education can take place in a variety of settings: at school, in families, in the media, in catechesis and elsewhere.
  4. Political institutions and various other social groups are also entrusted with helping to raise people’s awareness. So too is the Church. All Christian communities have an important role to play in ecological education.

The above do require some serious thought!

Swakopmund Matters

19  June 2015

(For Swakopmund Matters the environment of the Namibian coastline and its ocean matters)


You must be logged in to post a comment Login