Pope calls for intellectual conversion over climate

World Environment Day, Monday, 5 June, this year occured in the ominously still eye of the storm.

Jun 10, 2017

By Andrew Hamilton
World Environment Day, Monday, 5 June, this year occured in the ominously still eye of the storm.

The strident public debate about the reality of global warming and the threat it poses to the world has died down. Few knowledgeable people deny its reality, the risk it poses or the contribution of human actions to it.

At the same time, however, powerful interest groups and politicians — most recently Donald Trump — appeal to the need for economic growth in order to weaken any international commitment to targets for reducing carbon emissions. Moreover, their moves do not cause public outrage.

It appears that people are fatalistic about the environment, feeling helpless to affect the future. So they confine their attention to their immediate interests. All the while, global warming does not sleep.

At such a time, it is worth returning to Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ passionate exhortation to care for the environment. The most significant insight of the document is that the environment is not something outside ourselves that we possess and with which we must deal. We are part of the environment.

When we speak of the environment, we are speaking of ourselves. When we respect or exploit the environment, we are respecting or exploiting ourselves. When we safeguard or put at risk the future of the world, it is our own future and that of our children that we risk or protect.

Pope Francis’ assertion builds on the Catholic understanding that we are not individuals who sink and swim, rise and fall by ourselves, but that we live and die by the quality of our relationships.

We depend on one another to be born and educated, for the technology we use and for the institutions that keep us healthy and safe and enable us to prosper.

We also depend on the world around us for air, water, warming and cooling, for food, clothing, beauty and music. If we are to flourish enduringly, we need to shape a world in which everyone and everything flourishes.

Our welfare depends on respectful relationships with other people and the natural world, and especially the most vulnerable. If competition and exploitation dominate, individuals and groups will become wealthy and powerful at the expense of others and of the natural world.

But eventually, the damage caused by gross inequality to relationships between people and the world will fracture the trust on which economic growth depends. They will leave to their children a divided society and a damaged world.

Pope Francis devoted much of his exhortation to insisting that the protection of the environment and the shaping of economic settings go together. Both are human activities and must be regulated so that economic activity respects the environment, and serves the common good and, particularly, the most vulnerable.

He focuses on the conjunction of crushing poverty and the exploitation of the environment for profit to make his point. He argues that if we trash the environment, we trash one another. If we exploit one another, we shall also exploit the environment.

World Environment Day reminds us that we cannot rescue the world from the consequences of global warming simply by better technology, clever solutions, and self-interested rhetoric.

Rather, we need a conversion from competition to cooperation, from exploitation to respect, from disregard to attentiveness, and from greed to thankfulness.

The governments must address the seriousness of the global warming threat without delay.--Eureka Street

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