New models for global development needed

Transparency is an essential element in the dialogue to find better ways of preserving the environment, according to the pope, especially transparency in the assessment of the environmental impact of business ventures and projects.

Oct 01, 2015

Fr. Thomas J. Reese

By Fr. Thomas J. Reese
Transparency is an essential element in the dialogue to find better ways of preserving the environment, according to the pope, especially transparency in the assessment of the environmental impact of business ventures and projects. Corruption, on the other hand, conceals “the actual environmental impact of a given project” and produces “specious agreements which fail to inform adequately and to allow for full debate.”

What is needed is environmental impact assessments that are “interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure.” Only when scientific and political discussions are imbued with honesty and truth can all the different stakeholders reach a consensus on the alternatives available. “The culture of consumerism, which prioritizes short-term gain and private interest, can make it easy to rubber-stamp authorizations or to conceal information.”

Francis calls for a thorough investigation and discussion of any proposed venture. “What will it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how?”

If a study finds that “serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified.” He recognizes that sometimes the evidence is disputable. In such cases, the burden of proof should be on the projects promoters “to demonstrate that the proposed activity will not cause serious harm to the environment or to those who inhabit it.”

The bottom line for Francis is that “profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account.” Francis believes that “Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy.” Rather they should be in dialogue for the common good.

He complains that this did not happen during the recent banking crisis. “Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system.” The response to the crisis “did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.”

Nor does Francis believe that the environmental protection can assured by simply calculating costs and benefits and leaving solutions to market forces. “We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.” He believes that it is unrealistic 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.”

On the contrary, “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,” he writes. “Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.”

Francis believes that the economic argument is in fact on his side. “Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term,” he writes. “If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable.”

But what he would really like to see is a change from an excessive technological investment in consumption to greater investment in resolving urgent problems facing the human family. He also believes that we need “to think of containing growth by setting some reasonable limits and even retracing our steps before it is too late.” The behavior of those who constantly consume and destroy is unsustainable, “while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity.” As a result, “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.”

Francis is calling for new models of global development that redefine our notion of progress. “A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.”

Those who want to maximize profits do not calculate “the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution.” Profits are increased by ignoring externalities, the costs imposed on others including future generations. This is why we need “a politics which is farsighted and capable of a new, integral and interdisciplinary approach to handling the different aspects of the crisis.” But corruption and short-sightedness cripples politics so that it fails to enact sound public policy and fulfill its responsibilities.

Finally, Pope Francis calls for a dialogue between religion and science. He does not believe that science can provide a complete explanation of life since the scientific methodology leaves little room “for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason’s ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things.”

For those who put their faith in technology, he says, “Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.”

At the same time, he says believers must acknowledge that “a mistaken understanding of our own principles has at times led us to justify mistreating nature, to exercise tyranny over creation, to engage in war, injustice and acts of violence.”

Solutions will come only though dialogue “for the sake of protecting nature, defending the poor, and building networks of respect and fraternity,” he writes. “The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which requires patience, self-discipline and generosity.”

“Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history,” he writes, “nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.”--NCR

--Continued from last week

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