The Pope’s Environmental Question to an Astronaut

In an interesting correspondence with astronaut’s last week, of the 5 questions asked by the Pope, one pertained explicitly to the environment (question 2), and one was related (question 1), in the sense of the connection between peace and environment. For Americans, the mention of House representative Gabrielle Giffords to Space Station commander Mark Kelly is significant. So far, interviews are emerging as some of the most enlightening occasions for hearing the Pope on environment and sharing his own heart, as in the extraordinary response to a girl asking about the calamity in Japan. Below the highlights from the dialogue:

Pope Benedict XVI: “…this is a conversation, so I must not be the only one doing the talking. I am very curious to hear you tell me about your experiences and your reflections. If you don’t mind, I would like to ask you a few questions.

First Question

From the Space Station you have a very different view of the Earth. You fly over different continents and nations several times a day. I think it must be obvious to you how we all live together on one Earth and how absurd it is that we fight and kill each other. I know that Mark Kelly’s wife was a victim of a serious attack and I hope her health continues to improve. When you are contemplating the Earth from up there, do you ever wonder about the way nations and people live together down here, or about how science can contribute to the cause of peace?

Mark Kelly, USA

Well, thank you for the kind words, Your Holiness, and thank you for mentioning my wife Gabby. It’s a very good question: we fly over most of the world and you don’t see borders, but at the same time we realize that people fight with each other and there is a lot of violence in this world and it’s really an unfortunate thing.

Usually, people fight over many different things. As we’ve seen in the Middle East right now: it’s somewhat for democracy in certain areas, but usually people fight for resources. And it’s interesting in space … on Earth, people often fight for energy; in space we use solar power and we have fuel cells on the Space Station.

You know, the science and the technology that we put into the Space Station to develop a solar power capability, gives us pretty much an unlimited amount of energy. And if those technologies could be adapted more on Earth, we could possibly reduce some of that violence.

Second Question

One of the themes I often return to in my discourses concerns the responsibility we all have towards the future of our planet. I recall the serious risks facing the environment and the survival of future generations. Scientists tell us we have to be careful and from an ethical point of view we must develop our consciences as well. From your extraordinary observation point, how do you see the situation on Earth? Do you see signs or phenomena to which we need to be more attentive?

Ron Garan, USA

Well, Your Holiness, it’s a great honor to speak with you and you’re right: it really is an extraordinary vantage point we have up here. On the one hand, we can see how indescribably beautiful the planet that we have been given is; but on the other hand, we can really clearly see how fragile it is. Just the atmosphere, for instance: the atmosphere when viewed from space is paper-thin, and to think that this paper-thin layer is all that separates every living thing from the vacuum of space and is all that protects us, is really a sobering thought.

You know, it seems to us that it’s just incredible to view the Earth hanging in the blackness of space and to think that we are all on this together, riding through this beautiful fragile oasis through the universe, it really fills us with a lot of hope to think that all of us on board this incredible orbiting Space Station that was built by the many nations of our international partnership, to accomplish this tremendous feat in orbit, I think … you know, that just shows that by working together and by cooperating we can overcome many of the problems that face our planet, we could solve many of the challenges that face the inhabitants of our planet … it really is a wonderful place to live and work, and it’s a wonderful place to view our beautiful Earth.


Killer Cucumbers and Global Food

There is a latest wave of preoccupation in Europe, as in Germany there have been 10 people killed and many more sick by cucumbers believed to be imported from Spain. The cucumbers are believed to be infected with E.coli, which leaves people with hemolytic-uremic syndrome (HUS). As the BBC article explains:

Most of the cases have been in the area around Hamburg. The Sweden-based European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control said this outbreak was “one of the largest described of HUS worldwide and the largest ever reported in Germany”. It said: “While HUS cases are usually observed in children under five years of age, in this outbreak 87% are adults, with a clear predominance of women (68%).” HUS cases have also been reported in Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK, and linked to German travel. A scientist from Munster university, Helge Karch, warned that the spread of infection was not over, and secondary infections could be passed from person to person. Czech authorities said the European Union’s rapid warning system had told them of an importation of the cucumbers into the Czech Republic.

This highlights the globalized nature of our current food production, and the dangers and benefits of such a widespread distribution system. A  scary study on fish farms illustrates a similar danger. Yet those advocates on exclusive local production, will see that there are many problems of sustainability and benefits of global food production and  consumption in this study  on apples, where exclusive local consumption uses more energy overall.

Latest Vatican Address on Development

Word Cloud "Caritas in Veritate"

Word Cloud "Caritas in Veritate"

This week the Holy See published its address on development at the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV). The conference was held May 9-13 in Istanbul. There have been other addresses published here and here. The environment and related areas (agriculture, natural resources) is mentioned as one of the pillars of development:

In the Catholic Social Teaching tradition the pillars for such framework have been identified as follows: respect for human dignity; protection of human rights; care of creation; participation in community, subsidiarity and solidarity. Other pillars that are judged to be constitutive of an integral development plan are education; natural resource exploitation; agriculture; manufacturing; trade; financial services; infrastructure and technology.

Following the line of Pope Benedict XVI in Caritas in veritate, the central idea is to promote an integral development of the human person. The Church offers a critique of current approaches, and calls for a new architecture based on three main points. One is a reformulation of the pillars as mentioned above, second is the recognition of man’s transcendent and spiritual nature and development in that realm. Third is the role of the State and different actors in development. The key passages are quoted below:

  • The LDCs’ development paradigm implemented over the past years has proven ineffective. Since the early 2000s the continued growth (7% per year from 2002 to 2007) in many LDCs has not translated into an improved situation for the people. The number of very poor people has actually increased (more than 3 million per year from 2002 to 2007). In 2007, 59% of the population in African LDCs was living on less than USD 1.25 per day.
  • The analysis of this current reality in the LDC group has led UNCTAD, in its Least Developed Countries Report 2010, to propose a new international development architecture that calls for a more comprehensive approach to the challenges of development.
  • Pope Paul VI, “On the Progress of Peoples (Populorum Progressio)” in 1967: “development cannot be limited to mere economic growth. In order to be authentic, it must be complete: integral, that is, it has to promote the good of every man and of the whole man.” 
  • Continue reading

Animal Species: The New, Extinct and Bizarre

While there is a study indicating that animal species extinction rates are overestimated, some by 160%, there are also some new species that are discovered. Here is a little article with the decades top 10 new discoveries. Number one is pictured.

The bizarre concerns animal serial killers, and their investigators. Some are calling this animal CSI. In England there have been horse serial killings, and the latest concern swans. Weird stuff, read it here. 

“Grow where you’re planted” (Mother Teresa)

These were the words of the baccalaureate keynote address at USC in Los Angeles. The address was delivered to the newly installed Archbishop José Gomez, who used Mother Teresa’s words as the center of his reflection. I have been to many graduations, and in general I find the speeches terribly boring and hypocritical, including one at USC many years ago at my brothers graduation. Graduation speeches are a world to themselves, and given the pervasive lack of quality of college education, anything that attempts to be inspiring, is based on ether. But this one, is worth a read, in full. 

Recently I attended a conference, and during the panel discussion a similar longing to the one Archbishop Gomez describes, of an American who goes to India wanting to do good, emerged among participants. One of the speakers shared his work helping poor people in Africa and Central America. A sentiment arose, whether we all had to do the same, radical good and go off to a remote country to offset the profound evil and injustice in the world. Mother Teresa’s answer: “Grow where you’re planted”. This environmental metaphor captures an important lesson for us all, the first field of good in the world is ourselves and those close to us.

“People are not a liability”

These were some of the words of Archbishop Francis Chullikatt, the Vatican’s permanent observer to the United Nations, at the 44th Session of the Commission on Population and Development. He spoke on the topic “Fertility, Reproductive Health and Development.” While supportive of the UN’s goal of promoting human dignity, Archbishop Chullikatt offered criticisms of how the UN seeks to do this. He warned of the “false notion that, in the context of population growth, the very act of giving life is something to be feared rather than affirmed. Such thinking is based on a radical individualism which sees human reproduction as a commodity that must be regulated and improved in order to encourage greater market efficiency and development.” This view is simply incompatible with human dignity and the Holy See’s position. The statements of the USA commission and EU for example, endorse the UN fully. Read Chullikatt’s full address here. The main points can be seen below:

  • It is also based upon the consistently disproven theory that population increase will devastate the environment, lead to global competition and confrontation for resources and undermine the ability of women to interact fully with society.
  • The report, furthermore, promotes the tragic theory that if there were fewer poor children there would be less need to provide education; that if there were fewer poor women giving birth then there would be less maternal mortality; and, that if there were fewer people needed to be fed then malnutrition would be more easily addressed and that greater resources could be allocated to development. In order to combat legitimate problems, the increasingly discredited concept of population control must be discarded.

    This distorted world-view regards the poor as a problem to be commoditized and managed as if they were inconsequential objects rather than as unique persons with innate dignity

  • Instead of focusing political and financial resources on efforts to reduce the number of poor persons through methods which trivialize marriage and the family and deny the very right to life of unborn children, let us instead focus these resources on providing the promised development assistance to the approximately 920 million people living on less than $1.25 per day
  • It is worth noting that the Catholic Church provides approximately 25% of all care for those living with HIV/AIDS with over 16,000 social welfare programs and over 1,000 hospitals, 5,000 dispensaries and over 2,000 nurseries in Africa alone.

“Environmental Pope” on the Way to Sainthood

Pope John Paul II spoke so often about the environment, and also engaged himself personally as a canoer and skier, that he was considered by some as the environmental Pope. Yesterday was his celebrated Beatification, setting him close to the path of sainthood. With John Paul II, the Catholic approach to the environment which he began to articulate, and which is continued by Pope Benedict XVI, also is confirmed, affirmed and elevated.

This is special to me, as I write from St. Malo Retreat Center, a special place in the USA for JP II’s environmental legacy, since here he came specifcially to spend time in the mountains, breathe some fresh air, go for a walk and read poetry by a stream. JP II’s legacy also extends this legacy to the places he walked, preached and prayed. St. Malo is blessed for it.