Laudato si’: The Catholic approach to climate change


Laudato si’ and climate change

            Climate change is, not surprisingly, the most controversial and politically charged issue in Laudato si’. It has been a source of heated debate and confusion especially in the American context. In this essay I will outline everything the encyclical Laudato si’ says on climate change and then compare and contrast with the latest scientific, technical and academic knowledge. For the sake of clarity, I will distinguish and analyze the statements on climate change under three divisions: science, policy, and politics and economics. These are artificial divisions since these issues are all interrelated, as the encyclical itself indicates, but they serve our analytical purposes.

[Note: I encourage the reader to glance at my two previous articles on Laudato si’ about hermeneutics and its proper interpretation, so that I am not misinterpreted on climate change, as I believe the Pope has been in many cases).

Introduction

Let me begin with a thought provoking – and provocative – quote that I believe gets at the heart of the debate on climate change: “Isn’t it a question of everything or nothing? To be quite frank, the Either-Or people seldom appear to practice their own severity. Their uncompromising attitude looks suspiciously like rhetoric.”

These are the words of Romano Guardini, the most quoted author in Laudato si’ and the Pope’s great inspiration for understanding the relationship between man and creation. However, these words are not from Guardini’s well-known critiques of modernity but rather from his more famous spiritual work, The Lord. The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount. Guardini is reflecting on Jesus’ demand to love ones enemies and on how difficult it is to fulfill this in practice. Faced with such a challenge, Guardini proposes taking small steps in the right direction. The quote above is the objection of the Either-Or people to Guardini’s solution: “But isn’t it a question of everything or nothing?”

Guardini then responds to his critics: “No, what the Sermon on the Mount demands is not everything or nothing, but a beginning and a continuing, a rising again and a plodding on after every fall”. My suggestion is that the path forward on climate change requires the same path that Guardini paves for the Sermon on the Mount – a genuinely Christian one. And this is exactly what Pope Francis has given us in Laudato si’. Let me explain.

            This curious parallel between climate change and the spiritual life is not original. The best book on climate change, by climate scientist Mike Hulme called “Why we disagree about climate change?”, makes this very point. Hulme argues that climate change is a very real threat but that to find a solution to this issue we need to explore how climate change can “bring the physical and the cultural, the material and spiritual, into a new realignment… a mirror into which we can look and see exposed both our individual selves and our collective societies” (2009, 357). This is also the central message of Laudato si’ with regards to climate change – a new realignment is needed: “the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity…” for which we need “ecological conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (218).

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How to read Laudato Si: intention, structure, form and content

Catholics who do not embrace the spirit of Evangelii gaudium will likely be confused by Laudato Si

            In my previous article I already pointed out the 3 salient aspects of Laudato Si: its prophetic style, invitation to conversion and Trinitarian theology. I was going to technically discuss climate change in Laudato si’ vis-à-vis the latest policy and science on the issue. But before I do that, now I find a more urgent need to explain the way one should read Laudato si’, given the amount of perplexed and negative responses (mostly by Catholics) in the media.

I find many of these reactions quite embarrassing for so many who call themselves ‘sons and daughters of the Church’; not primarily because they dissent from the Pope, but because of the (poor) reasons they give for doing so. There are many non-Christians who are able to read and interpret Laduato si’ in a much more open, nuanced and sophisticated way, in the same spirit in which it was written.

My central thesis in this article is that, for Catholics, embracing the spirit of evangelization as expressed in Evangelii gaudium is a prerequisite for understanding Laudato si’. Most Catholics who oppose Ladudato si’ do so because they have a very limited idea what it means to evangelize.

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Book review: “Energy, Justice and Peace”

Energy, Justice and Peace

Energy is perhaps one of the most overlooked global issues of our times. One of the reasons for our obliviousness is that we tend to take energy for granted. The alarm clock that woke us up this morning, the water that flowed from the tap, the food (energy!) we ate for breakfast which allowed us to be productive and perhaps walk, bike or drive to work all tend to go unnoticed. Everyone, rich or poor, needs energy for life – it is a basic condition for human existence. Often times, many great complex global issues such as poverty and climate change evolve in grand narratives that steal the sunlight of our attention and cast energy in their shadow. However, it is impossible to find solutions for global poverty and climate change without tackling the energy dynamics embedded within them.

The Holy See’s latest publication “Energy, Justice and Peace” places ‘energy’ in the sunlight. The book offers a rich, informative account of global energy and provides a clear and balanced proposal on how to move forward. Guided by the social principles of the Catholic Church, “Energy, Justice and Peace” incorporates a breadth of perspectives that include theological, ethical and philosophical considerations along with the latest economic, environmental, political and scientific knowledge. The outcome is a well-rounded account that cuts through controversial and polemic debates and rather offers concrete and positive ways forward on energy and its related issues.

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The Overview Effect of Francis

This video pictures an important intuition, of the need of unity and wonder, which requires us all to rise above our limited and at times conflictive visions of reality. One world united. While the idea is beautiful and the video inspiring, we have a long way to go. How do we really forge this vision among the worlds leaders, let alone the worlds people?

Well, Pope Francis has a proposal. Continue reading

Creatio Panelists Making an Impact

As we celebrate another Earth Day, its worth taking note of the impact of some of Creatio’s speakers on the environmental scene. Last week the Catholic News Agency published an article on the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace’s new book: “Energy, Justice and Peace: A reflection on energy in the current context of development and the protection of the environment.” The book was presented by Cardinal Peter Turkson, keynote speaker at the Creatio Rio Conference for WYD, and one of the authors was Tebaldo Vinguerra, also a panelist at the conference. Tebaldo was quoted by CNA: 

“Tebaldo Vinciguerra, an official of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, underscored the need for a “green economy” which is concerned with the good of human persons, and not solely profits or the environment.

According to the pontifical council, the book “is not a geopolitical analysis, a planning document of a technical character or a universal scope, but rather a reflection meant to nurture other reflections, to inspire decision making on the part of competent authorities … to provide theoretical knowledge to those directly engaged in the field, and finally to increase public awareness of the question of energy.”

“The approach is interdisciplinary and general, as the work of the Pontifical Council was made in the light of the Gospel, the social teaching of the Church and its principles and criteria of judgement, without entering into technical-political details.”

DEEPER ECOLOGY: A CATHOLIC VISION OF THE PERSON IN NATURE

The following is part of an article extracted from Communio 38:4 (winter 2011) 583 – 620 written by Mary Taylor and presented in the frame of the last WYD in Rio de Janeiro

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Fuente de la Imagen: Sólo para Viajeros.pe     (Revista de viajes, turismo y desarrollo)

PopeBenedict XVI, said during the World Youth Day held in Australia, “Reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are scars which mark the surface of our earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world’s mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption.”   Solet us start with an assertion: we are in the midst of an ecological crisis. Or, to mitigate the assertion: at the very least, many people perceive us to be in the midst of an ecological crisis, and even those who deny that there is any crisis at all must still deal with those who do – and that too can take the form of a crisis!

Thelitany of ills is long and readily visible and does not need to be repeated here; a vast field of ecology/environmental theorists and practitioners has risen up in response. One of the central concerns for these movements is sustainability, which seeks the assurance that nature’s resources will be continue to be available to us in the future. Its concomitant sisters are restoration – that which has been, in the Pope’s example, eroded, deforested, and squandered, should be regenerated – and conservation – “setting aside,” whether for genetic information to be used in the future cure of diseases, for scenic beauty, or other uses. While most people of good will agree on some form of these, there are different ways they can be approached.

Themanifestations of brokenness – both environmental degradation and disregard for life – are the result of actions that arise from free human choices; those choices may be economically or politically or even ethically motivated, but they have deeper roots. While there is not one single cause of those environmental crises (there are many proximate causes, some local, some not), ultimately questions about our relationships with others and with nature do not stand alone, but take their place within greater ontological and meta- anthropological dimensions, and must be faced by turning to those dimensions:  what do we take to be real and who do we think that we are.

Arecent text claims that there are over 200 schools of thought in ecology today.  We will consider them here under the rubric of “trajectories,” a word borrowed from Pope Benedict XVI; the word is chosen specifically because they encompass not – or not only – theories, but ways of thinking, of being, of acting, of living. It is always perilous to generalize, but the term is not meant to be totalizing metanarrative, a rigid taxonomy, a way to “control and colonize” ecological thinking, or a way to deny the complexity, variety, and distinctions within each trajectory.  Instead, the term is meant simply to point to, as Wittgenstein would put it, family resemblances.

FirstTrajectory

 Achemical company remediates a polluted site by digging up the contaminated earth andcarting it away. A paper-and-pulp company plants a tree for every tree cut down. A nonprofit gets a scenic area set aside as a wilderness preserve.  Any environmental project which seeks to conserve, restore, recycle, or otherwise manage natural resources when those resources are seen onlyin terms of their utility, and where sustainability is understood as nothing more than “utility extended into the future,” falls under the First Trajectory – the “instrumental rationalism of resource managerialism.”

Sustainabilityindicators – complex quantitative tools combining various indices and metrics– have been developed to highly sophisticated levels. Rightly ordered, they may be useful tools within the other trajectories, but here their defining feature is a reductive mode of thinking based on an antecedent calculative utilitarianism in which all factors are stripped down to the measurable for a single goal: “environmental policies are designed to maximize human satisfaction or minimize human harms.”

The First Trajectory’s antecedents are found in modernity’s dualism between the person and the world; the human is the subject and nature is the object, to be known by a form of science seen as the final arbiter in all human endeavors.

SecondTrajectory 

 TheSecond Trajectory is the home of all projects which focus on nature as a holistic system that needs to be sustained for its own sake and not simply for human utility and efficiency. The idea is not to save nature for humans, but to save it by “letting be.” The same issues of sustainability, restoration, etc. may be considered, but they must be extended to living creatures and to the land. Second Trajectory ecological thought arose positively with the awareness of the delight to be taken in the natural world that was missing from positivism. It invokes, often in expressions of great beauty, the wonder at the heart of our relation with the earth. Philosophically, the Second Trajectory is part of postmodernity’s attack on the presuppositionsof the Enlightenment, including its assessment of the subject/object distinction in epistemology and mind/body, self/nature dualism (eco-phenomenology has been very influential here), and the overemphasis on reduction, mechanization, and quantification, derived from physics and extended to other fields.

TheSecond Trajectory’s holism is a philosophy of identity, in which, Benedict XVI has said, “the person is not an ultimate reality…[since] the person, the contrast between the I and the Thou, belongs to the sphere of distinctions;” instead, the boundaries between persons, and between persons and the natural world, “are absorbed, are revealed as provisional.”True solidarity based on respect is impossible not only with humans but with nonhuman entities if each living thing is nothing but “a dissipative structure, that …does not endure in and of itself butonly as a result of the continual flow in the system.”

  

ThirdTrajectory

 A few years ago, a young consecrated layman, Ricardo Simmonds (a member of the Sodalitium Christianae Vitae and the founder of “Creatio,” a Catholic nonprofit that seeks reconciliation between persons and creation as a response to environmental problems) was given the project of creating a small park out of a garbage dump in a South American shantytown. If it had been a First Trajectory project, the initial step might have been an economic feasibility study, followed by hiring a planning/redevelopment consultant, then seeking out landscape designers, waste management engineers, and other technical help. A Second Trajectory project might have begun with an environmental impact assessment and a stakeholder charrette.  Instead, Simmonds put a large statue of the Virgin Mary in the middle of the dump.  First the mothers came to pray and plant flowers, carving out natural walkways; the children came to play; the fathers came and began hauling the garbage away; then others from both the shantytown and the city saw something beautiful happening that they wanted to be a part of, and volunteered their services, time, and money. This might seem like an isolated, irrelevant, or marginal event, and clearly a religious statue reflects a very specific milieu, but large-scale environmental projects have been carried out in a similar way: by reversing the standard order of starting with technical fixes and economic costs, which often lead to various social or political conflicts, and instead beginning with the common call to meet our deepest shared needs for meaning, beauty, mystery, and friendship. The other steps are not eliminated but are rightly ordered under what is most important.

We can see the above as an illustration of what Benedict XVI called a “new trajectory” in action:

A new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity rather than marginalization.

The name “Third Trajectory” gives the impression that it is another possible path to be set alongside the other two. But it is not simply another, ultimately indifferent choice, or a response to the others; it remembers and integrates what is good in them, while at the same transcending them.  This Trajectory really is new because its very grammar begins from a qualitatively different launching point, so that the ensuing alternative arc of its flight traces a solidarity that can embrace, heal, and bring to fruition all that is good in the earlier trajectories.  This trajectory, to borrow from David L. Schindler, is able “to integrate the achievements of modernity, while at the same time moving us truly beyond modernity.”

Benedict XVI sees both the extrinsic, functional relationality of the First Trajectory and the interrelatedness of the Second Trajectory, whether due to biology or choice, as inadequate: “Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation.” This task, he continues, “cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.” So we begin by turning from projects to principles.

In ecological thinking, the Third Trajectory is only now coming into being, awakened by the growing awareness that the first two trajectories are not sufficient. Operating through dualism, monism, or a dialectic of ambiguity, is too limiting. The suggestion is not to reject instrumental reason, interconnection, or dialectic; nor is it to turn one’s back on sustainability, restoration, or conservation. Sustainability, for example, involves more than insuring that we can continue consuming into the future. Though our natural resources are limited and finite, we have a need for meaning that transcends the material; only the infinite will suffice. Solidarity, which requires the participation of everyone involved, concerns more than merely overlapping interests and diverse perspectives; it involves a reversal.

The Third Trajectory does not necessarily promote any specific ecological practices. It draws on every other level and every other ecological method and strategy, not as something extra or added on, but as that which radiates the light by which the others are seen. Something Benedict XVI said about the Church finds an analogous echo in the Third Trajectory: “The Church does not have technical solutions to offer,” but rather points to the truth of human persons and their dignity and vocation, for “without truth, it is easy to fall into an empiricist and skeptical view of life, incapable of rising to the level of praxis because of a lack of interest in grasping the values — sometimes even the meanings — with which to judge and direct it.”

 Seeing the whole of creation as an analogical, participatory, personalist gift within which we are in communion with all other beings illuminates the experience of wonder and gratitude for the natural world; provides for genuine hope for the future; and opens the door to a solidarity that is relational in the deepest sense, one which transcends the anthropocentric/ biocentric divide and whose end, to borrow from Martin Luther King, “is reconciliation… redemption…[and] the creation of the beloved community.”

Building Jerusalem

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In this new year, we want to share some ideas of  Dr. Elias Crim, extracted from his lecture to the event “Jesus and Nature: Catholic Perspectives on Environmental Issues” organized by Creatio in the frame of the WYD, held in Rio de Janeiro last July.

 To Dr. Crim, Jerusalem is really what we Catholics call the civilization of love, and we are called to built this civilization not only amidst our natural environment but also amidst our built environment of cities and towns. In a way, we are also called to build this Jerusalem amidst the jungles of our own hearts and minds.

 Considering that in these days we can be witnesses of the crisis in the relationship between man and the environment, especially the view that nature is merely a raw material to be manipulated by technology or its extreme counterpart. We need  remember that environment is in fact a collective good and that the uses of biotechnology must  be evaluated with a particular view to their justice and solidarity.

 Likewise, considering the idea that we can link the environmental crisis with poverty, we need rise a new lifestyles that break with the culture of consumption in order to encourage an attitude of gratitude and appreciation at a world which reveals the mystery of God who created and sustains it.

 Taking into account Dr. Crim words, we expect the this new year we can develop a new lifestyle, in each one of our regions, in order to get a more peaceful, solidarity and just world, in which we can be protagonists of   the reconciliation between us and all God´s creation.

 We wish you a happy new year! God bless you

HUMAN ECOLOGY

 

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By José Ambozic

The term Human Ecology has been used since long time ago in many contexts, but it was used firstable in 1991 by Pope John Paul II to mention the whole of the environment and conditions conducive to the healthy life, development and fulfillment of the human person. This seems a providential perspective to bring together and make relevant and appealing to current social debates, the richness of the Catholic view of the human person and its social teachings.

To begin with environmental protection, there are deep differences surrounding the meaning and nature of the environment and the role played by humans. The Christian tradition places humans at the center of God’s created environment and confers both rights and duties on humans. In God’s created environment humans have a right to use nature but also a duty to care for it. They must be the stewards of nature, not only for utilitarian reasons, but above all in furtherance of God’s Plan by cherishing and nurturing a flourishing environment in which all creatures  fulfill God’s plan and give him glory.

In order to get a sustainable development (SD) in the world, which requires an integrative perspective of economy, environment and social inputs, Catholic Human Ecology can contribute to clarify, reconcile, and find a path of resolution to most of the current conflicts that undermine  this SD  by:

–          Building a space and method for dialogue that allows men and women of good will from different intellectual, cultural and faith persuasions to interact and cooperate towards the common goal of SD; such as in Benedict’s speeches in Regensburg, La Sapienza and the German Parliament .

–          Providing an account of the human person and nature that allows to integrate them and their well-being harmoniously in a way that gives sense and meaning; a way to understand and recognize order and purpose, and along with this, mystery and beauty, relationality with God and others; all integrated in solidarity and harmony that point toward communion;

–          Providing the moral and spiritual persuasion to engage people in the reverent and dedicated care for the environment, and the conviction to undergo the costs and sacrifices it might involve;

–          Providing an understanding of the relations between the economy, human progress – including the role of solidarity and subsidiarity- and the care for the environment and for the ordering the social space;

–          Moving the discussion of social issues from the individual and his rights, to the common good of the human ecology that we all shape with our actions and in which we all flourish or wither.

Human Ecology and the Culture of Waste

A few weeks ago Pope Francis gave his most developed speech concerning the environment, available in full here. The occasion was World Environment Day, sponsored by the UN. As he himself says, the environment has featured prominently so far in his Magisterium, for example here, here and here. Following the tradition of his predecessors he reflects on the biblical aspects of the book of Genesis, and the responsibility of man to cultivate, to participate in God’s plan of being a steward of creation. The grammar of creation is written in nature, and we must understand this logic, echoing Pope Benedict XVI. 

Then he speaks of the human dimension of the environmental problem and the deeper sources of the environmental crisis. The identification of the environmental crisis with a moral crisis was made explicit by Pope John Paul II in 1990, and implied by Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes 10: “The truth is that the imbalances under which the modern world labors are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man.”. Here is this point made in Francis’ own words:

But to “cultivate and care” encompasses not only the relationship between us and the environment, between man and creation, it also regards human relationships. The Popes have spoken of human ecology, closely linked to environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis: we see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind. The human person is in danger: this is certain, the human person is in danger today, here is the urgency of human ecology! And it is a serious danger because the cause of the problem is not superficial but profound: it is not just a matter of economics, but of ethics and anthropology. The Church has stressed this several times, and many say, yes, that’s right, it’s true … but the system continues as before, because it is dominated by the dynamics of an economy and finance that lack ethics.

What is Francis’ novel contribution then to the subject matter. Well, first of all is what he calls the culture of waste, where he ties the human problem to an erroneous and mistaken approach to economics. We have become spoiled and used to abundance, and this is destroying the earth, as we waste what we have. His words are radical, and the answer is solidarity:

 Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the “culture of waste.” If you break a computer it is a tragedy, but poverty, the needs, the dramas of so many people end up becoming the norm…A person dying is not news, but if the stock markets drop ten points it is a tragedy! Thus people are disposed of, as if they were trash.This “culture of waste” tends to become the common mentality that infects everyone. Human life, the person is no longer perceived as a primary value to be respected and protected, especially if poor or disabled, if not yet useful – such as the unborn child – or no longer needed – such as the elderly. This culture of waste has made us insensitive even to the waste and disposal of food, which is even more despicable when all over the world, unfortunately, many individuals and families are suffering from hunger and malnutrition….We should all remember, however, that throwing food away is like stealing from the tables of the the poor, the hungry!

One little known fact is that this reflection on the ‘culture of waste’ is not new. In fact, this idea was most developed in Card. Bergoglio’s last Te Deum homily in Argentina, on the national day May 25th. Here he coined the term, ‘culture del volquete’: what is not useful is discarded. His emphasis was on treating human beings, children and elderly especially, in utilitarian terms, but of course this applies to the environment as well. In general the entire homily is a pointed bazooka at the ills of our times. The homily can be read in full here and this section is quoted in Spanish below:

Los extremos débiles son descartados: los niños y los ancianos.

A veces se me ocurre que, con los niños y los jóvenes, somos como adultos abandónicos que prescindimos de los pequeños porque nos enrostran nuestra amargura y vejez no aceptada. Los abandonamos al arbitrio de la calle, al “sálvese quien pueda” de los lugares de diversión o al anonimato pasivo y frío de las tecnologías. Dejamos todo a su cuidado y los imitamos porque no queremos aceptar nuestro lugar de adultos, no entendemos que la exigencia del mandamiento del amor es cuidar, poner límites y abrir horizontes, dar testimonio con la propia vida. Y, como siempre, los más pobres encarnan lo más trágico del filicidio social: violencia y desprotección, tráfico, abusos y explotación de menores.

Y también los ancianos son abandonados, y no sólo en la precariedad material. Son abandonados en la egoísta incapacidad de aceptar sus limitaciones que reflejan las nuestras, en los numerosos escollos que hoy deben superar para sobrevivir en una civilización que no los deja participar, opinar ni ser referentes según el modelo consumista de “sólo la juventud es aprovechable y puede gozar”. Esos ancianos que deberían ser, para la sociedad toda, la reserva sapiencial de nuestro pueblo.

¡Con qué facilidad, cuando no hay amor, se adormece la conciencia! Tal adormecimiento señala cierta narcosis del espíritu y de la vida. Entregamos nuestras vidas y, mucho peor, las de nuestros niños y jóvenes, a las soluciones mágicas y destructivas de las drogas (legales e ilegales), del juego legalizado, de la medicación fácil, de la  banalización hueca del espectáculo, del cuidado fetichista del cuerpo. Las encapsulamos en el encierro narcisista y consumista. Y, a nuestros ancianos, que para este narcisismo y consumismo son material descartable, los tiramos al volquete existencial. Y así, la falta de amor instaura la “cultura del volquete”. Lo que no sirve, se tira.

Second of all, is the Pope’s biblical reflection on the multiplication of loaves. When the community shares in solidarity, no one is left hungry and nothing goes to waste. Solidarity is proposed as the central attitude needed to face the environmental crisis. Here is Francis in his own words:

And this tells us that when food is shared in a fair way, with solidarity, when no one is deprived, every community can meet the needs of the poorest. Human ecology and environmental ecology walk together.