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Laudato Si': "Global Inequality"

Sunday, October 18, 2015
We live in a world marked by gross inequality. 

The gap between the few who have in abundance and the many who lack continues to grow. These economic and cultural equalities are compounded, as Pope Francis notes, by the effects of the global ecological crisis, for it is these poorest citizens of the world who endure the "gravest effects of all attacks on the environment”. Not only have the resources of poorer countries been exploited by aggressive trading, often to the benefit of larger countries or transnational enterprise, the environmental impact of the developed world’s industrial culture is set to be felt most keenly in the developing world, who have not themselves enjoyed the fruits of development. Can we not understand a poor society, a community seeking by any means to lift its citizens out of poverty, that responds to the developed world’s call to invest in renewable energy with a simple rebuff: “you caused the problem; you enjoyed the profits; you sort it out”? As Pope St John Paul II put it, in 1984: “poor nations will sit in judgment on those people who take their goods away from them, amassing to themselves the imperialistic monopoly of economic and political supremacy at the expense of others”.

Whilst reminding the developed world of its obligations toward the global South, Pope Francis calls all people of good-will to renewed and authentic global solidarity, a recognition of our common humanity. The ethics of ecology are not merely a salve for the conscience of developed countries, nor simply an effort to reverse the negative impact we’ve had on the world, but are necessarily rooted in a fundamental understanding of the world in which we live and the status of each and every human person in creation: “we need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.” These are theological claims, whatever similarities the Church’s environmental concerns might have to non-religious approaches.

The long-term nature of the ecological problem and its possible solution often lead us to think in terms of ‘future generations’. The global perspective of Laudato Si’ reminds us that creation is not the possession of any particular nation or family lineage, and that environmental ethics are not ordered to simple preservation: in any ecology there is a human question, for we as citizens of the world are embedded within God's creation as the highest in the order of material creature, even if we transcend it as the lowest in the hierarchy of spiritual creature. Our ecological ethics are not, then, reducible to a concern to make sure our distant relatives have a place to live, but to finding more human ways of living together, realising creation's purpose in the praise of God. As the Pope notes, "the human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation”. Authentic ecological ethics are, then, always already a contribution to social justice, to emancipation of the poor, and to the proclamation of God’s Kingdom.


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