There is important new thinking out there on rescuing the environment and it comes from what some might consider an unlikely source.
It is found in Laudato Si, an encyclical from Pope Francis, leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics. That’s not breaking news. The 184-page document was released earlier this month. Many people have forgotten about it already, which is a shame.
Anyone seriously interested in our deteriorating environment should read this document. Forget that it is written by a pope. Ignore, if you wish, the religious references. Whether or not you believe in God and Creation, the earth is a shared inheritance for the benefit of everyone, Francis writes.
This encyclical needs to be read as the thoughts of a pensive, superbly educated and intelligent man. It is clear and relatively easy reading, drawing on scientific research, reports, observations and other opinions.
Its key message, in my opinion, is its call for a global dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We all need to better inform ourselves with facts so we all can participate fully in discussing how to stop the deterioration of our world.
The Pope’s message is not just about climate change and other symptoms of environmental abuse. It is about changing our attitude that the world must be respected and cared for only because it benefits us. We share the earth with all kinds of other life, and those other forms deserve our respect and our caring.
We live in an industrial system of over-production and over-consumption with woefully inadequate capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. Dollar stores and other discount operations bulge with mountains of our over-produced goods. Our garbage dumps overflow despite positive advances in recycling.
Walk the edges of Highways 35, or 118 or 121 and see the piles of soda cans, beer bottles, cigarette packages and other detritus tossed from vehicle windows.
Ontario produces 12.5 billion tonnes of garbage a year, almost one tonne per person, says the Ontario Waste Management Association. We have so much garbage that we have to ship some of it to landfills in the United States.
We think we are better handling our waste, but that’s an illusion.
For example, we recycle only a fraction of the paper we produce. Most of the paper we use goes into the air through burning, or into our soils through burying. Roughly one-third of the food we produce is not eaten and is thrown out.
We keep talking about fixes but our fixes are simply bandages. Fixes like carbon credits, or other pay-to-pollute solutions, are not the answer because they do not treat the underlying causes.
The encyclical says the world needs to talk seriously about changing the culture of consumerism that prioritizes short-term gain and private interests.
“Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction,” the Pope wrote.
Much of the reporting on the encyclical focussed on climate change and eliminating fossil fuels but the papal message is much more than that. It sees environmental destruction as a symptom of a human crisis resulting from an obsession with economic growth and material accumulation.
Production means jobs and profits, which lead to a better life for many. However, our reliance on constant economic growth leaves us with a growing environmental crisis. The encyclical says that we lack the culture and leadership needed to find new paths.
It notes the positive environmental improvements made in some countries. These do not solve global environment problems but they do show we are capable of positive interventions.
We have made some positive changes. Certainly, ecological awareness and sensitivity are growing but this has done little to change our consumption habits.
People throughout the world need to begin talking seriously about how we can start changing our living style, especially our economic system of more and more production. We need to start talking about how to live happily and successfully without so much stuff.