So it has been a long time coming this Part 2, mainly because of the crazy semester I’ve had. It is now nearly over, and I have some headspace to write for fun now! Now… where were we? Ah yes! The second part of the podcast is available here or you can go read the document yourself. It’s still free on the Vatican website, however you should be suitably warned…
Warning: This document has the potential to radically alter the way you see the world. Do not read unless you are prepared to ‘take the medicine’ without the sugar or complaining.
Now onwards to solving the problem that Laudato Si names: Human Beings, particularly modern human beings. Modern human beings, according to Pope Francis, have lost the point of the economic game. Making money, has become either an ends in itself or a means to mindless consumption. This mindless consumption is destroying our planet and also destroying our souls with it.
As I said in Part 1, the real environmental problem that we are facing is anthropogenic (human caused) but not strictly in a physical sense in the form of climate change, but it is a spiritual problem. The root of this spiritual problem is that we use things for that which they were not intended to be used, or we use them in excess.
Using things for what they were intended to be used for is a good thing. I use food to nourish myself and satisfy my hunger. But if I use food to satisfy my boredom, or to make me feel happy or if I keep stuffing my face even though I am full, I am doing a bad thing and hurting myself.
One person misusing food is not a catastrophic problem in of itself, lots of people misusing food is catastrophic, not only for public health but for the environment that has to grow the food. Just look at the fact that Australia has one of the highest rates of obesity per capita and is surrounded by nations who battle malnutrition.
Taken another way, the US government subsides corn. Corn is a good, nutritious source of staple carbohydrates. By turning corn food to a cash crop has created a massive glut of supply where there is no demand. What do you do? You feed it to cows as cheap food and free up your paddocks to grow more corn. You process some of it into a variety of sugary food additives and put those additives into EVERYTHING. You process the rest of it into ethanol that burns ‘cleaner’ than fossil fuels but it is less efficient and so you have to burn more of it. Bam, you have an obesity problem, you have a massively malfunctioning market and you still haven’t solved climate change.
These quite effectively illustrate the ‘Technocratic Paradigm’ that Pope Francis identifies as the source of modern philosophic dissonance between humans and created reality. The technocratic paradigm is a never-ending destructive cycle of
- Inventing new technology
- Realising there are unintended consequences of new technology
- Inventing another technology to resolve the unintended consequences of the last technology
Lather. Rinse. Repeat. How do we break it? Pope Francis targets Laudato Si’ squarely at those who are most guilty: the Developed Western World. He offers a massive kick up the backside to people who have access to a computer, reliable clean water and a supermarket to simplify things. Noticing the spiritual, communal and relational richness of those who are materially poor, he challenges us to quit substituting people and relationships for ‘salad shooters’ and smartphones (speaking of which, have you seen what your smartphone costs?). It is costing us spiritually, physically and environmentally too much.
In summary, the Catholic approach to environmentalism is really simple and can be summarised by paraphrasing G.K. Chesterton on drinking.
“Thank God for the Earth by not using more than you need”
Pope Francis is not turning Catholicism into a ‘mother earth worshiping cult’ but is calling us to remember that God gave us the earth as a gift to be treasured and enjoyed, not to be exploited and to make us cash. It’s tough medicine to swallow, but we’re getting to the point where we have to hold our nose and take it.