Why did the environmental issues raised so significantly to the global agenda? Everything should be measured only in terms of impact and externalities? Can we make any contribution to discussion?
At the start of the 19th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP19), on November 11th in Warsaw, the Philippines climate change Commissioner Mr. Naderev Sano said:
“I speak for my delegation, but I speak for the countless people who will no longer be able to speak for themselves after perishing from the storm. I speak also for those who have been orphaned by the storm. I speak for those, the people now racing against time to save survivors and alleviate the suffering of the people affected”, he said choking back tears.
Caring for the environment cannot be understood simply from the aspect of the survival and conservation of species (biologicism) neither as sustainable development (environmental economicism); it must consider the ethic, moral and anthropological aspects. Degradation of the environment not only offends the Divine majesty, it involves the degradation of mankind dignity as image of God (cf. MM, 194).
Man was not given power to destroy natural assets, but to cover the needs of human life (MM, 197). The dominion granted to man by the Creator is “neither an absolute power, nor one can speak of a freedom to ‘use and misuse’, or to dispose of things as one pleases” (SRS, 34).
Some might think wrongly – from a deterministic perspective – that development or economic progress, and environmental degradation are the two sides of the same coin and therefore inevitable.
Technical progress fatally nor determined the course of history or necessarily entails an unfair situation (cf. RO, 31). Environmental degradation has resulted in a situation “dramatic and unexpected consequence of human activity” (OA, 21).
In the same way, MM rightly points out that it is man who missed himself using the resources “against human reason, against the social nature of the latter and, therefore, against the plans of God” (MM, 199).
Development must remain under the control of man (cf. GS 65), because otherwise it can turn against man. The Church warns of the dangers of an immoral development which threatens the human environment, where economic resources “become tools with which mankind is exposed to extreme ruin and horrible massacre” (MM, 198).
While science promotes a greater awareness of the problem, an ill-considered exploitation of nature threatens to destroy everything and transform the man into the victim of this degradation (cf. OA, 21).
If the environmental issue is intimately linked to man and therefore to development, there is no possibility to preserve the human environment without the development of universal Solidarity.
“Man must meet man, nation must meet nation, as brothers and sisters, as children of God. In this mutual understanding and friendship, in this sacred communion, we must also begin to work together to build the common future of the human race”. (PP, 43).
The environmental issue passes and become a real social problem which concerns “the entire human family” (OA, 21).
John Paul II raises environmental destruction not only because of the desire for domination of man, but as a direct result of the greed imposed by a “desire to possess”: consumerism (cf. CA, 37).
Culture becomes a “new ingredient” of environmental issues, as a way of man giving meaning for personal existence. The open search for Truth, which is renewed each generation, is a reflection of the idea that man and society have of themselves and their destiny, (cf. CA, 51) and shape indeed their relationship with nature.
Three days after typhoon “Haiyan” smashed into the Philippines, Nano’s shocking and passionate speech – followed by a standing ovation -, came us to remind there is need of an ethic perspective.
We can conclude: “the imbalances, under which the modern world labors, are linked with that more basic imbalance which is rooted in the heart of man” (GS, 10).
Notes: Centesimus Annus (CA), Gaudium et Spes (GS), Mater et Magistra (MM), Octogesima Adveniens (OA), Populorum Progressio (PP), Radio Message “Oggi” (RO), Sollicitudo Rei Socialis (SRS).
Pablo Blanco is the faculty chair in “Moral Theology and Social Doctrine of the Church ” at the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina (UCA).