July 10, 2015

There’s No Planet B.


There’s a joke going around that Pope Francis’ manifesto is like Naomi Klein on steroids.

Although Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si” is a scathing criticism of climate deniers, Big Business, and the politicians who cow-tow to Big Business, Naomi Klein in her book, This Changes Everything offers more solutions to the climate change crisis.

But both do show that, because environment and climate are interrelated with every facet of our life—our social, economic, cultural and ethical systems need an overhaul. And both agree that since humans have created the present mess on this planet, humans need to clean it up. There’s no “Planet B.”

Pope Francis’ “Laudato Si” is a call for a sweepingly bold “integral” revolution to correct these “structurally perverse” systems in which the rich exploit the poor while turning Earth into an “immense pile of filth.” It is a timely urge to action on behalf of the global environment, because “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” But unlike Naomi Klein, he does not go into specific ways to redress or remedy the situation.

But what he does do is to give a moral reason to act to save the planet’s precious biodiversity. Over and over he urges everyone to contemplate the cause and effect relationships of our human activity on Earth, “our common home.” To do so he says we need to re-educate our habits and change our values. He says this environmental education is necessary to curb the old model of unlimited progress and competition of the unregulated market.

Furthermore last month the medical journal Lancet called climate change an “emergency” that could undermine 50 years of progress in public health.

Thus, it is no longer scientifically sustainable to deny the fact of climate change and the harm it is doing to this planet.

And the Pope minces no words in his manifesto. Perhaps he has seen satellite photos of Canada’s expanding tar sands or of Brazil’s diminishing rainforests, or of the choking charcoal layer of smog making China invisible.

In any case, by framing climate change as a moral crisis, and by blaming outright the fossil fuel based industrial model, he has gained tremendous support for both environmental and social justice causes. Furthermore, his document is clearly aimed at inspiring decision-makers at the UN climate negotiations as well as encouraging green domestic policies everywhere.

And his message is not exclusively for the Catholic faithful but for people of every faith and even people of no faith to undergo an awakening. “Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the Earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone.”

But to wake up he says we must first acknowledge the man-made mess we’re in: “Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If the present trend continues, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.”

Scientific data backs up the Pope’s warnings: The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released figures last month showing that May 2015 was the hottest month in 136 years of global records! This Pope with a science background knows his facts.

Climate scientists also published their findings in the January 15, 2015 journal entitled Science stating that, in fact, human activities have already broken the “boundaries” of extinction, deforestation, atmospheric carbon dioxide and both nitrogen and phosphorous pollution from fertilizer. (Fertilizer runoff pollution is, for example, responsible for Lake Erie’s “dead zone” choked with algae.)

The Pope blames politicians for listening more to oil industry interests than to science, common sense or to the cries of the poor.

Perhaps he was thinking of Prime Minister Harper of Canada, who, while cancelling the Kelowna Accord meant to help First Nations improve their health and education, and while cutting funding to women and minority groups by 40 percent (forcing the closure of 12 out of 16 offices)—also refused to sign the UN Declaration of Clean Water as a Human Right! This is the PM that, while renaming the Government of Canada the “Harper Government” in 2010, gutted environmental laws and policies and did not even mention climate change in the 2015 federal budget. Asked about this, Harper’s finance minister Joe Oliver asserted in an amazing display of ignorance, “Future problems created by the 2015 federal budget should be left to the Prime Minister’s granddaughter to solve!”

Consequently Canada is now ranked 55 out of 58 nations in its efforts to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

The Pope may also have been thinking of those U.S. Congressional Republicans who still deny the scientific reality of climate change—because they are in the pockets of certain rich campaign contributors. It is “the myopia of power politics (which) delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda.”

These politicians are not moving North America toward a carbon-free culture. This is left to states, provinces and citizens who more and more are moving toward things environmentally friendly by seeking “green” products, services and lifestyles.

And the Pope applauds these efforts. “In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy. This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference.”

But he also says this is not happening fast or comprehensively enough. “Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster,” and in order to change we must redefine the meaning of “progress.”

It is not a matter of environment versus economy, as many politicians would have us believe. What is needed is federal and international coordinated action to really address the ecological crisis. The Pope rebukes the weak international response and slow action, but indicates that there is hope if we change our view, our values and our methods. In paragraph 165 of his document he says, “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels—especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree gas—needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

As Naomi Klein put it, “A caring society would value the elements that sustain us along with the natural beauty of wilderness and wildlife.”

In paragraphs 91 and 92 the Pope says, “A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings.” And he adds that this compassion and care “excludes nothing and no one.”

Then he launches into the issue of global inequality. He says there should be “an ethics of international relations. A true ecological debt exists, particularly between the global North and South, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.”

Everyone knows who these “certain countries” are. As Naomi Klein says in This Changes Everything, “This is the view of extractivism, which is directly connected to the creation of sacrifice zones—places that can be poisoned like Lake Erie, or drained like rivers in California, or destroyed like the boreal forests of Alberta for economic ‘progress.’”

And she goes on to spell it out: “If wealthy countries do not want poorer ones to pull themselves out of poverty in the same dirty way, the onus is on Northern governments to help foot the bill. This is the core argument for the existence of a ‘climate debt.’”

In paragraph 145 of the Pope’s text he likewise says, “Many intense forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structure which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community.” (Think First Nations, Metis, and the Inuit of Canada…)

He also says, “The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them.” (Think Haiti, Greece…)

But he doesn’t spell out how to redress or reverse this. So his text is largely one of praise and blame. He praises small-scale farming, orchards and gardens, and wild harvesting. And he urges caution “concerning human intervention on plants and animals, which at present include genetic manipulation by biotechnology.” (Think Monsanto, etc.)

He deplores the lack of housing in both rural and urban areas of the world, and the lack of employment in many of those areas. He says, “In order to continue providing employment, it is imperative to promote an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity.” But he does not get more specific than that.

But Naomi Klein does go there: “There are affordable ways for Northern Countries to begin to honor climate debts without going broke—from erasing foreign debts currently owed by developing countries in exchange for climate action to loosening green energy patents and transforming the associated technological know-how.”

Thus the Pope’s thrust remains a moral one. In paragraph 115 he says, the fundamental problem is our anthropocentrism, which “has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given,’ as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference.”

As a Buddhist, I very much like Pope Francis, although I was cynical at first. What he is attacking in this last paragraph is what Buddhists call “spiritual materialism.” But at the same time it is just some of this techno know-how—namely solar, wind and tidal technologies—that can be part of the solution.

As he is presently visiting the some of the poorest nations in Latin America, which has 425 million Catholics, he is talking directly to an enormous audience, which is experiencing great income inequality inflicted by the financial oligarchies, as in so many other places in the world.

And in just the first two years of his papacy, he has already proven to be a skillful statesman, having helped negotiations between the USA and Cuba, so that diplomatic relations can be restored.

So the Pope has both the power and the skill to give the environment and social justice causes a huge boost.

As Naomi Klein says, “Climate change is forcing us to look at injustices. The sky that is shared is a big dirty mirror.”

This is timely. There is no planet B.


A Passion for Nature: 7 Must-Read Books on Climate Change.


Author: Linda Lewis

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Wikimedia


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