Backward Priorities?

May 28, 2015

Recently Pope Francis has been accused of having his priorities backward.  Who has things backward though?  Taking a closer look at many of our problems with poverty, finance, the economy, and the environment, poverty and environmental destruction are the two sides of the same coin.  Both are the result of greed, injustice, and oppression.  It is highly convenient to keep people poor in order to profit from cheap labor; modern slavery, limited dissent and poor environmental regulations all help produce these results.  Extractive industries often gain control through ill-gotten means, underpaying for public resources and never paying for the impacts of denuding landscapes and taking carbon out of the ground – coal, oil, and gas which is inevitably burned.  Even monoculture agriculture falls in this category as it massively extracts nutrients from the soil, degrading it for no real purpose and treating it as an expendable resource. Extractive industries and the political leaders that partner with them rob public treasuries with their special deals and deprive us all, especially native peoples, of our legacy on God’s earth, our home.

It is not just climate change that is at stake, it is the whole relationship between each of us, and with the rest of humanity and creation.  Physical observations around the globe show us that climate change is occurring much faster than anticipated.  Scientists, attentive to claims they could be alarmist, have been the opposite, and arguably this is a dis-service to us all.  Infrastructure agencies in the US and abroad have now used the 2007 under-estimates for 8 whole years and are still using them, often the supposed “mid range,” which is not the most likely scenario nor is it reflective of our current path.  Meanwhile, the public is often in the dark, and the mining, pollution, and development benefiting rich corporations continues.

Climate change is already happening and it is ongoing.  Carbon dioxide lingers in the atmosphere and continues to produce warming for hundreds of years, with a substantial amount remaining for more than a thousand years.  Hence warming from carbon is essentially permanent, for us, and it is likewise essential to keep remaining carbon stores in the ground, a matter of basic ethics, if we will have any hope of keeping global warming and change in the 1.5 C range that is still possible.  This is one reason the Pontifical Academies have declared that we must “reduce worldwide carbon dioxide emissions without delay, using all means posible” and “all nations must focus on a rapid transition to renewable energy sources.”  Furthermore we should immediately “reduce the concentrations of short-lived climate warming air pollutants (dark soot, methane, lower atmosphere ozone, and hydrofluorocarbons) by 50% to slow down climate change during this century, and to prevent a hundred million premature deaths between now and 2050.”

Climate change is being observed by those who are out in the environment, and whose livelihoods depend on it, on a daily, weekly, monthly, and annual basis.  Iowa and California farmers can testify to this in the US and participants in the People’s Pilgrimage can testify to the destruction of their homes and communities, from off-the-scale storms.  The evidence is solid.  Recent studies show that over 99% of scientists agree that human beings are causing climate change, and there is a less than 1% chance, likely less than .1% chance, that it is due to natural causes.  Only .01 percent of working climate scientists – only 1 of 2258 peer-reviewed climate articles by 9136 authors, Nov 2012 through Dec 2013 rejected man-made global warming.   Global warming from carbon pollution was first noted and described by scientists over a hundred years ago, and now we can find the human signature of the 110 million tons we emit each day, all around us.  There are things we can do though, starting with lifting it up as the moral, pro-life issue it is, deserving of attention and action by us all.

Poor people need better health, clean energy, better justice and many more things; however the 25% of the population that is better off uses 85% of all natural resources (and the profit goes to the 1% who own the media, the banks, and industry), while those under the poverty line, a bit under 50% of the total population, have access to less than 5% of all natural resources.  How on earth can you improve the livelihoods of about half the world population when the upper25% is currently destroying the availability of the planet´s resources?  Sorry folks, this is World Bank data. Poor people are better served in a healthy environment where new environmentally sound technologies, such as wind and solar, and stronger moral values by those of us with more power and influence will help them get out of poverty, and fight injustice (not just from the local governments, but also from industries that want access to cheap natural resources and labour, even slave labour).  Poor people are better served if we all start to think as communities, as the connected and linked communities we can be in the internet age, responsible for the general welfare near and afar, not by restricting our gaze to our own petty interests with a bit of social varnish to feel good.

Climate and environmental denial has a lengthy trajectory, since the days of the DDT debate and cigarettes.  Industrialists know that if they can lie and spawn confusion for an extra 20 years, they can pull in at least that much extra profit, with no acknowledgement or accountability for the extra death and destruction.  Environmental deniers, usually unknowingly promoted by a few whose interests do not lie in the Common Good, are led to think, through a variety of actions in the media, that the science is wrong, that the scientists have vested interests and so forth. Recent studies have proven that this case is if anything the exact opposite though.  Clearly lots of money are being invested in denial. Professionals from the media, sociologists and social psychologists have developed and honed strategies to confuse the average citizen through garbled arguments and half-truths (or half-lies, whichever you prefer).  The ozone hole for example was invented by scientists, deforestation is a hoax, soil erosion is just a legend, biodiversity does not really matter… Science and technology will replace nature (an interesting two-sided thought: science is wrong when it does not suit me, but it can solve the problem anyway).

It is sad to see that innocent citizens, who need not be specialized in science and the environment are led astray by vested interests that promote denial and action in opposition to their own interests and employment, as well as the common good…

It is time to replace the globalization of indifference and greed with the globalization of care and solidarity.