Healing a Broken World - a summary

A summary of the document 'Healing a Broken World', a report drawn up by the task Force on Ecology, on behalf of the Social Justice and Ecology Secretariat of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome:

The report presented by the ‘Ecology Task Force’ discusses the deterioration of the environment as a result of human activity and the reconciliation with creation, the effect on living conditions of coming generations and to preserve the environment thus protecting creation and the poorest populations who are the most threatened.

Creation, the life-giving gift of God has become material, extractable and marketable.  Justified by technological advancement and consumed by greed, many human beings continue to dominate and rape nature in the advance towards ‘progress’.

The spiritual depth of communion with nature is banished from our experience by an excess of rationality and technical answers to environmental challenges.  This approach has dampened our sensitivity to the diversity and vastness of life and the Universe.

The degrading of the environment through unsustainable energy consumption and the threat of diminishing water and food are today’s problems, coupled with the exponential rise in population and the increased demand on natural resources call for a deeply informed discernment searching for respect, responsibility and accountability for the environment.

This document highlights the need to proceed in dialogue with the World, with all religions and with those committed to environmental justice.  It also speaks of personal conversion, to individuals and institutions, conferences and Provinces and addresses itself to all sectors,  Theological, spiritual, pastoral, social, educational, intellectual and scientific.

After the failure of the Copenhagen Climate Change summit of December 2009, we are now under a “climate impasse” for which 3 main reasons have been suggested:

1. The enormous economic challenge of reducing greenhouse gases.
2. The complexity of climate science.
3. The deliberate campaigns to confuse the public and discredit the science.

The present tough economic and financial crises makes it more difficult to reach an agreement and provide financial resources so that poor countries might have access to technology to combat climate change.

The scientific understanding is incomplete and uncertainties exist about the precise magnitude, timing and dangers of climate change.  These uncertainties have aided destructive campaigns against climate science by powerful interests aimed at creating an atmosphere of ignorance and confusion.

It is clear that our planet is indeed threatened and a bleak and harmful future is envisaged for millions of people.  Previously environmental problems caused by human activities were related to local events, pollution of rivers, deforestation, etc., and the remedy, it was thought, should also be applied equally locally.  Now, however, climate change, ozone layer depletion have a global effect.  God’s dream as a Creator is now being threatened and is in real danger of destruction if we maintain our ‘business as usual’ attitude.

The first victim is the earth and its biodiversity, the loss of which is irreversible.  The next victims are the poorest of this world.  The ecological crises characterised mainly by changing climatic  conditions, deforestation, desertification, soil exhaustion and pollution makes the poor who rely heavily on natural resources, more vulnerable to environmental change.  Polluted water sources, flooding, absence of sanitation facilities, stagnant water … are all causes and consequences of poverty.  The linkage between environment and poverty is unavoidable.

Environmental issues in Africa are intrinsically connected with natural resources and poverty.  The natural wealth in mineral resources is exploited by multinational corporations, who are more interested in the minerals than in the welfare of the people or the environment.  The benefits from mining and extraction of minerals do not reach the communities from where the minerals are extracted.  Bribery and corruption of some government officials also allows these companies to totally disregard environmental protection policies.

The situation in Latin America is similar to the situation of Africa augmented by the devastating rhythm of resources extraction and the degrading of ecosystems.  The devastation of natural resources, the irrational uses of water, energy, the tropical rain forest, and minerals and their effects on global environmental problems are largely a consequence of poor models of industrialisation and the lack of technical and scientific knowledge of sustainable production.

Europe’s commitment is to reduce greenhouse gases by 20% by the year 2020.  Climate change will have an effect with a sharp reduction in water supply due mainly to draught and desertification in the southern European regions or the reduction of supply in the Alpine regions where 40% of fresh water comes caused by temperature increases.  On the other hand parts of Europe will experience an increase in precipitation with the resultant floods. Another target for Europe is to produce 20% of its energy from renewables such as wind, solar, wave and bio energy by 2020.

South East Asia has in the recent past been experiencing alarming unprecedented floods, cyclones and draught.  The effects of climate change, global warming, depletion of natural resources and the loss of biodiversity are issues that need serious discernment.  There is a lack of political will to address these ecological crises holistically.

North American reliance on fossil fuels is a fundamental environmental issue.  The United States has been the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases to be exceeded only by China in this decade.  Immense damage is being inflicted on the environment by recent technologies developed to extract hitherto unattainable fossil fuels (e.g. tar sand extraction, deep sea oil drilling, oil shale extraction).

Industrialised agricultural technologies, whilst aiding in the increased food production, has widespread external environmental costs. These include deforestation, loss of soil, depleted aquifers, accumulation of herbicides and pesticides, polluted rivers and the release of relatively untested Genetically Modified Organisms into the environment.

Overconsumption is also a major contributor to depletion of natural resources and the accumulation and disposal of waste.  Responsible consumerism is advocated.

In all continents economic growth (Industrial and agricultural) has been achieved at a high price.  Urban air and water pollution are worsening and erosion and water scarcity accelerating.  Indigenous people suffer gravely for the sake of technological expansion losing their rights as a result of the drive in development.

Climate change projections in the Asia Pacific region indicate that extreme weather patterns and hydrological hazards such as floods and draughts are expected to become more frequent.

Advances in technologies, with big environmental and human health costs (e.g. GMO crops, growth hormones in meat production, destructive natural resources extraction) have significant ethical implications.  On the other hand ‘benevolent’ technological innovation should be encouraged.  Clean energy production, energy efficient architectural designs, water reclamation etc. hold a promise for climate change mitigation.

The integrated management of resources require a policy combining the knowledge of science and initiatives in sustainable development.  It also requires us to look critically at the very nature of the way we conceptualise sustainability and how it is achieved.

Chapter 4 of this paper deals mainly with the Jesuit Mission and the ecological crises.  It examines first the relationship between the call to reconciliation with creation on the one hand and the Jesuit mission’s faith dimension on the other.  It also presents the relationship between the promotion of justice and the ecological crises.

It presents three groups of people involved in this ecological crisis, namely the poor because of the inter-dependence of poverty and climate change.  The second type comprises those who live at the centre, the rich who contribute to excessive consumption and large production of waste and creating a ferocious demand for food and other resources.  The third type comprises the growing middle class, the neo rich, which is estimated to grow from 430 million in 2000 to 1.15 billion in 2020.

Chapter 5 and 6 are the recommendations made addressed mostly to the Society of Jesus.

‘IF YOU WANT TO CULTIVATE PEACE, PROTECT CREATION’ Pope Benedict XVI

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