Pope Benedict: environmental crisis requires review of world's economic model

Jeremy Hance
December 15, 2009

Pope gives advice on how to move forward at Copenhagen.

Pope Benedict XVI has released a message linking world peace with preserving the environment for the World Day of Peace, which will be held on January 1st 2010. In it Benedict calls for a "long-term review" of the world's current economic model, including "[moving] beyond a purely consumerist mentality" and encouraging a more "sober lifestyle".

The message comes at a politically important time as environmental officials from rich and poor countries around the world struggle to come to agreement over how to combat climate change in Copenhagen.

Entitled If You Want to Cultivate Peace, Protect Creation, the Pope asks: "Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of 'environmental refugees', people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it - and often their possessions as well - in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement?"

Affluence and poverty. Top: suburban sprawl surrounding Las Vegas. Bottom: Turkana tribe grass huts in nothern Kenya augmented with aid bags from Kakuma refugee camp. Photos by: Rhett A. Butler.
Highlighting that these environmental problems are intricately linked to the world's current economic model, the Pope calls for a "a profound, long-term review of our model of development, one which would take into consideration the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications."

One way to achieve this according to the Pope is "to move beyond a purely consumerist mentality in order to promote forms of agricultural and industrial production capable of respecting creation and satisfying the primary needs of all."

"Natural resources should be used in such a way that immediate benefits do not have a negative impact on living creatures, human and not, present and future; that the protection of private property does not conflict with the universal destination of goods; that human activity does not compromise the fruitfulness of the earth, for the benefit of people now and in the future," the Pope writes.

Touching on the current deadlock in Copenhagen over the responsibilities of wealthy countries versus developing countries, the Pope writes that "the present ecological crisis is the historical responsibility of the industrialized countries. Yet the less-developed countries, and emerging countries in particular, are not exempt from their own responsibilities with regard to creation, for the duty of gradually adopting effective environmental measures and policies is incumbent upon all." Nations must lessen their "self-interest" to move ahead together says the Pope.

The Pope concludes by highlighting that not only policymakers have a responsibility towards environmental preservation, but the Catholic Church as well: the church must "protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction."

Mankind, writes the Pope, must "renew and strengthen 'that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God'."

Elected in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI has been increasingly outspoken on environmental issues. He had called the fight against climate change a "moral obligation". Among the Pope's new seven sins, announced last year, are destruction of the environment, excessive wealth, and the creation of poverty.

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Jeremy Hance
mongabay.com (December 15, 2009).

Pope Benedict: environmental crisis requires review of world's economic model.