Unlikely messiah of the environment
The Pope is goading governments to stop destruction of the economy and societies by changing the capitalist system
Wnot yet tearing one another apart,but we E ARE are tearing apart our common home.Today, the scientific community realises what the poor have long told us: harm, perhaps irreversible harm, is being done to the ecosystem.The earth, entire peoples and individual persons are being brutally punished.”
These are not the impassioned words of an environmentalist holding forth at a global meeting to discuss climate change.But in case readers have missed the big news of recent weeks, here is another sample from the same source—and it is not the soapbox oratory of a Marxist revolutionary.
“Once capital becomes an idol and guides people’s decisions, once greed for money presides over the entire socioeconomic system, it ruins society, it condemns and enslaves men and women, it destroys human fraternity, it sets people against one another and,as we clearly see, it even puts at risk our common home.”
These strong words on the damage to the environment and societies resulting from the exploitative capitalist system, comes from an unlikely source: a 78-year-old Jesuit priest from Argentina who took over as the head of the Roman Catholic Church just over two years ago. This is Pope Francis, who worked briefly as a chemical technician and a nightclub bouncer before turning to religious studies and a religious leader whose grasp of the fundamental problems of the world is surprisingly acute. His unvarnished rhetoric as much as his radical worldview is riveting. When have we last heard a phrase such as the stench of the “dung of the devil”resulting from “an unfettered pursuit of money”?
Seldom has a religious leader of any stripe spoken so strongly on the destruction of the environment or on such a range of festering issues. From genetically modified (GM) foods to the burning issue of the civil war in Syria,Pope Francis has done his bit to change perceptions and prodded governments and societies into taking corrective action. Perhaps, he might succeed if he follows up the rhetoric with more detailed prescriptions on ways of changing the system.
The first task,he says,is to put the economy at the service of peoples. “Let us say no to an economy of exclusion and inequality,where money rules,rather than service. That economy kills.That economy excludes.That economy destroys Mother Earth.”Few among environmentalists have been bold to make a direct link between the capitalist system and the crisis of the environment.
But it is the Pope’s approach to GM crops that should give pause to the US Administration which has always rushed to quell any papal criticism of a technology that it promotes relentlessly worldwide. Some years ago, US State Department officials lobbied Francis’ predecessor Pope Benedict to change what was perceived as a critical stand on GM crops.The current head of the papal see has adopted a more reasonable tone. Refusing to be drawn into making a definitive statement on the technology itself,Pope Francis confounded the industry by raising questions on the social and economic fallout of its use, such as concentrated farm ownership, displaced labour and corporate monopolies.
Once again it is environmental concerns that he touches upon, such as the impact of GM crops on biodiversity.“The expansion of these crops has the effect of destroying the complex network of ecosystems,diminishing the diversity of production, and affecting regional economies, now and in the future.” The biotech industry has been noticeably silent. After all, who can quarrel with a reasonable demand for “a broad,responsible scientific and social debate…one capable of considering all the available information and of calling things by their name”?