Saturday, June 20, 2015

#171 / Laudato Si' Speaks To California

The full text of Laudato Si', Pope Francis' Encyclical Letter "On Care For Our Common Home," is now available online. It begins like this: 

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs." 
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

In the headline on the print version of one of the two stories it published on Friday, June 19th, The New York Times called the Pope's encyclical a "radical vision." In its editorial on June 19th, The Times deplored the fact that it was unlikely that the United States Congress would heed the Pope's urgent call that governments immediately act to abate the burning of fossil fuels, which the Pope identified as the cause of an "unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us."

The June 19, 2015 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle also had an article on Laudato Si'. The headline on that article, on inside Page 15 of the print edition I picked up off my front walkway on Friday morning, brought the Pope's message home to California: "Pope blasts state cap-and-trade system."

I must say I welcomed this statement from the Pope. He is right on target about California, just as he is about the overall global warming emergency that faces humankind, an emergency of our own creation.

California has been rather self-congratulatory about its response to the global warming crisis, and this self-congratulation is supported by one important toehold on the truth. Assembly Bill 32, "The Global Warming Solutions Act," enacted in 2006, was a truly important statement that committed California to reducing California's greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020. Our state should be properly proud of making that commitment. Political statements of intention, however, are different from actual performance.

The implementation of AB 32 has largely been tied to a so-called "Cap and Trade" program that permits those who want to continue emitting greenhouse gases to "buy" absolution, through the purchase of "allowances" that will let them continue to pollute, with the money paid by the polluters supposedly going to activities that will actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

This is the system that the Pope denounced, and more than anything else in his Encyclical, this statement shows that the Pope is not simply trying to gesture towards the truth; he is evidently actually trying to influence human beings to do what we must do, if our human civilization is going to survive. 

In order for human civilization to survive, we must radically reduce the amount of greenhouse gases (mostly CO2) that we are emitting to the atmosphere. That generally means that we must radically reduce the combustion of hydrocarbon fuels. Period.

The situation is grave, and temporization is death. This means, as a practical matter, that if it is "possible" to reduce or eliminate a source of greenhouse gas emissions, we need to take action to eliminate or reduce that source of emissions at the earliest time we feasibly can.

The "Cap and Trade" program allows those with the money to do so to defer reducing greenhouse gas emissions that we know could feasibly be reduced right now. "Let someone else do it" is the message of this program; we will even pay them to do it! 

No! If you can reduce emissions, you should do it. And you should do it NOW! That is true for EVERY source of such greenhouse gas emissions. "Trading around," to see who goes first, is a program that not only builds inequality into what must be a shared sacrifice (and not a sacrifice that the oil companies and big corporations can buy their way out of), it is also an admission that we really don't "get it." 

If our failure radically to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is actually going to doom our human civilization, and that is the fact, then NOT doing something that can help, as soon as we can identify such a measure, is an admission that we are not really serious about attending to the problem. 

Pope Francis got it right! He got it right on the "big picture." And he got it right on the "details," too, and he specifically got it right about "Cap and Trade."

California's time for self-congratulation is over. 

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1 comment:

  1. The impact on the Earth of what we optimistically call civilization is not restricted to emissions of greenhouses gases that influence natural climate variation.

    In the 1970s Paul Ehrlich, Barry Commner and John Holdren worked it out mathematically: I=PAT
    Human Impact (I) on the environment equals the product of P= Population, A= Affluence, T= Technology. (Ehrlich, Paul R.; Holdren, John P. (1971). "Impact of Population Growth". Science (American Association for the Advancement of Science) 171 (3977): 1212–1217.)

    The Pope’s statement ignores a critical component of this equation, population growth. In fact, it goes so far as to deny population growth as an essential part of the problem, adopting instead the United Nations’ Sustainable Development position that developing nations must continue to grow in order to accommodate climate change.

    The human culture of unlimited growth and consumption is what allows and promotes excessive human impact on the natural world. It is this essential part of human civilization that threatens itself and all other forms of life. Adopting new economic models for unsustainable technologies of resource consumption does not solve the problem, it compounds it.

    The problem, of course, is self-correcting. Just as jack rabbits on the wind-swept plains of Wyoming flourish and crash, so too will human civilization. This civilization will follow its precursors down the long dark porcelain parkway of history to decline and collapse. Fortunately, there won’t be enough energy and raw materials left over for anything but simple, agrarian, decentralized societies scattered esthetically about the Earth, living within the natural limitations of resource availability and natural waste dispersal.

    And that will be sufficient.


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