27 october 2023
Ecological Crisis in Catholic Social Teaching, by Olivier Barrett
The ecological crisis is very multidimensional, in this article we will focus on the proper place of humanity within God’s creation. In fact it is so evident to say that we are no longer living in harmony with nature, as is evidenced by climate change and also the catastrophic impacts on human and natural systems.
“God always forgives, we forgive sometimes, but nature never forgives”, this was Pope Francis’ response to the question : Is the crisis a chance for ecological conversion, for reasserting priorities and lifestyles ? He is making the point that recent events are nature’s response to our current levels of production and consumption.
Humans and its impact on nature
Industrialization and mechanization of the nature
One of the biggest impact made by human is the process of industrialization and the process to mechanize nature. A utilitarian worldview is causing modern man to plunder the earth’s resources to meet our own immediate needs.
This kind of action is justified with the claim of infinite resources, growth but also development. But, nowadays, we know that this not true anymore. In fact our rates of extraction is placing ecosystems at tipping point. The challenge, now, is to urgently change the mentality of dominion over nature to alliance with nature before we do irreparable damage.
The technological paradigm
Pope Francis refers to the unbridled consumerism and also consumption of the 21st century as “ technological paradigm”. This concept is referred to as “technocracy and describes mankind seeking mastery over nature through technological advances”.
Also, Richard Bauckman writes “ The whole of the modern scientific-technological project of dominating nature and exploiting its resources for the good of humanity presumed that total mastery of the Earth’s natural processes was within human gasp.
A technological solution to the climate crisis ?
Some advocates of technocracy claim that there is a technological solution to the climate crisis. That, technological advances are very important and move us forward however they often create ethical and more dilemmas.
Therapeutic technocracy, a new ideology ?
The definition of therapeutic technocracy
A variant of “Technological paradigm” has emerged in America in the past few years, this ideology is called “Therapeutic technocracy”. It promises that by listening to science but also to the voices of suffering, the nation’s physical and psychological health may be ensured.
This ideology unites therapeutic belief in empathy, compassion but also concern with faith in technocratic expertise to justify the elite technocrats right to rule.
The impact of therapeutic technocracy
Therapeutical technocracy as plunged humanity into a deep spiritual crisis as we continue to pillage the earth resources. In fact, this ideology is also creating issues related to equality and social justice as developed nations take advantage over the weaker ones.
Nowadays, we are treating the environment not like a gift with self-transcendent possibilities through the enduring action of Holy Spirit but just as owed.
What about ecological crisis ?
Symptoms of climate emergency
There is an abundance of scientific evidence to confirm that we are now in the middle of a climate emergency. For example, in February 2020 we observed the highest level of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere in over 800 000 years. Although, there is a natural greenhouse effect, human activity, such as burning fossil fuels for energy is contributing to the greenhouse effect in a unique way. And there are more and more others signs.
The impact of climate emergency
The crisis we are actually living in, is teaching us how we can rediscover and appreciate a correct relationship with the environment in everyday life.
The main ecological issues have emerged and been identified only in last half a century. It’s mainly because most of the damage to the environment has been done in the last two hundred years.
That is the reason why, most Catholic Social teaching related to the environmental issues has been published post Vatican II. Previous teaching related to the dignity of humanity without any particular focus on the interconnectedness of humanity and the environment.
Contributions of Saint John Paul II
Saint John Paul II is the one who contributed the most to the climate debate due to the length of his pontificate. All his thoughts provide the building blocks for the most recent contribution from Pope Francis, with the publication of his encyclical “Laudato Si”.
As the urgency to address ecological issues emerged, the response and guidance from mother church had to emerged too quickly. Previous teaching related to environmental issues seemed to be very escapist, binary but also dualistic. To illustrate, we can quote an update to the Roman Missal after the council of Trent (1545 – 1563) which states “Lord teach us to despise the things of the earth and to love the things of heaven”.