III. Dialogue and transparency in decision-making [182 – 188]

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora and will add my comments over time. Pappa francescos 180 page letter is much less about religion than it is about nature and the planet earth. He proposes some fairly radical yet simple and understandable solutions for humankind. It is way past time to start paying attention to what we are all doing or allowing others to do.

182. An assessment of the environmental impact
of business ventures and projects demands
transparent political processes involving a free
exchange of views. On the other hand, the forms
of corruption which conceal the actual environmental
impact of a given project, in exchange for
favours, usually produce specious agreements
which fail to inform adequately and to allow for
full debate.

183. Environmental impact assessment should
not come after the drawing up of a business
proposition or the proposal of a particular policy,
plan or programme. It should be part of the
process from the beginning, and be carried out
in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent
and free of all economic or political pressure.
It should be linked to a study of working conditions
and possible effects on people’s physical
and mental health, on the local economy and on
public safety. Economic returns can thus be forecast
more realistically, taking into account potential
scenarios and the eventual need for further
investment to correct possible undesired effects.
A consensus should always be reached between
the different stakeholders, who can offer a variety
of approaches, solutions and alternatives. The
local population should have a special place at
the table; they are concerned about their own future
and that of their children, and can consider
goals transcending immediate economic interest.
We need to stop thinking in terms of “interventions”
to save the environment in favour of
policies developed and debated by all interested
parties. The participation of the latter also entails
being fully informed about such projects and
their different risks and possibilities; this includes
not just preliminary decisions but also various
follow-up activities and continued monitoring.
Honesty and truth are needed in scientific and
political discussions; these should not be limited
to the issue of whether or not a particular project
is permitted by law.

184. In the face of possible risks to the environment
which may affect the common good
now and in the future, decisions must be made
“based on a comparison of the risks and benefits
foreseen for the various possible alternatives”.131
This is especially the case when a project may
lead to a greater use of natural resources, higher
levels of emission or discharge, an increase of
refuse, or significant changes to the landscape,
the habitats of protected species or public spaces.
Some projects, if insufficiently studied, can
profoundly affect the quality of life of an area
due to very different factors such as unforeseen
noise pollution, the shrinking of visual horizons,
the loss of cultural values, or the effects of nuclear
energy use. The culture of consumerism,

131 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium
of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 469.

which prioritizes short-term gain and private interest,
can make it easy to rubber-stamp authorizations
or to conceal information.

185. In any discussion about a proposed venture,
a number of questions need to be asked in
order to discern whether or not it will contribute
to genuine integral development. What will
it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For
whom? What are the risks? What are the costs?
Who will pay those costs and how? In this discernment,
some questions must have higher priority.
For example, we know that water is a scarce
and indispensable resource and a fundamental
right which conditions the exercise of other human
rights. This indisputable fact overrides any
other assessment of environmental impact on a
region.

186. The Rio Declaration of 1992 states that
“where there are threats of serious or irreversible
damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not
be used as a pretext for postponing cost-effective
measures”132 which prevent environmental degradation.
This precautionary principle makes it
possible to protect those who are most vulnerable
and whose ability to defend their interests
and to assemble incontrovertible evidence is limited.
If objective information suggests that serious
and irreversible damage may result, a project

132 Rio Declaration on the Environment and Development (14
June 1992), Principle 15.

should be halted or modified, even in the absence
of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof
is effectively reversed, since in such cases objective
and conclusive demonstrations will have to
be brought forward to demonstrate that the proposed
activity will not cause serious harm to the
environment or to those who inhabit it.

187. This does not mean being opposed to any
technological innovations which can bring about
an improvement in the quality of life. But it does
mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to
be taken into account, and that, when significant
new information comes to light, a reassessment
should be made, with the involvement of all interested
parties. The outcome may be a decision
not to proceed with a given project, to modify it
or to consider alternative proposals.

188. There are certain environmental issues
where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus.
Here I would state once more that the Church
does not presume to settle scientific questions
or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage
an honest and open debate so that particular
interests or ideologies will not prejudice
the common good.

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