I. Environmental, economic and social ecology [138 – 141]

chap 4

I have begun to publish sections and segments of the Popes letter on OUR network of blogs as well as on Linkedin & Quora & Newsvine 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.

138. Ecology studies the relationship between
living organisms and the environment in which
they develop. This necessarily entails reflection
and debate about the conditions required for
the life and survival of society, and the honesty
needed to question certain models of development,
production and consumption. It cannot be
emphasized enough how everything is interconnected.
Time and space are not independent of
one another, and not even atoms or subatomic
particles can be considered in isolation. Just
as the different aspects of the planet – physical,
chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too
living species are part of a network which we will
never fully explore and understand. A good part
of our genetic code is shared by many living beings.

It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge
and the isolation of bits of information can
actually become a form of ignorance, unless they
are integrated into a broader vision of reality.

139. When we speak of the “environment”,
what we really mean is a relationship existing
between nature and the society which lives in it.
Nature cannot be regarded as something separate
from ourselves or as a mere setting in which
we live. We are part of nature, included in it and
thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing
the reasons why a given area is polluted requires
a study of the workings of society, its economy,
its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality.
Given the scale of change, it is no longer
possible to find a specific, discrete answer for
each part of the problem. It is essential to seek
comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions
within natural systems themselves and
with social systems. We are faced not with two
separate crises, one environmental and the other
social, but rather with one complex crisis which
is both social and environmental. Strategies for a
solution demand an integrated approach to combating
poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded,
and at the same time protecting nature.

140. Due to the number and variety of factors
to be taken into account when determining the
environmental impact of a concrete undertaking,
it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interaction, and to ensure broad
academic freedom. Ongoing research should
also give us a better understanding of how different
creatures relate to one another in making
up the larger units which today we term “ecosystems”.
We take these systems into account not
only to determine how best to use them, but also
because they have an intrinsic value independent
of their usefulness. Each organism, as a creature
of God, is good and admirable in itself; the same
is true of the harmonious ensemble of organisms
existing in a defined space and functioning
as a system. Although we are often not aware
of it, we depend on these larger systems for our
own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems
interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying
water, controlling illnesses and epidemics,
forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many
other ways which we overlook or simply ignore.
Once they become conscious of this, many people
realize that we live and act on the basis of
a reality which has previously been given to us,
which precedes our existence and our abilities.
So, when we speak of “sustainable use”, consideration
must always be given to each ecosystem’s
regenerative ability in its different areas and aspects.

141. Economic growth, for its part, tends
to produce predictable reactions and a certain
standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures
and reducing costs. This suggests the
need for an “economic ecology” capable of appealing
to a broader vision of reality. The protection
of the environment is in fact “an integral
part of the development process and cannot be
considered in isolation from it”.114 We urgently
need a humanism capable of bringing together
the different fields of knowledge, including
economics, in the service of a more integral and
integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental
problems cannot be separated from
the analysis of human, family, work-related and
urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate
to themselves, which leads in turn to how they
relate to others and to the environment. There
is an interrelation between ecosystems and between
the various spheres of social interaction,
demonstrating yet again that “the whole is greater
than the part”.115

142. If everything is related, then the health of a
society’s institutions has consequences for the environment
and the quality of human life. “Every
violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms
the environment”.116 In this sense, social ecology
is necessarily institutional, and gradually extends
to the whole of society, from the primary social
group, the family, to the wider local, national and

114 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development (14 June
1992), Principle 4.
115 Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (24 November
2013), 237: AAS 105 (2013), 1116.
116 Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate (29
June 2009), 51: AAS 101 (2009), 687.

international communities. Within each social
stratum, and between them, institutions develop
to regulate human relationships. Anything which
weakens those institutions has negative consequences,
such as injustice, violence and loss of
freedom. A number of countries have a relatively
low level of institutional effectiveness, which results
in greater problems for their people while
benefiting those who profit from this situation.
Whether in the administration of the state, the
various levels of civil society, or relationships between
individuals themselves, lack of respect for
the law is becoming more common. Laws may
be well framed yet remain a dead letter. Can we
hope, then, that in such cases, legislation and regulations
dealing with the environment will really
prove effective? We know, for example, that
countries which have clear legislation about the
protection of forests continue to keep silent as
they watch laws repeatedly being broken. Moreover,
what takes place in any one area can have a
direct or indirect influence on other areas. Thus,
for example, drug use in affluent societies creates
a continual and growing demand for products
imported from poorer regions, where behaviour
is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment
continues to deteriorate.


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