II. Cultural ecology [143 – 145]

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.

143. Together with the patrimony of nature,
there is also an historic, artistic and cultural patrimony

which is likewise under threat. This patrimony
is a part of the shared identity of each place
and a foundation upon which to build a habitable
city. It is not a matter of tearing down and building
new cities, supposedly more respectful of the
environment yet not always more attractive to
live in. Rather, there is a need to incorporate the
history, culture and architecture of each place,
thus preserving its original identity. Ecology,
then, also involves protecting the cultural trea-
sures of humanity in the broadest sense. More
specifically, it calls for greater attention to local
cultures when studying environmental problems,
favouring a dialogue between scientific-technical
language and the language of the people. Culture
is more than what we have inherited from the
past; it is also, and above all, a living, dynamic
and participatory present reality, which cannot be
excluded as we rethink the relationship between
human beings and the environment.

144. A consumerist vision of human beings,
encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized
economy, has a levelling effect on cultures,
diminishing the immense variety which
is the heritage of all humanity. Attempts to resolve
all problems through uniform regulations
or technical interventions can lead to overlooking
the complexities of local problems which
demand the active participation of all members
of the community. New processes taking shape
cannot always fit into frameworks imported
from outside; they need to be based in the local
culture itself. As life and the world are dynamic
realities, so our care for the world must also be
flexible and dynamic. Merely technical solutions
run the risk of addressing symptoms and not
the more serious underlying problems. There is
a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures,
and to appreciate that the development of
a social group presupposes an historical process
which takes place within a cultural context and
demands the constant and active involvement of
local people from within their proper culture. Nor can
the notion of the quality of life be imposed from
without, for quality of life must be understood
within the world of symbols and customs proper
to each human group.

145. Many intensive forms of environmental
exploitation and degradation not only exhaust
the resources which provide local communities
with their livelihood, but also undo the social
structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural
identity and their sense of the meaning of life
and community. The disappearance of a culture
can be just as serious, or even more serious,
than the disappearance of a species of plant or
animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle
linked to a single form of production can be just
as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.
146. In this sense, it is essential to show special
care for indigenous communities and their
cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority
among others, but should be the principal
dialogue partners, especially when large projects
affecting their land are proposed. For them, land
is not a commodity but rather a gift from God
and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred
space with which they need to interact if they
are to maintain their identity and values. When
they remain on their land, they themselves care
for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the
world, pressure is being put on them to abandon
their homelands to make room for agricultural
or mining projects which are undertaken without
regard for the degradation of nature and culture.

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