V. Global inequality [48-52]

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. Papa Francisco's 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.

48. The human environment and the natural
environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately
combat environmental degradation unless
we attend to causes related to human and
social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of
the environment and of society affects the most
vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday
experience and scientific research show that the
gravest effects of all attacks on the environment
are suffered by the poorest”.26 For example, the
depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts
small fishing communities without the means to
replace those resources; water pollution particularly
affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water;
and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished
coastal populations who have nowhere
else to go. The impact of present imbalances is
also seen in the premature death of many of the
poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources,
and in any number of other problems
which are insufficiently represented on global

49. It needs to be said that, generally speaking,
there is little in the way of clear awareness of
problems which especially affect the excluded.
Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population,
billions of people. These days, they are
mentioned in international political and economic
discussions, but one often has the impression
that their problems are brought up as an afterthought,
a question which gets added almost
out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated

26 Bolivian Bishops’ Conference, Pastoral Letter on the
Environment and Human Development in Bolivia El universo,
don de Dios para la vida (23 March 2012), 17.

27 Cf. German Bishops’ Conference, Commission for
Social Issues, Der Klimawandel: Brennpunkt globaler, intergenerationeller
und ökologischer Gerechtigkeit (September 2006), 28-30.

merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all
is said and done, they frequently remain at the
bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact
that many professionals, opinion makers, communications
media and centres of power, being
located in affluent urban areas, are far removed
from the poor, with little direct contact with their
problems. They live and reason from the comfortable
position of a high level of development
and a quality of life well beyond the reach of
the majority of the world’s population. This lack
of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at
times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead
to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious
analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times
this attitude exists side by side with a “green”
rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that
a true ecological approach always becomes a social
approach; it must integrate questions of justice
in debates on the environment, so as to hear
both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.


50. Instead of resolving the problems of the
poor and thinking of how the world can be different,
some can only propose a reduction in the
birth rate. At times, developing countries face
forms of international pressure which make economic
assistance contingent on certain policies
of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true
that an unequal distribution of the population
and of available resources creates obstacles to
development and a sustainable use of the
environment, it must nonetheless be recognized that
demographic growth is fully compatible with an
integral and shared development”.28 To blame
population growth instead of extreme and selective
consumerism on the part of some, is one
way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt
to legitimize the present model of distribution,
where a minority believes that it has the right
to consume in a way which can never be universalized,
since the planet could not even contain
the waste products of such consumption.
Besides, we know that approximately a third of
all food produced is discarded, and “whenever
food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from
the table of the poor”.29 Still, attention needs to
be paid to imbalances in population density, on
both national and global levels, since a rise in
consumption would lead to complex regional
situations, as a result of the interplay between
problems linked to environmental pollution,
transport, waste treatment, loss of resources
and quality of life.


51. Inequity affects not only individuals but
entire countries; it compels us to consider an
ethics of international relations. A true “ecological
debt” exists, particularly between the global
north and south, connected to commercial imbalances

28 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium

of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 483.

29 Catechesis (5 June 2013): Insegnamenti 1/1 (2013), 280.

with effects on the environment, and
the disproportionate use of natural resources by
certain countries over long periods of time. The
export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the
industrialized north has caused harm locally, as
for example in mercury pollution in gold mining
or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining.
There is a pressing need to calculate the use of
environmental space throughout the world for
depositing gas residues which have been accumulating
for two centuries and have created a
situation which currently affects all the countries
of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption
on the part of some rich countries has
repercussions on the poorest areas of the world,
especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together
with drought, has proved devastating for
farming. There is also the damage caused by the
export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing
countries, and by the pollution produced
by companies which operate in less developed
countries in ways they could never do at home,
in the countries in which they raise their capital:
“We note that often the businesses which operate
this way are multinationals. They do here
what they would never do in developed countries
or the so-called first world. Generally, after
ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave
behind great human and environmental liabilities
such as unemployment, abandoned towns,
the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation,
the impoverishment of agriculture and local
stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted
rivers and a handful of social works which are no
longer sustainable”.30

52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become

a way of controlling them, yet this is not

the case where ecological debt is concerned. In

different ways, developing countries, where the

most important reserves of the biosphere are

found, continue to fuel the development of richer

countries at the cost of their own present and

future. The land of the southern poor is rich

and mostly unpolluted, yet access to ownership

of goods and resources for meeting vital needs

is inhibited by a system of commercial relations

and ownership which is structurally perverse.

The developed countries ought to help pay this

debt by significantly limiting their consumption

of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer

countries to support policies and programmes

of sustainable development. The poorest areas

and countries are less capable of adopting new

models for reducing environmental impact because

they lack the wherewithal to develop the

necessary processes and to cover their costs. We

must continue to be aware that, regarding climate

change, there are differentiated responsibilities.

As the United States bishops have said, greater

attention must be given to “the needs of the

30 Bishops of the Patagonia-Comahue Region (Argentina

), Christmas Message (December 2009), 2.

poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate

often dominated by more powerful interests”.31

We need to strengthen the conviction that we are

one single human family. There are no frontiers

or barriers, political or social, behind which we

can hide, still less is there room for the globalization

of indifference.