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Destroy the Earth and the Poor are Oppressed

Destroy the Earth and the Poor are Oppressed

The intertwining of environmental issues and social justice is evident with climate change – an issue which disproportionately affects the marginalized who contribute very little to its causes.

Destroy the Earth and the Poor are Oppressed

By Rt. Rev. Bishop Allwyn D’Silva

Pope Francis has always emphasized that Ecological Stewardship is inseparable from social justice.  Being one single family, we must understand that we cannot hide behind political or social barriers; further we cannot afford the ‘globalization of indifference’ (cf. Laudato Si’, #52).  Undeniably, the poor are the victims, and “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 (Laudato Si’, #49).  However, existing political, economic and technological structures are responsible for the current state of the environment and the oppressed.  In particular, the Holy Father is critical of weak international political responses, the dependence of politics on technology and finance, and the trumping of the common good and manipulation of information by vested interests (cf. Laudato Si’, #54).

The intertwining of environmental issues and social justice is evident with climate change – an issue which disproportionately affects the marginalized who contribute very little to its causes.  In contrast, the extractive economies and the rich cause the bulk of anthropogenic climate change, but can very much afford to adapt and bear the consequences.  A recent report – South Asia's Hotspots: The Impact of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards –published by the World Bank before the COVID-19 projected that rising temperatures and changing monsoon rainfall patterns from climate change could cost India 2.8% of its GDP owing to a fall in agricultural yield and health impacts.  This will depress the living standards of nearly half the country's population by 2050.  Already, about 600 million people live in areas which could turn into moderate or severe hotspots of climate change.  With steeper GDP decline due to the pandemic, inequality and poverty in South Asia will be accentuated further.  Even if India adheres to its action plan of 2015 Paris agreement, still it will face a temperature rise of 1-2 degrees Celsius by 2050.

A similar fate lies in the life of the peoples of the Amazon.  The October 2019 Synod on the Amazon states in Nos 66 and 67: ecology and social justice are intrinsically united.  With integral ecology a new paradigm of justice emerges that must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment.  Only then will it be possible to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.  Integral ecology thus connects the exercise of care for nature with the exercise of justice for the marginalized, God's preferred choice in history.  Faced with the pressing situation of the planet, integral ecology is the only possible path that the Church can choose for the future, because there is no other viable route for saving the Amazon – the lungs of planet Earth.

It is urgent to face the unlimited exploitation of our common home and its inhabitants.  One of the main causes of destruction in the Amazon, and elsewhere, is a predatory extractivism that is typical of the dominant technocratic paradigm that concentrates power in a powerful few neglecting a holistic development.  More gravely, such a concentration of power leads to the shedding of innocent blood and the criminalization of the ruling class.  The state of our environment then only worsens, in direct contrast to God’s mandate of caring for the earth we have been gifted with. 

When we destroy the environment, we are destroying the lives of the poor.  If we really love the underprivileged then we must also care for creation.

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