On Ecological Economics

August 16, 2021

The Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development in 2020 has launched the Laudato Si Action Platforms with the blessing and support of Pope Francis. 

This is a seven-year plan with seven goals related to: 

  1. Response to the Cry of the Earth (greater use of clean renewable energy and reducing fossil fuels in order to achieve carbon neutrality, efforts to protect and promote biodiversity, guaranteeing access to clean water for all).
  2. Response to the Cry of the Poor (defense of human life from conception to death and all forms of life on Earth, with special attention to vulnerable groups such as indigenous communities, migrants, children at risk through slavery).
  3. Ecological Economics (sustainable production, fair-trade, ethical consumption, ethical investments, divestment from fossil fuels and any economic activity harmful to the planet and the people, investment in renewable energy).
  4. Adoption of Simple Lifestyles (sobriety in the use of resources and energy, avoid single-use plastic, adopt a more plant-based diet and reduce meat consumption, greater use of public transport and avoid polluting modes of transportation)
  5. Ecological Education (rethink and redesign educational curricula and educational institution reform in the spirit of integral ecology to create ecological awareness and action, promoting the ecological vocation of young people, teachers, and leaders of education).
  6. Ecological Spirituality (recover a religious vision of God’s creation, encourage greater contact with the natural world in a spirit of wonder, praise, joy, and gratitude, promote creation-centered liturgical celebrations, develop ecological catechesis, prayer, retreats, formation).
  7. Emphasis on Community Involvement and Participatory Action to care for creation at the local, regional, national and international levels (promote advocacy and people’s campaigns, encourage rootedness in local territory and neighborhood ecosystem.

These goals, which are part of the rollout action plan, are to carry out at all levels of the Catholic Church: (1) families, (2) dioceses, (3) schools, (4) universities, (5) hospitals, (6) businesses/agricultural farms, (7) religious orders. 

These Catholic institutions are expected to make a public commitment to begin a seven-year journey to total sustainability in the spirit of Laudato Si. 

There is an expectation that with 1.2 billion total Catholics all over the world, getting 3.5 percent (or 42 million) to make a public commitment within seven years can make a difference in systemic change globally. 

Goal number 3 – ecological economics – refers to “sustainable production, fair-trade, ethical consumption, ethical investments, divestment from fossil fuels and any economic activity harmful to the planet and the people, investment in renewable energy.”

This global action plan (ecological economics) needs to be refined. It should avoid giving an impression of the Church acting on its own without reference to the developments in the world and the action of governments and other movements to address the pandemic and ecological crises.

It should not be based solely on Laudato Si without analyzing the current situation and trends: the external threats and opportunities in the world and societies, the internal strengths and weaknesses within the Church. 

A strategic dimension is needed and compartmentalization should be avoided – whether in terms of the seven goals, or the seven sectors/institutions (schools need not be separate from universities?).  

The target of achieving 3.5 percent (42 million Catholics) within seven years making a commitment to total sustainability may not be enough unless the Church sees herself as part of a bigger movement to address the global crises and must collaborate with governments and movements. 

The Church and the movements within the Church cannot operate within a bubble and ignore the reality that everything and everyone is interconnected. 

Thus, there is a need to use the see-judge-act method in a broader perspective – globally and locally. As goals and specific plans are drawn up, there has to be an accurate assessment of reality. 

In looking at the economic landscape, it is important to recognize the reality of the decline of the global neoliberal capitalist system, the acceleration of deglobalization, the emerging new industrial revolution powered by renewable energy, digital information, and communication technology, and new systems of mobility, and an economic system that is developing – a collaborative/sharing economy, a circular economy, regenerative agriculture, etc. 

The Church – especially in Europe – must also take into consideration the Green Recovery or the European Green Deal which embodies these new developments. 

These are the means to achieving a 55 percent reduction in greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2050. 

The US under the Biden administration has re-joined the Paris Agreement and is considering a Green New Deal in spite of the opposition of the Republicans and of oil companies and big business lobbies. 

Other countries need to be pressured to adopt a similar green recovery that addresses both the pandemic and the ecological crisis, otherwise, they will be left behind. 

Any plan should include these developments.

The Church at the universal and local level, as well as religious orders, should not only be talking about divestment from fossil fuel but investment in green technology and shifting to renewable energy. 

Divestment is no longer just an ethical decision but also a sound financial move since the fossil fuel industry is in decline. Shifting to renewable energy means promoting solar and wind energy, retrofitting church buildings and religious houses for this purpose. 

In underdeveloped areas especially in the rural setting, the church institutions should promote and assist in the capability building of digital information and communication technology. 

This also means promoting, supporting, and funding small and medium scale industries and cooperatives in parishes and Basic Ecclesial Communities that can use the latest technology like 3-D printing, 5G technology, and Artificial Intelligence while adopting the principles of appropriate technology. 

This is where church funding and investment should be directed instead of the stock market. A circular economy and regenerative agriculture should also be promoted in the communities within the dioceses and parishes. 

Community farms and gardens adopting natural and organic farming methods should be promoted. The Church must make sure that the economy benefits everyone, especially the poor, and must be sustainable. 

Thus, ecological economics should respond to the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. It should be based on the spirituality of communion. 

It should involve community participation and action – either in cooperating and implementing green recovery policies or pressuring governments to adopt these. 

It also involves lifestyle change that includes changing patterns of consumption and avoiding consumerism and throw-away culture. 

Coming up with a new economic system in a world ravaged by the COVID19 pandemic and the ecological crisis is not the task or competence of the Church. 

Recognizing that we are living in an interconnected world, the Church should not operate as if it is acting by itself in responding to these crises. 

The action plan should not be based solely on Laudato Si. Rather, it should be based on reading the signs of the times, seeing the dark clouds as well as the signs of hope and the changes that are already happening. 

While we can be critical of the dominant economic system and the inaction of governments, we must also be appreciative of what is already there: the collaborative/sharing/giving economy, circular economy, regenerative agriculture. 

The economy emphasizes access rather than ownership, mutual interest rather than self-interest, community rather than individualism, empathy and trust rather than greed and suspicion. 

These are concrete expressions of the universal communion – (a) communion with one another as brothers, sisters, and friends, (b) communion with nature. 

This is what ecological economics as adopted by the Laudato Si Action plan should be. 

In addressing the pandemic and ecological crises, what matters most is not just how we can act together as members of the Church following our own plan but collaborate with others as part of a single human family.

Excerpt from the article “An Alternative System for a World Ravaged by the Pandemic and Ecological Crisis” by Fr. Amado L. Picardal, CSsR, STD

Father Amado Picardal is a Filipino Redemptorist priest who holds a doctorate in theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He has lived a life of solitude as a hermit after an active life as a missionary, professor, promoter of Basic Ecclesial Communities, and peace and human rights advocate. He is currently executive co-secretary of the Commission for Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation in Rome.

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