The following is the full text of the 37 page booklet – the illustrated print version is available at Amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=the+restoration+of+our+common+home
The Restoration of
Our Common Home
Summary of and Commentary on
Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter:
On the Care of Our Common Home
Mark W. McGinnis
This booklet is not copyrighted and is in the public domain.
The author of this booklet is receiving no royalties on its sale.
The author is available for presentations on this booklet
front cover image: Schaus Swallowtail
from Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings
by Mark W. McGinnis
PART ONE: WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME
PART TWO: THE HUMAN CONNECTION & INTEGRAL ECOLOGY
PART THREE: ACTION
The introduction of this booklet is a guest opinion piece I wrote for my local newspaper. In that commentary I write of my first impression of Pope Francis’ encyclical letter, On the Care of Our Common Home. After more reflection on the Pope’s letter, I decided I wanted to play some small part in making these important ideas more accessible. This booklet of summaries of and commentaries on the Pope’s letter is the result of that decision. I did not try to cover all sections in the Pope’s complex document. Instead I chose areas that I personally found enlightening in understanding the current ecological crisis.
It may be said that I have secularized Pope Francis’ letter in this booklet and that would be a fair assessment. The Pope’s letter contains large sections of Catholic doctrine that I am not qualified to comment on. There are points of Catholic principles expressed in the letter that I do not agree with, but I have found as I grow older, I need not agree with all the ideas of another to agree with some. The majority of the scriptural and theological references made by the Pope are beautiful and moving, and he uses these passages and quotes to clearly support the ideas in his letter. I would advise anyone who would like the complete experience of Pope Francis’ profound document to read the entire encyclical letter.
I am an artist and in recent years I have produced books of my projects. In creating this booklet I was uncomfortable in making a book without images. My solution was to use sections from paintings in my project, Extinct and Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings. I do not see these as illustrations for the booklet but as decorative embellishments and reminders of what is being lost.
I would like to express my appreciation to Patricia Heeb, Elton Hall, and Mike Philley for their editorial assistance.
Mark W. McGinnis
First published as a guest opinion piece in the Idaho Statesman, Boise, Idaho, June 30, 2015, under the title, Pope’s call to Reduce Consumption is Warranted.
Let me preface this commentary by saying that I am not a Catholic or a Christian but I have done some study of Christian theology and have respect for many aspects of foundational Christian morals and ethics. On hearing that Pope Francis was to release an encyclical letter on climate change and global ecology I was pleased. For the past year I have been working on a project of paintings and research concerning extinct and almost extinct species. My presumption was that the Pope would reinforce my conclusions. I was wrong. While there was some affirmation of the dark future I saw looming, the letter painted a picture that was much darker and much lighter.
The first half of the letter (an encyclical letter of 91 pages) lays out an assessment of where the world is today in its state of ecological crisis. Topics covered are climate change, pollution, water shortage, loss of biodiversity, decline in quality of human life, breakdown of society and global inequality. These areas are not covered with fluffy generalizations but with well researched information. The urgent and drastic character of these problems is clearly laid out but with compassion and wisdom.
The second half of the letter deals with the inadequacies of how these problems are being dealt with and about how we can and must address the collapse of our ecosystem. The Pope’s well developed approach to slowing the ecological collapse is multifaceted. He puts forth direction for national, political, economic and business reforms. But it is the individual and local reforms that held the most interest and promise to me. To put it simply the Pope encourages us all to withdraw from the consumer society.
Pope Francis does not ask us to give up our basic comforts but to stop the excessive and sometimes addictive lives of consumption many of us live, myself included. What we can do is reduce our energy consumption in every way possible; reuse, repair, and restore rather than throwing away and buying new, supporting local suppliers of our needs, forming groups of people who are committed to living lives simpler in consumption but lives broader in enjoyment. The Pope shows us that this way of living will be not be lives of deprivation but lives of greater connection to our world with fulfillment and joy.
These individual and group efforts can have an impact on ecological collapse. If people make these changes economic and political systems must and will change, certainly not willingly, but they will change.
From my studies I have envisioned an increasingly bleak future for our grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond. This letter gives me some hope. I believe this remarkable teaching will resonate with Christians, people of other religions, and people with no religious affiliation.
Over two thousand years ago a carpenter from Nazareth became a teacher/preacher. He taught a radical new way to live and love and upset the powers that controlled his world. Today the teacher/preacher Pope Francis calls us to a radical new way of living our lives — a call that will most certainly upset the powers that control our world.
(Encyclical letter, Laudato Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home — available online and in print)
The Restoration Of Our
Summary of and Commentary on
Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter:
On the Care of Our Common Home
Part One: What is Happening to Our Common Home
In his letter, Pope Francis’ coins the word “rapidification” to indicate the unprecedented acceleration of change that humanity is forcing on itself and the planet. The earth’s ecosystems are unraveling under the unrelenting pressures caused by this rapid rate of change. The Pope asks each of us to look closely at what is happening and what we can do about it.
Pollution, Waste, and the Throwaway Society.
Summary: The poisoning of our air, water, and soil is inflicting untold damage not only to the health of the human population but also to many other forms of life. The Pope points out that it is the poor of the world who bear the majority of the suffering and deaths brought about by pollution. Waste produced by human beings is reaching staggering proportions; industrial, home, construction, medical, and agricultural waste accumulates in millions of tons every year, covering our land and now clogging our oceans. As the Pope puts it bluntly “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Much of the waste problem the Pope refers to is the result of our throwaway culture. Instead of shaping our lives to be in harmony with nature’s cycles of production, decay, and renewal, our habitual approach to using natural resources is to use and simply discard the waste. The Pope encourages us to transition from a throwaway society to one that limits the use of non-renewable resources, moderates consumption, and reuses and recycles.
Commentary: The United States Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act of the early 1970’s has had a positive impact on lessening the pollution of our environment, although in recent years these regulations on pollution have come under attack by economic powers. The growing giant economies of China and India and many other countries of the world now spew immense quantities of pollution into the air and water. The throwaway society that we have created must be transformed as the raw materials are finite and will run out. People often look to gains in recycling as a positive sign that things are changing in regard to lessening the throwaway habits of our culture. Recycling is a positive development and the speed with which the public has embraced this new behavior is very promising. It should be considered, however, that much energy is used in producing the consumer goods that are thrown away, and then even more energy is used in recycling that garbage into new items. A better solution would be to not generate the trash in the first place.
Summary: “The climate is a common good” the Pope states, and to disrupt that good is a threat to all. Scientific study after scientific study has shown that the climate is warming — ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, increased extreme weather events, and weather patterns are changing. While there are multiple forces in this process, the human-engineered release of greenhouse gasses is the primary cause. To stop this ongoing and increasing alteration of our atmosphere, the pope calls for changes in our lifestyle including how we consume and how we produce. The ramifications of climate change leaves no corner of our lives untouched: the environmental, the social, and the political, all are deeply impacted. Pope’s Francis emphasizes once again that the poor are those who will be and are suffering the most. The poor do not have the financial means to help them adapt or escape. The impact of climate change on the land, the animals, and plants on which their lives depend has already contributed to many poor people leaving their homes, many times massing in city slums. Pope Francis points out that our failure to respond to the plight of these millions of people shows a tragic lack of responsibility by those who have the power to change the course of ecological collapse. He states, “Many of those who possess more resources or political power seem mostly concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms….”
Commentary: Climate change is the colossus among the threats to our common home. Carbon dioxide release and temperature gains are increasing at a rate faster than climate scientists had projected only a few years ago. We cannot predict with certainty or fully comprehend the impact of this global phenomenon. In the area of climate change, as in the entire encyclical letter, the Pope’s compassion for the poor is a primary factor of concern. His statement on the displacement of the poor due to degradation of their environment made me reflect on the impact this could have as climate change progresses. Huge migrations of the poor could dwarf the tragic refugee migrations caused by the wars of humankind, creating havoc and suffering of untold proportions.
Summary: Pope Francis states that access to safe, drinkable water is “a basic and universal human right.” The consumption of freshwater worldwide is proceeding at an unsustainable rate greatly exacerbated by wasteful use. The survival of the earth’s diverse ecosystems depends on fresh water. The waste of water in developed countries is staggering. The amount of fresh water used in the industrial, agricultural, and domestic sectors is immense and excessive. The great underground aquifers are becoming depleted and in danger of being poisoning by mining, farming, and industrial practices. Moreover, we are beginning to see corporations buying up water rights so that in the future fresh water will not be a universal right but a corporate product to be sold. The scarcity of fresh water will affect everyone. This is not a problem in the distant future but a problem that is quickly escalating and its effects are seen right now.
4. Loss of Biodiversity
Summary: A great truth is compassionately expressed by the Pope as follows, “Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” The living resources of the earth are being plundered for profit. Forests, jungles, wetlands, and natural prairies are diminishing at a rapid rate. With the loss of these great habitats comes the loss of thousands of plant and animal species every year. Small creatures, large creatures, unseen creatures — all parts of the complex network of nature — are being eliminated from the earth. This mass extinction is primarily human induced and most of the causes can be traced back to satisfying the desires of the consumer society. Excessive consumption overrides the long-term vision needed to conserve ecosystems critical to our survival and the survival of other species. There are individuals, organizations, national and international agencies working to protect some endangered ecosystems and species, but their efforts cannot keep pace with the destruction of habitats that species need to survive. The biodiversity of the oceans is vast and complex. The depletion of fisheries and the loss of coral reefs are ready examples of the abuse of these great bodies of water. While we do not fully understand or appreciate the ecosystems we are destroying on land and in the oceans, we do know that all life on this planet is irrevocably connected and when we destroy one species, we impact all.
Commentary: Climate change, destruction of habitats, runaway pollution, and wanton slaughter of species for sport or profit are devastating countless forms of life on this planet. A large area of this crisis that is less known is the acidification of the oceans caused by carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases. The ocean is now absorbing around 2.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide a year. This carbon absorption is acidifying the water and causing an inability for an as yet undetermined number of species to reproduce. This is leading to a gradual collapse of the food chain in the ocean with impending catastrophic results. Cycles of extinction and evolution of species have always been part of the Earth’s history, but the extinction of species is now proceeding at a pace 1,000 times faster than what the normal rate of extinction would be in the absence of human interference. In my project Extinct & Almost Extinct: 50 Paintings (details from the series dapple the pages of this booklet) I had much time to reflect on the rapid demise of life on our planet. The background research on extinction, the research to select species for the project, the closer research on the selected species, the photography research on the species and their environments; all these brought me into the reality of the extinction crisis. But it was in making the actual paintings that I came to a clear understanding of the tragedy. To place stroke after stoke on the paper and slowly create my interpretation of the creature that no longer exists or that may soon be gone was a kind of connection that I had not anticipated when beginning the project. One day while painting the nearly extinct Sumatran orangutan, I was studying a group of facial photographs of the great ape and I was transfixed by the eyes of one of the orangutans. The profundity and wisdom that looked back at me was overwhelming. To think that these noble creatures might soon no longer exist brought me deep sorrow.
5. Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society
Summary: Many of the large cities of the world have become increasingly unhealthy for not only the poor but for most levels of society, while the financial elite create closed neighborhoods and sealed skyscrapers to live their lives in isolation from the decay of society around them. This extreme social stratification leads to aggression, violence, widespread drug use, and loss of connection to others in our communities.
Commentary: The growth in the past fifty years of stratification between the rich and the poor is a crime against humanity. The 85 richest people in the world now have as much money as the 3.5 billion poorest people.
6. Global Inequalities
Summary: Pope Francis points out that the constructed environment of humans and the diversity of the natural world are inextricably connected. Human and social degradation must be addressed as well as environmental degradation. This degradation is not shared equally among the nations of the world. The difference in the impact of the ecological crisis is glaringly obvious in the divide of the global north and global south. The Pope holds that there is an “ecological debt” that the north owes to the south. The export from the south of raw materials for the consumer society of the north has left many southern nations with resource depletion and increased ecological problems. When multi-national corporations have extracted the resources they want from an area, they often leave behind deforestation, pollution, and unemployment.
7. Weak Responses
Summary: “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years,” observes the Pope. Global summits on the environment have produced little meaningful change. There are many groups around the world that are intensely working to try to institute reforms but vested economic powers and political interests often work against their efforts. There are nations that have made meaningful progress in lowering their output of greenhouse gases, restoring forests and rivers, and advancing renewable forms of energy and energy efficient transportation systems. Unfortunately the impact of these progressive reforms has been diminished by the huge nations of the world who continue and increase their output of greenhouse gases. As resources shrink it is likely that wars will break out in competition for remaining raw materials. There is a rise in what the Pope calls “a false or superficial ecology” that tries to project a mist over the critical issues with denial or reassurance that encourages complacency. There are those who will insist that we can go on with business as usual and the myth of progress will carry us through. Pope Francis forcefully states, “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying to not see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.”
Commentary: Wars between people for raw materials began with early tribal people competing for the best areas for hunting and gathering. These wars have continued and escalated ever since. The most insidious occurred when Europe colonized much of the world to reap the riches from nearly every corner of the globe. Fighting for resources continued into the 20th and 21st centuries with wars waged for the control of oil. These wars or “conflicts” were often cloaked under the rhetoric of national interest and freedom. As the resources of the world dwindle from climate change and the demands of the consumer society, the competition for remaining resources will be fierce and terrible, using our current and future technologies of warfare.
Part Two: The Human Connection & Integral Ecology
In the following sections Pope Francis deals with some of the ways people have contributed to the ecological crisis and how “Integral Ecology” can provide a way to understand how environmental, human and social factors are intertwined.
Human Roots of the Ecological
Summary: Pope’s letter grapples with the complex and multifaceted ways that technology is involved in the ecological crisis. There has been a staggering range and speed of technological change from steam power transforming industry in the 18th century to the blinding speed of innovation in computer technology in the 21st century. To be sure, technology has reduced many of the sufferings that human beings endured for millennia and greatly improved the quality of life for many people, but not all technology has been to the benefit of human beings. The technologies of war have inflicted horrible suffering and death and threaten more of the same. There is an assumption by many that technological advances are good as are the “progress” and power they bring. But increasingly it seems that human societies may not be equipped with the ethical sensibility necessary to use technology wisely. Many people believe that natural resources and life of this world are merely commodities to be exploited and when they are gone somehow technology will provide replacements. Technology is now the pattern, the model around which our lifestyles are built. This pattern expands and encompasses every aspect of our lives and to step outside the pattern is difficult. Technological innovation and growth driven by the financial marketplace is notorious for paying little heed to ramifications on the environment and future generations. People are the producers and distributors of technology and people can make informed choices. We need not succumb to the allure nor bow to the dictates of technology; we can shape it to be a force for our common good. With its remarkable power to adapt and transform, technology can become an important part of our turning from a society of consumption to one of preservation and dignity. There are now people in the technological world that are willing to do just that. As Pope Francis poetically states, “An authentic humanity, calling for a new synthesis, seems to dwell in the midst of our technological culture, unnoticed, like a mist seeping gently beneath a closed door.” Many people understand that technology is not the path to meaning in their lives. The need now is for what Pope Francis calls “a bold cultural revolution.” This is neither an abandonment of technological innovation nor a return to the Stone Age, but a slowing down, considering, planning, and acting on a new way of life that will bring sustainability and true satisfaction to our lives.
Commentary: Technology is an instrument that can be used for good or bad, for preservation or destruction, for life or for death. It is a remarkably powerful and sometimes dangerous tool in the hands of imperfect human beings. Consumer-based technology is the product of enormous corporations whose goals are profit. There appears to be little concerted effort in these businesses to consider the long-term impact of their products on human welfare much less their ecological ramifications. Even with the never-ending stream of bigger TVs, faster computers, high tech cars, and mesmerizing entertainment at our fingertips, many people have less faith in a “better tomorrow.” The incessant flow of gadgets and slightly improved models to replace the old ones has become a seductive and sedative part of many people’s lives. There is no doubt that technology can play a large role in stopping the spiral of collapse in our ecosystem, but it needs to move from being an arm of the profit-driven economic system to a force of creative innovation in shaping a better world. In the vast world of the Internet there are already many people creating avenues to share information and design opportunities for what is being referred to by some as the “post-capitalist” economy.
Summary: “We were created with a vocation to work,” observes Pope Francis. Work creates dignity, fulfillment, and meaning in the lives of people. Charity is sometimes a necessity to sustain people in need, but a far greater gift is to provide people with meaningful, productive work. Unfortunately this has not been the direction of our economy. The replacement of people with machines has eliminated countless jobs, crippling the economic well being of millions of people to increase the profits of corporations. To continue and nurture meaningful employment the Pope advocates renewed diversity and creativity in the business world including: small scale food production, modest use of land, reduced waste production, and small scale economies. Governments need to establish measures to preserve and protect small producers and small business people and give them access to resources and financial support. Economic freedom does not exist where people do not have access to work and the ability to support themselves through their own efforts.
Commentary: Work is not a separate section in the encyclical letter, but I found the Pope’s idea so compelling I wanted to highlight it. Today we hear very little about the dignity of work or the right to work. It has become the norm that anytime a technology can take the place of a person in the workplace it will be done. Around three million jobs once in the U.S. have been exported to countries where multi-national corporations exploit poor people as they exploit other resources in those countries. As working class jobs have dwindled in this country so has the middle class, and the new class of the working poor has grown and grown. A renewal of small producers of agricultural and commercial goods will be key in making an economic transition. The success of such ventures would require the people of those localities to support the growth of local markets and abandon the corporations that have taken many jobs away. The transition from corporate economic power to local economic sufficiency will produce a radical shift in how people work. It will take place over a long period of time, and be sustained by local economies providing more productive and meaningful ways for people to work. It is important to note that not all corporations are guilty of crimes against the ecology or social structure. There are corporations that are working to be a positive force in the challenges of climate crisis, but there needs to be many more.
1. Environmental, Economic and Social Ecology
Summary: Francis quotes Pope Benedict XVI, “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” Ecology is about how living organisms and their environments relate to one another. Time, space, the physical, the biological, the chemical, the atomic and the sub-atomic, all are woven together in the fabric of existence. To separate human beings from nature is impossible and if we harm nature, we are harming ourselves. The ecological collapse is not just a collapse of nature; it is also a breakdown of our lives and our relationships to one another. In healing nature we must also heal the dignity of humanity. We must find ways to mend the complex strands in the fabric of life we have broken and frayed. The task is immense: controlling emissions of greenhouse gases, purifying drinking water, controlling epidemics, eliminating diseases, conserving and restoring the soil, breaking down waste, and so much more. A shift from economic growth to economic ecology is required. All fields of knowledge need to focus their efforts and wisdom into healing and reconnecting the threads of life. Social ecology too needs healing. From family units to the international organizations, efforts need to be focused on stopping injustice and violence and restoring true freedom. If social structures are in chaotic imbalance, how can we hope to restore ecological balance?
2. Cultural Ecology
Summary: Historic, cultural, and artistic heritage is threatened as well as the natural world around us. When we deal with restoring our ecology we must also protect the remaining diversity of the cultures in the world. Pope Francis states, “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.” The consumer society as spread by the globalized economy has had the effect of diminishing the rich variety of cultural traditions and unique cultural identities across the globe. The imposition of massive change on a people in the name of economic growth is as degrading as the damage being imposed on the natural environment. Local people and cultures must control their own futures. Ill-conceived “economic development” often has plundered local communities, leaving them without resources, their livelihoods and their sense of identity, collapsing and destroying their unique cultures. The loss of a distinct culture in this way is no less a tragedy than the extinction of a species of animal or plant.
Commentary: A theme that runs throughout the Pope’s letter is that human concerns and environmental concerns cannot be separated. Integral Ecology is his way of emphasizing this idea. He believes that there can be no healing of the ecology of our world if the mind and spirit of human beings are not healed as well. This is not a concept I have given much thought before this letter, but its truth seem obvious to me now. If people are sick in their thinking and that sickness spills over into how they treat their environment and other human beings, there is no hope for the ecosystem. People must be made aware of and empowered to change their destructive attitudes and lifestyles if balance is to return to our world.
3. The Principle of Common Good
Summary: Pope Francis deeply feels that human ecology cannot be separated from the common good. The common good is at the core of social ethics. A society that is structured to maximize the good of its groups and individuals and to develop the social structures that allow every member the opportunity to fulfill her or his potential is a society working for the common good. Such a society calls for peace, stability, and security, for without those conditions the common good cannot exist. If we look at the violence, injustice, and lack of basic human rights that prevail in so many places in the world, we can see that the need to foster the common good is essential.
Commentary: To capitalist countries, the term “common good” conjures thoughts of demonized communism and socialism. The crushing of individuals by totalitarian regimes, as exemplified by the Soviet Union, and imposing the ruling elite’s idea of common good on the people is not the social ethic being proposed here. This common good would be exemplified by healthy individualism in a community that uses creativity with effort to generate common good for all. This would be a shift from “selfish good” to common good and is critical in changing our direction from hopelessness to hope.
4. Justice Between the Generations
Summary: Common good is not a concept for just now, for only our generation; it is a concept that must be considered for future generations as well. The Pope declares that predictions of horrific futures for generations to come can no longer be ignored as mere hyperbole. As we witness the collapse of our ecology and increasingly understand how this will escalate in the future, our duty to those who come after us cries out. Each generation is merely a caretaker of this world of wonder. What quality of life will future generations experience in a deteriorating environment? Many people have no desire to imagine what future generations will experience, preferring to keep their narrow vision focused on themselves. This rampant individualism is fueled by a culture of instant gratification and fired by the consumer society. Here lies a critical element in the dilemma we face. Here lies the need for transformation of perceptions and attitudes. The time is now to begin building a new direction of preservation rather than destruction, one that does not solely focus on our personal needs but one that sees the needs of all people and all life around us. This is a vision that is responsible for future generations as well as our own.
Commentary: Several years ago I produced a long series of paintings on the Snake River and its many tributaries. In this remarkable part of Northwest my eyes experienced the great beauty of the mountains, canyons, deserts, rivers, streams, lakes, and waterfalls. I also experienced many places in my travels where I could see in my mind’s eye how beautiful this landscape had been before its beauty was forever lost to human development or abuse. How many of the exquisite places I painted will still have their grace and wonder for my great-grandchildren or my more distant descendants? How many of the animals, birds, fish, trees, plants, and insects that inhabit these places will be there in 100 years? As the climate changes, the resources dwindle, forests and grasslands burn, water dries up, and the uniquely evolved creatures disappear, what can we possibly say to those who come after us?
Part Three: Action
In this long, complex part of Pope Francis’ letter he presents approaches and actions in dealing with the ecological crisis. It is here that he lays out his plan for a cultural revolution.
1. The International Community
Summary: “Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan,” states Pope Francis. In the second half of the 20th century awareness began to develop that humanity shared a common home and cracks were beginning to form in the foundation of that home. Since that time there have been serious efforts by some to try to mend those fractures, but in spite of their efforts the cracks continue to spread. The first Earth Summit was held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. It set forward goals for reducing greenhouse gases and protecting biodiversity, but what the summit did not establish was effective, practical ways to implement those goals. In 2012 another world summit was held. It issued a wide-ranging document, again with goals and yet little agreement on mechanisms to implement them. The international community seems to be unable to secure the global good before national interests. Enforceable, meaningful international agreements are needed now.
Commentary: The most serious threat to our common world is the use of fossil fuels—in particular coal, oil, and natural gas, the primary producers of greenhouse emissions. They need to be phased out as quickly as feasible and replaced with sources of renewable energy. But international meeting after international meeting has generated the same dismal results of lofty rhetoric and feeble action. The nations that are the primary generators of greenhouse gases bow to the pressure of economic interests that are driven by short-term growth and profit, measuring success in time-spans of months or years rather than decades or even centuries that are needed to solve the deep ecological problems before us. With such myopic views, far-sighted goals to heal our ecosystem seem unlikely.
Summary: Pope Francis understands that in dealing with the ecological collapse, economic calculations of cost and benefit do not work. The health of the our planet is not a product that fluctuates with a market. Many people who are currently making decisions within our economy and who hold great power in governments are obsessed with maximizing market growth and profits. They consider ecosystems and biodiversity as commodities to be kept in deposit until needed for exploitation. Those who point out such excesses are often accused of standing in the way of “progress.” True progress would be an economy based on sustainability and preservation. It would be a system open to a new wave of creativity and innovation that could reshape our world. “Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster,” states Pope Francis. It is not time for superficially protecting nature while protecting financial gain and calling it progress. Any economic development that does not create an ecologically sustainable world cannot be called progress.
Commentary: To drain the resources of the world, to cut down its forests, to wipe out its biodiversity, to pollute its air and water — this is not progress. The corporate world has developed an advertising/propaganda mega-structure that dwarfs all political propaganda machines that preceded it. The average U.S. citizen now is confronted with 2,000 to 5,000 ads a day. This advertising blitz transcends mere commercialism, becoming a form of brainwashing that conditions people to participate in a system that is destroying life on our planet. Overwhelmed and helpless would be a description of how I felt beneath the massive dark balloon of our current economic system that seemed to loom over me. This is the economic system that is poisoning our planet, stripping its resources, and creating a social system of immense inequality. The Pope’s message changed my perception of the dark balloon. I now see that the balloon has little feeder tubes that are connected to each of us in the consumer society. The balloon is not feeding us, we are feeding the economic system and if I withdraw my tube I stop supporting the system and I also deflate it a little bit. Every other person that withdraws their tube does the same. This withdrawal can be accomplished with what the Pope describes as a new lifestyle.
3. A New Lifestyle
Summary: “Many things need to change course,” says Pope Francis, “but it is we humans above all who need to change.” Our patterns of behavior and economic and social institutions have evolved into a system that that does one primary thing—consume. People have been conditioned to obsessively consume to excess, forming a society of collective selfishness that keeps them contained within a shell of greed. It is a shell that only contains loneliness and dissatisfaction. The solution promoted by our economy is to fill that hollowness of longing with more things. This dysfunctional lifestyle is at the heart of the ecological crisis. Hope lies in the notion that while human beings are capable of the worst, they are also capable of the best, and it is now time to strike out on a path of authentic freedom, a path that can lead us to health and dignity. This new lifestyle would by its nature bring constructive pressure on the current economic and political powers to change. It has been said that what we buy is a moral act. Withdrawing from the consumer society is a moral act and the most important act we can take. We must create a new lifestyle using our money and how we spend it to create change. We must generate a universal awareness of the power we hold to reverse the ecological collapse. This is a cultural revolution. This is an act of stepping outside our egotistic selves and moving with others on a path of collective healing. With this act of abandoning extreme individualism and over consumption we move toward repairing our fractured relationship with other human beings and the badly damaged environment around us.
Commentary: It is not international organizations or national governments that are going to halt our slide into ecological collapse. In this new cultural revolution there will be no need for protests, or marches, or lobbying, or campaigns—no confrontation, no violence, and no eco-terrorism. Our slide to ecological ruin will be arrested by the act of each individual withdrawing from the excesses of the consumer society. This new lifestyle will end the support for the destructive corporations that fill our sky and oceans with greenhouse gasses. Many of the powers that control our economy and our government are perversely designed to exploit the resources of the world and destroy the habitats of living beings. The Pope’s cultural revolution calls for building a new economic and political structure that truly fulfills the needs of humanity. That new structure will support and create local business, local agriculture, local entertainment, local renewable energy sources and more. It will involve a concerted effort to minimize energy consumption and water use. The transition from corporate economic power will produce a radical shift in how people work. It will take place over a long period of time and local economies will provide more productive and meaningful ways to make a living. During the transition period to a new lifestyle the money saved by lowering consumption can be applied to help those people who are suffering under the current economy and support organizations that are protecting and preserving the life on our planet. This may sound utopian, but I do not see it that way. I understand that with this new lifestyle would come all the difficulties that human beings generate wherever they go. The problems of conversion to and preservation of such a lifestyle will be many and ongoing. That is simply the way of life. But the improvement in the way human beings exist on this planet will be multifold, the most important being to halt our movement toward ecological collapse. There are people all over the world that already live this way. What is needed now is many, many more people doing the same. I do not describe a neo-hippie movement calling for communes and flowers in our hair. It is a new lifestyle that can include all people in all walks of life. It does not call for the sacrifice of comfort in our lives but a change to a more satisfying, meaningful way of being in the world. Such a transition will not happen overnight; it will take generations. Those of us living now will not see its full development, but we will see its beginning and we will benefit from its awakening. We will have the satisfaction of being a part of the restoration of our world, a world where future generations can enjoy its great beauty and bounty. This revolution has begun and there are people, organizations, technologies, and even nations that are on this path that Pope Francis has put into clearer focus and structure. It is a quiet, powerful revolution that can restore our common home. It is hope.
Summary: The Pope believes that one of the primary vehicles to bring about this cultural revolution is education. When we look at the state of our society we see that rabid consumption has not brought meaning into our lives. Pope Francis sees “individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, and the unregulated market” as hinderances to meaningful education. It is now imperative to create an educational structure that builds “ecological citizenship” by teaching ecological ethics in its most profound form of fostering responsibility and compassionate care for all life around us. An education is needed that teaches conservation, reduced consumption, reuse, that demonstrates respect for our local ecosystems and the care of all creatures. Pope Francis states “young people have a new ecological sensitivity and generous spirit,” that makes them open to such teachings and that “good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life.” This education can take place in many ways including through the family, schools, churches, and social groups. To support ecological ethics there must also be good aesthetic education that includes learning to see, appreciate and admire the wondrous beauty all around us.
Commentary: I agree with the Pope’s observation that young people are open to developing a new ecological awareness and many are already doing so. A discontent with the status quo is not unusual in young people and this stimulates a desire for more meaning in their lives. Pope Francis’ call for “aesthetic education” touched me as an artist and, again, made me aware of the depth of his letter. There is a true need to teach young people how to see beauty. The speed of their visual experience now is astounding. Electronic media flashes images with no possible way of looking at anything with contemplation. If children could be taught the art of simply sitting quietly in nature—absorbing the beauty of the large and small around them, enjoying the curiosity of birds and all manner of little creatures who will come to observe the quiet child—this would be an education that would form a lasting, loving relationship to our ecological world.
5. Joy, Peace & Connection
Summary: Pope Francis’ cultural revolution has the potential for a heightened quality of life, a meaningful life that is not compatible with obsessive and needless consumption. With the abandonment of the excesses of the consumer society, the Pope sees growth in the values of moderation, simplicity, and humility. Moderation opens the way to simple satisfactions that can be found in the small yet essential things in life. Joy can be found in fulfilling relationships. Humility, a virtue long out of fashion, has the potential to help form a balance with others and our environment, and create a sense of gratitude for what we have and a generous spirit toward others. These virtues nurture an inner peace and satisfaction in our lives and in our relationships with others. These virtues cultivate a quality of life that is directly connected to understanding that we need one another and have responsibilities for others and the world that we share. Deep, loving care for others and deep, loving care for our world is synonymous. If this can be developed we can care for our common home.
Commentary: A recurring theme in Pope Francis’ letter is that in abandoning the life of excessive consumption and dysfunctional individualism, we are not abandoning comfort in our lives. On the contrary, with the withdrawal from consumer society we are opening ourselves to lives with far more joy, meaning and fulfillment. This new lifestyle creates space for cultivating full, deep relationships with others and fostering appreciation of and care for the wondrous natural world around us. Far from sacrifice, the Pope’s beautiful vision gives us more joyful lives and a brighter future.
The collapse of our common home is not an apocalypse. It will not happen overnight or over the life of a generation or two generations. It will be a continuing process and it will unfold in ways that no one can predict with certainty. But the collapse has begun and the speed of the collapse as well as the potential to stop the collapse is in our hands. Pope Francis gives me a sense of hope. Hope that we can still stop this tragic loss of the incredible beauty and diversity of life on this planet. There may be those who believe that people cannot change enough to make Pope Francis’ cultural revolution a reality. But people do change, and they can change with remarkable speed. I have lived 65 years and in that time people have drastically changed in the way they live regarding gender equality, race relations, and the acceptance of gay lifestyles. These changes are monumental but continue to warrant improvement. It has been said that change is the only thing you can count on in this world. Around the globe there are people working to change our world for the better. I would like to do my small part in this effort. It is the small yet impactful actions by individuals that will add up to a better life for us now and a hopeful future for all life on our planet.
From reading the Pope’s remarkable document one could design many ways to reach the goals of transformation that he encourages, and each person will create their own path. Below are ways that I believe will help me to begin withdrawing from the life of overconsumption that I have been living. These are not changes that I will be able to make in one great leap, but changes that I will make bit by bit, eventually reaching my goals to the best of my abilities.
Ways to Join the Cultural Revolution
— avoid buying new as much as possible
– repair, restore, buy used, make do
– donate unwanted goods to charitable thrift shops
– shop at second-hand stores
– recycle but also use reusable containers as much as possible, create as little trash as possible, no bottled water (filter water and use reusable containers)
— shop local
– patronize local food stores, farmers markets, local bakeries, local breweries, local wineries, local dairies, local restaurants, local entertainment, local clothing stores, local hardware stores, local lumberyards, local bookstores, and any other “locals” to which you have access
– minimize chain stores shopping
– minimize internet shopping
– encourage and support a local economy that builds on the bounty of one’s own region and celebrates a “sense of place”
– minimize all energy use — set heating low er set air conditioning higher, minimize gasoline use, change lighting to LED, seal and winterize home
– minimize water use — less outdoor water- ing, less car washing, shorter showers, water- saving shower heads, minimum water use in dish and clothes washing
– use some of the money saved from with- drawing from the consumer society to help those suffering from the current economic system and support organizations that are protecting, preserving, and restoring life on earth
If the ideas in this booklet are of value to you, please share them with others.
Mark W. McGinnis is an artist and writer based in Boise, ID, Emeritus Professor of Art at Northern State University, Aberdeen, SD, and member of the Boise Unitarian/Universalist Fellowship.