Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit. Intergenerational solidarity is not optional ….
Laudato si’ (LS) no. 159
In college, I studied the criminal justice system. My major, however, was social ecology. I learned that there are many aspects to the issues of crime and criminal justice. Obviously, law and the behavioral sciences are important. But so are economics and urban studies. Even linguistics has something to say. In short, ecology holds that everything is connected. That is what Chapter Three of Laudato si’ is about. Integral ecology connects God, humans and all creation in webs of relationships.
Summary of Chapter 4: Integral ecology
“[E]verything is closely interrelated ….” Integral ecology accounts for every aspect of the problem. LS no. 137.
The ecological view: everything is connected
Ecology studies the relationship between living things and their environment. LS no. 138. Indeed, nature is not separate from us. Nor is it merely a setting for our lives. “We are part of nature ….” For this reason, we must seek solutions that deal with both environmental and social problems. LS no. 139.
Each creature exists within ecosystems. Although ecosystems are useful, they also have an intrinsic value. LS no. 140. The market promotes predictability and standardization. But we need a broader vision. Integral ecology looking at the world in many contexts. These include the human, family, work-related and urban contexts. LS no. 141. The health of society affects the environment and the quality of human life. “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment.” LS no. 142.
Additionally, our culture is under threat. We must protect humanity’s cultural treasures. LS no. 143. Even though a consumer-driven global economy treats all cultures alike, we must appreciate each culture on its own terms. LS no. 144. Environmental exploitation may exhaust a local community’s vital resources and undo social structures. LS no. 145. We must show special care for indigenous peoples and their traditions. LS no. 146.
Integral ecology includes daily life
The quality of human life depends in part on the settings in which people live. LS no. 147. Attention to physical spaces and personal relationships can improve even hellish places. LS no. 148. Even in areas of extreme poverty and crime, love proves more powerful than violence. LS no. 149.
Urban planners should draw on “peoples’ thought processes, symbolic language and ways of acting.” LS no. 150. A number of issues must be addressed. First, different parts of a city should be well integrated to give residents a sense of belonging to the whole. LS no. 151. Second, lack of housing is a grave problem LS no. 152. And third, we need to better address our transportation systems. LS no. 153.
Nor should our concern be limited to cities. Some rural people also lack essential services or a dignified life. LS no. 154. Our daily life also relates to the moral law. We should accept our bodies as God’s gift. LS no. 155.
Human ecology seeks the common good
The principle of the common good
“Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good“, an important principle of Catholic social teaching. The Second Vatican Council described the common good as “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment.” LS no. 156, quoting Gaudium spes no. 26.
Respect for the human person underlies the common good. At the same time, the common good involves the overall welfare of society. It allows smaller social units, beginning with the family, autonomy. This is the principle of subsidiarity. Finally, it calls for social peace. LS no. 157. Thus, the common good calls us to solidarity and a preferential option for the poor. In other words, our faith requires that we appreciate the immense dignity of the poor. LS no. 158.
Integral ecology requires intergenerational justice
The common good extends to future generations. As a result, “the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” LS no. 159. I will discuss this below. We need to think beyond environmental issues in isolation. LS no. 160. We are accountable to those who must endure the consequences of our decisions. LS no. 161. Therefore, we must overcome rampant individualism and a culture of instant gratification. LS no. 162.
Focus on intergenerational justice
When I was a tenderfoot Scout, I learned to always leave my campsite cleaner than I found it. This was more than just being tidy. It was a matter of respecting the next person who would come by.
Unfortunately, it appears that I will not be leaving this earth cleaner than I found it. I will not be leaving it more peaceful, more prosperous, or more sustainable. By so many measures of what I most value, I will be leaving to future generations a world worse off than what I inherited from my parents and grandparents. As Pope Francis warns: “We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.” LS no. 161.
It doesn’t need to be this way. But “[t]he effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.” LS no. 161. We need to reverse “an ethical and cultural decline” that occurs alongside environmental deterioration. Rampant individualism and a culture of instant gratification are at the heart of this decline. What then is the way out? It begins with “think[ing] about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations ….” LS no. 159. When we do this —
— we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others. Since the world has been given to us, we can no longer view reality in a purely utilitarian way, in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit.
LS no. 159.
Our attitude toward future generations is shaped by how we treat others today. Solidarity with the poor and excluded of our world will lead naturally to solidarity with those who come after us. LS no. 162. Everything is connected.
Next week: Thinking outside the box
Politics as usual won’t solve today’s environmental or social problems. Neither will diplomacy or economics as usual. We need original and creative ideas. We look for daring ideas that are not beholden to national interests or next year’s election. Next week, I will discuss the need to redefine the meaning of progress.