Justice. Ecological debt. Climate change. Protection of the planet. We comment on the new Encyclical Letter of Pope Francis: “Praise be to you, on the proper care of our common home”, with Anglican Reverend Geoff Davies, director of the Southern Africa Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, an inter-faith environmentalist organization formed in 2006 by a collaboration among African Traditional Healers, Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Quaker, and a wide range of Christian denominations.
Among the central themes of the encyclical are “global inequalities” and “the ecological debt” contracted by rich nations with those of the World’s South…
Allow me to say first of all, I am grateful to the Pope for the encyclical. We had awaited these words for some time. All the key issues were addressed: poverty, environment, native communities. It above all recognizes the dignity of the poor. There has been talk for a long time in Africa of the ecological debt contracted by the rich world mainly with the continent. For centuries the West has exploited the African populations. Now it does it through the extractive industry, with the uranium, copper, steel mines, despite the impact that these projects have on the environment and local communities. Wealthy nations make fortunes taking advantage of the Africans’ desperation for work. And they dump the most dangerous waste in the continent.
What does Africa ask today?
“It demands justice. The industrialized world causes climate change, while our continent pays the consequences. According to experts, a 2 centigrade increase in the global temperature in some areas of Africa can lead to hikes of 4 or 5 degrees. Large regions of the continent risk becoming unproductive on a farming level, uninhabited and without water sources”.
What are the recommendations offered by the Pope?
Pope Francis says that justice must be sought for everyone and not only the people of the wealthier nations. For us Africans this means immediately asking for technical and financial support from the industrialized North: only in this way will the continent pass from the era of fossil fuels to that of green and renewable energy. A few square kilometers of Sahara could meet the world electricity demand and allow us to win the battle against climate change. Rich nations must acknowledge their ecological debt, contributing to the security, education and protection of the planet.
Only in this way will Africa be able to stop destroying forests for wood coal!”. The “Praise be to you” stresses that “there are not two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but a single complex social-environmental one.
The fundamental idea in the encyclical is that we are one planet, on which all living beings are inter-connected and dependent one on another. The crisis is however not only social and environmental, but economic. How we use money is fundamental. Today in the world money is seen as the most important thing of all. This is dramatically confirmed by human trafficking.
A representative of Bartholomew I, the Patriarch of Constantinople, attended the presentation of the encyclical. How important is the ecumenical dimension?
It constitutes one of the essential characteristics of the document, which really speaks to everyone, not only to the Churches, but to all of the world faiths. And it is understandable: imagine an elephant that suddenly enters an office: all will attempt to keep it under control to impede it from destroying anything or hurting anyone. This is what must happen today with climate change: we cannot look the other way, we must confront the emergency all together. The Pope says this and I therefore pray that all populations and political leaders around the world listen to his words. (V.G.)