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29th Feb 2024

Consume less to save planet, Pope says

  • Pope Francis on bailouts: 'Saving banks at any cost ... only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system' (Photo: Aleteia Image Department)

Pope Francis, religious leader to almost half the citizens of the EU, called on them and the rest of the world to consume less to save the earth from catastrophic climate change.

In a papal document called an encyclical letter, published Thursday (18 June), he wrote that even as awareness of environmental damage of particular behaviour has increased, what he considered a necessary lifestyle change is still not being carried out.

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“People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand” the pope writes.

“An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-destructive.”

The religious leader also called on consumers to use their economic power to force businesses to change towards cleaner production methods.

“When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently.”

He added that one man or woman can make a difference.

“We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.”

The text was praised by environmental organisations, but also by European climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete and US president Barack Obama.

British academic Nicholas Stern, who wrote an influential review of the impact of climate change, said the encyclical “is of enormous significance”.

Pope Francis criticized the “whirlwind of needless buying and spending”, which is caused by the market and said that economy should not be placed above everything else.

“Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy”, he wrote.

Bailouts

In his letter, the pope also criticised bank bailouts.

“Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery.”

Francis wrote that after the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the world missed an opportunity to develop “a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles”.

The plight of the world's poor is linked to the climate threat, he said, noting that “we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation”.

“We have to realise 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.”

Francis noted that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.”

He heckled “the throwaway culture” and rallied behind the idea of a circular economy, in which materials are used in the most efficient way.

ETS

Indirectly, Francis flayed the EU's flagship policy on climate, the emissions trading system.

“The strategy of buying and selling 'carbon credits' can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require", he said.

"Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”

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