Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 10, No. 12, December 2014
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
Home Page


Sustainable Development as a "Sign of the Times"



In this Christmas edition we continue the series on the family and sustainable development. As the cultural evolution away from the patriarchal structure continues to unfold, sustainable development is also becoming a "sign of the times." This confluence is not insignificant, as both family life and sustainable development are pervasive: nothing is unrelated to family life and nothing is unrelated to human ecology. As we celebrate Christmas, it is opportune to consider how various religious families are contributing, and how this contribution might be enhanced by liberation from old cultural accretions that no longer serve human progress. This issue includes a number of articles that explore the intersection of religious traditions with family life and sustainable development. Most of the material is based on the Christian tradition, but we are actively seeking articles from other traditions and those will be included as they become available. To all subscribers and readers we wish the best during this beautiful season of Advent-Christmas as we prepare to continue the quest in 2015.


Editorial: Sustainable Development as a "Sign of the Times"
Renew This World, by Gary Gardner
Toward the Definition of Economic Rights, by Carmine Gorga
Use and Abuse of the "Natural Capital" Concept, by Herman Daly
Are We Hard-Wired to Think We Can Grow Forever?, by James Magnus-Johnston
A Primer on Global Economic Sharing, by Stacco Troncoso
Paradigm Junction Project - Themes and Terminology, by Don Chisholm
The Insatiable God, by George Monbiot
Working Toward a Sustainable Future, by Alan Hecht, Joseph Fiksel, and Marina Moses
Catholic Social Doctrine and the Openness Revolution: Natural Travel Companions?, by Marco Fioretti
Meaning, Religion, and a Great Transition, by Michael Karlberg


Advances in Sustainable Development (news, pubs, tools, data)
Directory of Sustainable Development Resources (1000+ links)
Strategies for Solidarity and Sustainability (mitigation/adaptation)
Best Practices for Solidarity and Sustainability (business/governance)
Fostering Gender Balance in Society (peace, food, health, energy)
Fostering Gender Balance in Religion (religious traditions, spirituality)

Editorial Essay: Sustainable Development as a "Sign of the Times"


Christmas is a sign of renewal. The mystery of God becoming flesh encapsulates the breathtaking discovery that humanity, and the entire community of creation, keep moving along the path of a cosmic assumption to partake in divine life. The article in this page by Gary Gardner, and other articles included in this issue, attempt to capture where we are in this process of world renewal. It is no longer in doubt that we are facing a crisis of biblical proportions; and a cultural evolution is underway that, hopefully, signals a quantum jump forward in this process.

The passing of the patriarchal family structure confirms the insight that "as the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world in which we live." The ecological crisis is not unrelated to the current crisis in family values. It does not follow, however, that families -- nuclear families, religious families, the human family -- must remain patriarchally structured forever. On the contrary, it is precisely the patriarchal mindset of domination and control that has brought about the unbridled population and consumption growth that is stressing the ecological system to the limits.

The passing of the patriarchal family, and the emergence of sustainable development as global undertaking, together constitute a very visible "sign of the times." It is lamentable that many still conflate family values with patriarchal norms and reduce the sustainable development concept to the absurdity of infinite material growth in a finite planet. The concept makes sense, and becomes a "sign" that shines along the path going forward, when it is understood in terms of "integral human development" as understood in Catholic social doctrine. That human development is inhibited by unhealthy gender relations is also widely recognized by sustainable development scholars and practitioners: "Human development, if not engendered, is fatally endangered."

Indeed, integral human development, or development of the entire human person both objectively (bodily) and subjectively (spiritually), requires a radical renewal of gender relations. Gardner's article does not mention John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB), which is basically about marriage but has many significant implications for all the sacraments and practically every dimension of human life. The TOB is a theological anthropology, based on biblical exegesis, that articulates fundamental principles of unity in diversity, individuality in community, and equality in mutuality between men and women. The complementarity of man and woman entails reciprocity and mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.

There is also a "theology of gender" that goes beyond the TOB to examine the entire body of Christian doctrines in light of Trinitarian life. A most insightful and systematic exposition can be found in Sarah Coakley's God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay 'On the Trinity'. There is no resentfully vindictive feminism here, but a formidable substantiation of the idea that there is both masculinity and femininity in each person of the Trinity. Her theology is about aligning human desire with divine desire, which includes both masculine ("active") and feminine ("receptive") desire and eternally unites the three divine persons in one God who, Christians believe, became human in Christ. That this is no mere theological abstraction is made clear by a recent ChristianAid report on sustainable development work experience "on the ground."

The Trinity is not a patriarchy. Patriarchal families are becoming dysfunctional. The church is a family, but the patriarchal church hierarchy is becoming stale in today's world. In the Catholic Church, there is increasing consensus that we need both men and women ("fathers" and "mothers") ordained to act in persona Christi capitis. The exclusively male priesthood is a choice, not a dogma of the faith (Code of Canon Law 1024, Catechism of the Catholic Church 1598); there is also the unpersuasive traditional argument in section 1577, but section 1598 is the one that is listed among the more concise doctrinal essentials).

This issue is not going away, and the credibility of the church as a change agent is compromised as long as it is not resolved. Actually, the entire mission of the church in a post-patriarchal world is compromised. Same applies to all the other religious traditions that remain staunchly patriarchal. Religious families could do more to foster a healthier ecology of the human person, but only if they temper patriarchal ideology. Pope Francis is reportedly working on a new encyclical about human ecology, and it will be interesting to see if he touches on this matter.


Renew This World

Gary Gardner

This article was originally published in
America Magazine, 1 December 2014

A churchwide strategy for a sustainable planet

In “The Joy of the Gospel,” Pope Francis thoughtfully asked for suggestions for church reform that might better meet the needs of evangelization today. I trust he is getting a strong response! As an observer at the Vatican conference Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, I would like to offer a suggestion for how the church might focus her works this century and advance the interests of the world’s poor—and the church’s mission as well.

At the meeting, hosted by the Pontifical Academies of Sciences and of Social Sciences at the Vatican last May, participants reviewed the latest sustainability “signs of the times.” The news is not good. The sustainability challenge is huge, and will require wholesale changes to the world’s economies. Because of its potentially devastating impact on the poor on all continents, the church has a strong interest in mounting a robust response this century to the challenge of sustainable development.

To appreciate the magnitude of the emerging challenge, consider first what human activities are doing to the abundant home that God has given to us:

  • Biologists say we are living in the sixth period of mass extinctions in the 4.5 billion-year history of our planet and the first created by humans. Species are estimated to be going extinct at 100 to 1,000 times the natural “background” rate.
  • Human activities are changing the climate. Concentrations of three key greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide, have increased to levels unseen in at least 800,000 years.
  • Some 87 percent of the world’s oceanic fisheries are fished at or beyond capacity, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.
  • Oceans are 26 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution. Acidification is now occurring 10 to 100 times faster than at any time in the past 50 million years.
  • We are essentially remaking planet Earth, our only home. Such carelessness is of direct interest to the church, not only because of our obligation to protect God’s creation, but because of our mandate to care tenderly for our sisters and brothers. Indeed, the human impact of environmental carelessness is direct and broad. Consider again:

  • Sea level rise brought about by climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people this century and will increase the risk of violent conflict.
  • Some 29 countries, home to 458 million people, were absolutely water scarce in 2011. This means they have little room to accommodate additional demand for water. By 2025 population growth will raise this number nearly four-fold, to 1.8 billion people.
  • Around 805 million people worldwide are chronically hungry, yet global demand for agricultural products is projected to increase by 60 percent by 2050, even as climate change reduces crop yields at the global level by 2 percent per decade for the rest of the century.
  • In sum, an abused environment increasingly means a wounded human family. This makes the sustainability challenge more and more a solidarity challenge. For this reason, and because of the global scale of the challenges, redesigning economies to be sustainable while protecting the poor should be a strategic priority for the church this century.

    The Response of the Church

    One oft-repeated sentiment at the Vatican conference was that the church’s voice could be pivotal in helping to address this crisis. It was fascinating and humbling to hear a group of scientists acknowledge that their cutting-edge analyses and data are not enough to prompt creation of sustainable economies. Several noted that the world needs a change of values—a transformation of hearts—that will engender solidarity with nature in service of solidarity across the human family. Of course, few institutions know more about conversion of the heart, or have more experience promoting it, than the Catholic Church.

    Fortunately, the church stands before this historic challenge with an impressive set of tools: moral authority, experience in advocating for the dispossessed, a large and diverse membership base, a global network of dioceses and parishes, influence over church and lay financial holdings and a skilled diplomatic corps, to name a few. Few institutions at the global level have such a diverse toolbox at their disposal. Skillfully employed, these assets could help convert the threat of civilizational decline into a civilizational rejuvenation in which solidarity and dignified lives for all become the standard by which human societies are evaluated. Consider the contribution the church could make in each of these areas.

    Scripture and Tradition

    More than any other asset, Christian Scripture and church teaching can be used to open hearts in favor of more just and sustainable societies. After all, what explains Pope Francis’ power to attract a broad base of faithful and nonbelievers alike? I believe it is his capacity to speak about values that touch every human heart, especially our common longing for justice and righteousness. Imagine tapping the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church or the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in a focused effort to build sustainable economies. Here are some areas that might be addressed:

  • What do longstanding Catholic principles—of, say, the dignity of the human person, or the option for the poor—contribute to human understanding of humanity’s proper relationship with the natural world? How might these insights be elevated in Catholic life and more broadly developed and communicated?
  • Can the “Jubilee economics” emerging from the Book of Leviticus and the sharing and solidarity principles modeled in the Acts of the Apostles be made relevant to modern economies? What is their contribution to curbing rampant consumerism, the driver of so many sustainability challenges?
  • What insights might Catholic social teaching offer to advance secular frameworks of environmental ethics such as the “contraction and convergence” proposal for addressing climate change or the principle of a right to water or food?
  • A Global Network

    The church’s dioceses and approximately 221,000 parishes constitute an unparalleled global network of potential cross-border solidarity and mobilization. Through social media and financial transfers, the potential for greater interactions among Catholic entities worldwide is huge, yet underdeveloped. How might this network be used to prevent or address suffering in the world today and in the process create a greater sense of solidarity and universalism in the church?

  • How can the church build relations of solidarity between Catholics in wealthy parishes and those in poorer communities, within and across countries? Can inexpensive communications tools be used to create parish-to-parish ties that help to tackle major environmental and justice challenges in a united way?
  • Can parishes develop and share broadly creative local ways to integrate environmental concerns into traditional Catholic teaching regarding stewardship and generosity, thereby infusing new life and commitment to parish-level implementation of Catholic Social Teaching?
  • Within parishes, can social assistance and mutual aid efforts be strengthened to handle what may be a greatly increased load in the decades ahead?
  • Caritas Internationalis is the church’s international relief and development agency. All of its focus areas—conflict, food, development, health and migration—will be stressed by the crises created by unsustainable development, with great strain to its budget and the budgets of its 160 allied organizations. On the other hand, expanded funding of Catholic development agencies, like Caritas or its U.S. affiliate, Catholic Relief Services, and mobilization of their skills and capacities could be pivotal in mitigating problems created by environmental and related social challenges in the decades ahead. To imagine an expanded role for Caritas and its affiliates, the following questions could be helpful:

  • Can the mission of Caritas and its allies be deepened through diocese-to-diocese or parish-to-parish linkages? Can they become more direct conduits of assistance in ways that benefit the marginalized while building ties of solidarity across the globe?
  • Would opportunities for direct parish-to-parish assistance make Caritas a more visible and relevant agency for Catholics worldwide, strengthening a sense of solidarity among all Catholics?
  • Paying for It

    Adequate financing of initiatives that show solidarity with the poor and care for the natural environment is critical. Catholics in wealthy countries—where heavy consumption produces, for example, a disproportionate share of greenhouse gases—could be challenged to engage in greater sharing with those disproportionately affected, the poor in developing countries. Building relationships of solidarity might involve consideration of questions like these:

  • Amid the greatest transfer of wealth in human history (from aged parents in wealthy countries, for example, to their adult children), can the church become active in catechizing parishioners who are wrestling with the proper disposition of inherited wealth and use this wealth—valued in the tens of trillions of dollars in the United States alone by 2050—to help build more resilient societies in poor nations?
  • Might the church endorse (or help to establish) investment firms that specialize in socially responsible investing and in charitable investing, with special emphasis on funding initiatives that protect the poor and the environment?
  • Can the church ensure that its own investments favor initiatives that protect the poor and the environment, perhaps through divestment of holdings of fossil fuels?
  • The Vatican’s diplomatic corps is the oldest in the world and is highly regarded. The Secretariat of State, the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue should continue to elevate the place of sustainability and human development in forums and capitals worldwide. As part of this effort, they might work to address some of these questions:

  • The church should continue to advance implementation of the right to food and the right to water as basic human rights. How might church concerns about consumerism, inequality and other issues related to just and sustainable economies be given higher profile in the diplomatic life of the church?
  • How might the global parish faithful, who number more than one billion, be engaged to support initiatives of the Vatican diplomatic corps? Can social media be employed to better connect parishioners with Vatican diplomatic efforts?
  • Sustainability and Solidarity as Opportunity

    The vision underlying these suggestions is one of a global church united and inspired by Gospel values to address unprecedented threats to human well-being. Mobilizing for the crises now unfolding is an appropriate response for the church, and would likely strengthen it on many fronts:

  • The poor in developing countries would receive the assistance and justice they deserve.
  • Wealthy parishioners would be nurtured and catechized into a metanoia of compassion for the suffering.
  • Relationships between the church’s central agencies, such as Caritas, and parishes worldwide would be strengthened.
  • A vigorous response to one of the church’s key competitors—consumerism—would be mounted.
  • Wealthy parishioners would receive guidance regarding the proper disposition of their gifts.
  • The voice of the church would be strengthened in international forums.
  • Ample space for collaboration with other faiths and with secular groups would be created.
  • The church has much to offer to help Catholics read the signs of the times and to soften the hearts of all to respond appropriately. The sooner it is fully engaged, the greater the prospects for avoiding widespread suffering in this century—and the greater the church’s own prospects for successful evangelization. Indeed, I believe the sustainability crisis is an opportunity for the church to create robust Christian communities worldwide that are rooted in solidarity and motivated by a fervor to ensure the dignity and well-being of all.

    Gary Gardner, a senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, an environmental research organization based in Washington, D.C., is the author of Inspiring Progress: Religions’ Contributions to Sustainable Development (2006).

    |Back to SUMMARY|      |Back to OUTLINE|

    Page 1      Page 2      Page 3      Page 4      Page 5      Page 6      Page 7      Page 8      Page 9

    Supplement 1      Supplement 2      Supplement 3      Supplement 4      Supplement 5      Supplement 6

    PelicanWeb Home Page

    Bookmark and Share

    "I’m Nobody! Who are you?
    Are you – Nobody – too?"

    Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886


    Write to the Editor
    Send email to Subscribe
    Send email to Unsubscribe
    Link to the Google Groups Website
    Link to the PelicanWeb Home Page

    Creative Commons License
    ISSN 2165-9672

    Page 1      



    Subscribe to the
    Mother Pelican Journal
    via the Solidarity-Sustainability Group

    Enter your email address: