Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 9, September 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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More Questions for Pope Francis

Adapted from "Dancing with the System" by David Macaulay
Newsletter of the Donella Meadows Institute, July 2015

"Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life. 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. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world. Production is not always rational, and is usually tied to economic variables which assign to products a value that does not necessarily correspond to their real worth. This frequently leads to an overproduction of some commodities, with unnecessary impact on the environment and with negative results on regional economies. The financial bubble also tends to be a productive bubble. The problem of the real economy is not confronted with vigour, yet it is the real economy which makes diversification and improvement in production possible, helps companies to function well, and enables small and medium businesses to develop and create employment." Pope Francis, Laudato Si', # 189


Editorial Essay: More Questions for Pope Francis
The Care-Centered Economy, Part 2: Separatisms, integrations and denial, by Ina Praetorius
Would the Steady-State Economy Be a Miracle?, by Herman Daly
Five Myths About Economic Growth, by Brian Czech
The World of Economics Since 2008, by Carmine Gorga
Paradigm Junction - Envisioning 50 Years After Paradigm Change, by Don Chisholm
Population, Lifestyles, and Global Justice, by Helmut Burkhardt
Common Wealth Trusts: Structures of Transition, by Peter Barnes
Is Ecology Haunted? An Ecocritic Reads Laudato Si', by Doug Sikkema
Peace and the Ideology of Greed and Division, by Graham Peebles
The New Ecofeminism: Fulfilling our sacred responsibilities to future generations, by Kaitlin Butler and Carolyn Raffensperger
Austerity and Degrowth: Dealing with the economic crisis and the ecological crisis together, by Brian Davey


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)

More Questions for Pope Francis

In Response to his Encyclical Letter on Social and Ecological Justice

Climate Change or Cultural Revolution?

Is the encyclical really about debatable climate change or about unavoidable cultural revolution? That current trends of climate change will become more severe, and have a significant impact on the community of creation, is still an open question. There is reason for concern, but the scientific evidence is not conclusive and can be politically manipulated by vested interests. On the other hand, that the planet is becoming a garbage dump is readily observable and verifiable, with Americans producing an estimated 4.4 pounds of daily garbage per person. Also undeniable is the widespread indifference to human suffering in a global community plagued by the extravagant consumerism of the rich, the abject misery of the poor, a disappearing middle class, and wars that mostly benefit the very rich at the expense of the very poor. Some recent statements show that diligent action is an ethical imperative and must go beyond superficial symptoms to seek, and cure, the root cause of the ecological crisis:

  • "Our present economic and technological relationships with the rest of the biosphere are unsustainable. To survive the rough transitions ahead, our lifestyles and expectations must change. This involves new habits as well as new values. The Buddhist teaching that the overall health of the individual and society depends upon inner well-being, and not merely upon economic indicators, helps us determine the personal and social changes we must make." Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change, May 2015
  • "All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution. Science and technology are not neutral; from the beginning to the end of a process, various intentions and possibilities are in play and can take on distinct shapes. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur." Laudato Si': On the Care of our Common Home # 114, June 2015
  • "In the brief period since the Industrial Revolution, humans have consumed much of the non-renewable resources which have taken the earth 250 million years to produce – all in the name of economic development and human progress. We note with alarm the combined impacts of rising per capita consumption combined with the rising human population. We also note with alarm the multi-national scramble now taking place for more fossil fuel deposits under the dissolving ice caps in the arctic regions. We are accelerating our own destruction through these processes." Islamic Declaration on Climate Change, August 2015

Mother Earth is more trustworthy than humanity. Anthropocentric climate change may or may not be real. The Anthropocene is an undeniable reality, and technology can alleviate the human load on the planet. But alleviating the symptoms cannot resolve the root cause of the ecological crisis, which is the idolatry of quantitative consumption growth and is further exacerbated by irresponsible population growth. It is a cultural malaise that can only be resolved by a cultural evolution, if not a cultural revolution. So, isn't a diligent cultural evolution what is needed, regardless of whether or not climate change is due to human activity?

The Sustainable Development Paradox

In Laudato Si' # 189 (quoted at the top of this page) Pope Francis laments the lack of political will to resolve what we might call the "sustainable development paradox." The paradox is illustrated in the following diagram, and is about two mutually reinforcing feedback loops connected by human consumption. More population requires more consumption, even it is minimized to the level of human subsistence. More consumption in turn requires more resource extraction, more production, and more pollution. The natural human propensity to consume more and more eventually will exhaust natural resources; but if consumption is reduced, the current global system will become economically and financially dysfunctional with potentially nefarious social consequences.

CURRENT SYSTEM: "Both population and per capita consumption have positive feedback loops that force them to grow. Population growth is driven by a natural reproduction loop (upper right) and a biotechnology loop that extends life expectancy (middle right). Per capita consumption growth is caused by technology loops (middle left) reinforced by world economics and government action loops (far left). These major loops arise in our society from human needs and motivations (bottom). Environmental collapse, resource exhaustion, and toxic pollution constraints may create negative loops that will finally stop the growth (small loops in the very middle)." The Ecocosm Paradox, Willard Fey & Ann Lam, Ecocosm Dynamics, 1999

As long as human needs and actions are about more and more material goods alone, the finite resources of the planet will eventually become exhausted either my depletion or by degradation due to pollution, which can never be totally eliminated. Even if consumption is reduced to meeting basic necessities, population growth exacerbates the paradox even more and, eventually, space also would become limiting unless humans become angels without bodies. Even if manna falls from the sky, who wants to deal with a population density of one person per square yard? Is massive human migration to other planets a reasonable excuse for irresponsible behavior in the foreseeable future? Should we expect some miraculous technologies to liberate humanity from the limitations of time and space? The only way to resolve the paradox is to moderate both consumption and population growth. This proposition is not attractive to most people, especially those with a vested interest in the current system, and it will not be easy to adapt human decisions and actions to the realities of a finite world, but is there any other alternative?

Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)

The challenge facing humanity became painfully visible during the process of formulating and pursuing the 2000-2015 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and can be expected to persist with the 2015-2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) even if they are approved by the United Nations General Assembly.

The following is a list of the proposed SDGs as of 1 August 2015:

Goal 1. End poverty in all its forms everywhere
Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture
Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 5. Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Goal 6. Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all
Goal 7. Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all
Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all
Goal 9. Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation
Goal 10. Reduce inequality within and among countries
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Goal 15. Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss
Goal 16. Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels
Goal 17. Strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development

These 17 goals (and 169 targets) tentatively provide a very comprehensive agenda for the next fifteen years. Agreement is expected when the UN General Assembly convenes to ratify them in late September. Some of the targets could be more precisely defined, and the implementation will be difficult, but is there a better way to get 193 nations to work together for the common good?

Comparative Analysis of the SDGs and Laudato Si'

A careful review of Laudato Si' confirms that the encyclical fully supports all the proposed SDGs except one: Goal 5 on achieving gender equality. In fact, paragraphs # 50 and # 155 would seem to imply that there is something malevolent about this goal. At the very least, it seems to disregard the issue as irrelevant for sustainable development and the renewal of humanity. What is it that is wrong about getting women and girls fully involved, together with men and boys, in building a sustainable civilization? Is it because of legitimate pro-life concerns? Is it just a cultural symptom of "patriarchal correctness"? Is it fear of the nefarious consequences of "radical feminism"? Is it perhaps a mix of pro-life concerns and patriarchal gender ideology?

Gender equality is not only a matter of upholding the equal dignity of men and women. It includes, also, opening to both men and women all opportunities for integral personal development that are commensurate with their abilities and their vocation to participate in human affairs and contribute to the common good. Condescending exclusions based on human anatomy are no longer tenable, and even less so are exclusions based on patriarchal gender stereotypes. Surely women have much to contribute, working together with men, to all dimensions of human life. Is there any SDG to which they cannot contribute, just because they are not male? Is there any dimension of human development (physical, intellectual, psychological, spiritual) to which they cannot contribute, in any secular or religious setting, just because they are not male?

Comparison of Laudato Si' with the proposed 2015-2030 SDGs. Poverty eradication (Goal 1) is mentioned as a moral imperative no less than 60 times. All the other goals are well covered, and even the controversial idea of a "world political authority" is mentioned (# 175). Only Goal 5, to "achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls," is condescendingly skirted (# 50, # 155). Why? Is it because of legitimate pro-life concerns? Is it just a cultural symptom of "patriarchal correctness"? Is it because of fear of the nefarious consequences of "radical feminism"? Is it perhaps a conflation of pro-life concerns and patriarchal gender ideology?

It is noteworthy that, in the context of "Thou shall not kill," the encyclical recognizes that "twenty percent of the world's population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive." (# 95) This is clearly a reference to the "80/20" divide, whereby it is estimated that 20% of the world population (those who are rich) annually consumes 80% of the resources, while 80% of the population (those who are poor) consumes only 20% of the resources. Approximate as these estimates are, they point to an intolerable situation, a systemic injustice that is literally killing people. The encyclical also mentions (# 52, # 170) that there are "differentiated responsibilities" for resolving the issues of global and ecological injustice, with the poor understandably having less responsibility than the rich.

With regard to the population growth factor, doesn't it follow that those who are poor have less responsibility for practicing "natural family planning" than those who rich? In this regard, pro-life advocates (and anti-abortion zealots) might be reminded that fostering adoption of unwanted babies by well-off families is much better than fulminating self-righteous anathemas against abortion and artificial birth control. What about supporting Goal 5 by way of recognizing "differentiated responsibilities" in reproductive health decisions? Is the concept of gender equality incompatible with the Christian doctrine of the "unity in complementarity" of men and women? Granted the obvious differences, there is one human nature, not two. Why so much emphasis on the well-known differences between men and women, while disregarding the need for gender solidarity?

The Impending Meltdown of the Patriarchal Order

What is the cultural evolution (or revolution) that is needed? The signs of the times are clear, that the patriarchal order of things is passing away. Patriarchy has been the prevailing culture since pre-biblical times, and many still take it for granted as the natural order of things, but there is nothing eternal about it. It is a culture made by human hands, not God's. One problem with most religious traditions is that they conflate patriarchy with theology; a confusion that is pervasive and divides humanity by way of corrupting the original unity of man and woman. It is not that men and women are not different, of course they are. But isn't it significant that the culture of male domination and female subordination is the first and most universal consequence of "original sin", as recorded in Genesis 3:16? All manner of violence follows from this fundamental rupture of interpersonal male/female communion (Genesis 4:8; cf. LS # 70).

The patriarchal culture of masculinization that makes God to be in the image of man (rather than the other way around), and makes women subordinate to men (in the family, and in most secular and religious institutions) is precisely the same culture that drives the exploitation of nature to a point that is now inducing a global ecological crisis. It is this culture of gender inequality that induces many other unjust inequalities: the 80/20 divide, environmental degradation, human trafficking, and all the other issues mentioned in Laudato Si'. That the encyclical supports all the SDGs, except gender equality, is beyond comprehension. It is lamentable that Catholic doctrines about human sexuality (reproductive health, women priests) seemingly cannot be sanitized from patriarchal gender ideology, because the poor keep suffering, the planet keeps deteriorating, and patriarchy is mercifully passing away anyway. Thankfully, some Christian communities are no longer afraid to see this reality and deal with it:

"We were painfully aware that women frequently bear a disproportionate burden of climate change largely because they make up the majority of the world's poor and are often more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources threatened by climate change. The voices and contributions of women are therefore essential in responding to climate change."

The World is our Host: A call to urgent action for climate justice
Anglican Communion Environmental Network, February 2015

If "climate change" (real or not) expedites the passing of patriarchy and the advent of a new civilization of human solidarity, then it is a blessing in disguise! But a new civilization of human solidarity must be based on a renewed sense of gender solidarity, or it will not do much good in overcoming social an ecological injustice. It should be reiterated that gender equality is not about negating the sacredness of life or the importance of committed nuptial covenants. On the contrary, it is about fostering responsible family planning and mutual respect between men and women in all cultures. It is also about reclaiming sustainable development from the money-grubbers who couldn't care less about humanity and the entire community of creation; and it is about integral human development (LS # 109) and integral ecology (LS # 137ff), for there can be no such integration as long as gender relations remain disintegrated by the patriarchal masculinization of families and institutions, including worshipping communities. Is it naive to hope that these issues will be taken into account in the forthcoming (October 2015) synod of bishops on the family?

The Christ-Church Nuptial Mystery

At the end of the encyclical (LS # 241ff) Pope Francis offers a meditation about Mary, the Church, and the ultimate destiny of God's creation. There is evidence in the Bible about a cosmic Christ-Church nuptial mystery, whereby the Church, and the entire community of creation, is undergoing a process of transfiguration to become a new heaven and a new earth. "In the meantime, we come together to take charge of this home which has been entrusted to us, knowing that all the good which exists here will be taken up into the heavenly feast." Question: Is heaven a patriarchy?

Summary of Questions

The encyclical Laudato Si' is a monumental piece of work that breaks new ground and deserves careful study. It converts arid terrain into fertile soil that spawns fresh questions and the hope for fresh answers. These are some of the most crucial questions:

  • For integral human development, is it reasonable to neglect gender equality?
  • For integral ecology, is it feasible to decouple population and consumption?
  • If patriarchal hegemony is a curse, what is the oppositum per diametrum?
  • If a "world political authority" is needed, should it be a patriarchy?
  • Global humanity is a family. Should it be a patriarchal family?
  • The Church is a family. Should it be a patriarchal family?
  • God is a Triune Family. Is God a Patriarchy?

Some of these questions are considered in other pages of this issue. See, for example, page 2 on the criticality of gender equality for a more sensible economic system, page 4 on financial reform, page 5 on global governance, and page 6 on the coupling of demographic issues and global justice. Let us pray for wise answers to these questions, for the good of humanity and the glory of God!

Reviews of the Laudato Si' encyclical continue to proliferate throughout journals and periodicals worldwide. The following are some selected links dated August 2015:

Other recent declarations about the ethical dimension of the ecological crisis:

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