Mother Pelican
A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability

Vol. 11, No. 10, October 2015
Luis T. Gutiérrez, Editor
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The Human Family in the Anthropocene

What about interplanetary migration to escape the ecological crisis?
Art by Emilio Morales Ruiz, used with permission

"For new models of progress to arise, there is a need to change “models of global development”; this will entail a responsible reflection on “the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications”. It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress. Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes – by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth. In this context, talk of sustainable growth usually becomes a way of distracting attention and offering excuses. It absorbs the language and values of ecology into the categories of finance and technocracy, and the social and environmental responsibility of businesses often gets reduced to a series of marketing and image-enhancing measures." Pope Francis, Laudato Si' # 194


Editorial Essay: The Human Family in the Anthropocene
The Care-Centered Economy - Part 3: From post-dichotomous Durcheinander to a different paradigm, by Ina Praetorius
Where is Pope Francis on Economic Growth?, by David Kane
What is Wrong with a Zero Interest Rate?, by Herman Daly
Curb the “Animal Spirits” of Mankind?, by Carmine Gorga
Viewing Trees and Woods: Connecting Dots, Links, Sectors, and Frames, by Heiner Benking and Rob Wheeler
Modelling Tools for Dealing with Environmental Complexity, by Theresa Mannschatz and Kristin Meyer
The Basic Income Debate: Political, Philosophical and Economic Issues, by Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark
How Fracking Changed the Economics of Oil Production Around the World, by James Meadway
The Paris Climate Conference: Playing Craps With Our Planet's Future, by John Atcheson
Solving the Human Predicament, by Gerald Addy
Hacking the SDG Discourse: A Narrative Strategy for Changing the Story of Global Development, by Joseph Brewer
Why Kindness is the Key to a New Economy, by Genevieve Vaughan


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)

The Human Family in the Anthropocene

The Reality of Connections

"Everything is connected" (Pope Francis, LS #91). This has always been true, but even more so now that we have reached the Anthropocene. Indeed, we must "realize that everything connects to everything else" (Leonardo da Vinci) and that "in the great chain of causes and effects no thing and no activity should be regarded in isolation" (Alexander von Humboldt). Furthermore, "when everything is connected to everything else, for better or for worse, everything matters" (Bruce Mau), even though "not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted" (William Bruce Cameron). In our compartmentalized, "bin counting" civilization, we must learn both to see the connections and to improve those that matter the most.

There are many methods for analysis of interconnections. For measurable realities, input-output matrices are useful, and matrix models can be extended to analysis of qualitative factors. Simulation models can be used to analyze feedback loops whereby changes in A lead to changes in B, C, D ... and eventually induce further changes in A. The ubiquity of feedback is a well know reality, and such models are useful to isolate the loops that matter the most for human quality of life. But what are the factors and loops that matter the most for the well-being of the human family? This is the crucial question, and the answer transcends measurable factors and loops.

The Wisdom Traditions

Beyond financial and technological fixes that may be necessary in the short term, the long term answers may be found in the great wisdom traditions that have emerged, and continue to evolve, in conjunction with the events of human history. It is not a matter of seeking solutions for today's issues by a mere repetition of the past; but there are jewels of wisdom that are timeless and can always illuminate the way going forward. One of them, mentioned by Pope Francis in his recent address to the US congress, is the Golden Rule, "do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This rule, which is shared by most wisdom traditions, is the key for resolving all current issues of social and ecological justice.

Pope Francis also mentioned Dorothy Day, who once said, "they cannot see that we must lay one brick at a time, take one step at a time." Indeed, and technologies are helpful to lay bricks more effectively and more efficiently; but she also insisted that "the greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us." Thus we see that short term "solutions" have lasting value to the extent that they are animated by the Golden Rule. This applies to all issues of solidarity and sustainability: the movement of toxic pollutants across national borders, the current crisis of massive migration from the global south to the global north, and the persistent issues of extreme poverty and gender inequality worldwide, are but examples of acting, often violently, against the wisdom of the Golden Rule.

Integral Ecology and Integral Human Development

Integral ecology is about the global integration of humanity and the human habitat:

"The age of nations is past. The task before us now, if we would not perish, is to build the earth." Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

"Integral ecology revisions the relationship between the human being and the natural world. It recognizes the human as integral to nature rather than nature as subject to human domination." Dave Pruett, Pope Francis' Integral Ecology, 28 May 2015

Integral ecology recognizes that the symptoms of the ecological crisis are caused by lack of human development:

"Gaia's main problems are not industrialization, ozone depletion, over-population, or resource depletion. Gaia's main problem is the lack of mutual understanding and mutual agreement in the noosphere about how to proceed with those problems. We cannot reign in industry if we cannot reach mutual understanding and mutual agreement based on a worldcentric moral perspective concerning the global commons. And we reach that worldcentric moral perspective through a difficult and laborious process of interior growth and transcendence." Ken Wilber, Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World, 2009, page 302.

Industrial ecology requires integral human development:

"Integral Human Development promotes the good of every person and the whole person; it is cultural, economic, political, social and spiritual." Integral Human Development, Catholic Relief Services, 2008. See also the CAPP and CRS websites.

Integral human development requires an adequate anthropology:

"Corporality and sexuality are not completely identified. Although the human body in its normal constitution, bears within it the signs of sex and is by its nature male or female, the fact, however, that man is a "body" belongs to the structure of the personal subject more deeply than the fact that in his somatic constitution he is also male or female... The woman is made "with the rib" that God-Yahweh had taken from the man. Considering the archaic, metaphorical and figurative way of expressing the thought, we can establish that it is a question here of homogeneity of the whole being of both. This homogeneity concerns above all the body, the somatic structure." Pope John Paul II, Theology of the Body, 7 November 1979.

Families and Human Family

In a recent series of his weekly general audience in Rome, Pope Francis has reiterated the importance of a sound anthropology as an indispensable foundation for family life:

"The very way Jesus considered women in a context less favourable than ours, because women in those times were relegated to second place. Jesus considered her in a way which gives off a powerful light, which enlightens a path that leads afar, of which we have only covered a small stretch. We have not yet understood in depth what the feminine genius can give us, what woman can give to society and also to us. Maybe women see things in a way that complements the thoughts of men. It is a path to follow with greater creativity and courage." General Audience, Vatican, 15 April 2015

"Woman is not a replica of man; she comes directly from the creative act of God. The image of the “rib” in no way expresses inferiority or subordination, but, on the contrary, that man and woman are of the same substance and are complimentary and that they also have this reciprocity. And the fact that — also in that parable — God moulds woman while man sleeps means precisely that she is in no way man’s creation, but God’s." General Audience, Vatican, 22 April 2015

Can there be any doubt that what is good for families is also good for the entire human family? Can there be any doubt that this fundamental communion of men and woman is indispensable for integral human development and integral ecology?

The Divine Family

One of the most formidable obstacles to solidarity and sustainability is the misconception that God is exclusively male. For the vast majority of people who believe in a deity, it derives from the experience of male hegemony and in turn reinforces it. This patriarchal mindset of male domination extends to the use and abuse of natural resources. This aberration pervades even the Christian tradition, even though we believe in a God who is communion of three divine Persons. In a patriarchal culture, when the first Person is "Father," the second Person is "Son," and the third person is an abstract love between "Father" and "Son," it is hard to keep in mind that God is Love (1 John 4:8) and therefore is almighty in a "fatherly" way, merciful in a "motherly" way, and loving in uncountable other ways. God is a divine family, but is not a patriarchy. The patriarchal system of governance in families, and in all other institutions both secular and religious, is an obsolete artifact which is becoming, among other things, increasingly harmful for integral human development and integral ecology. It is time to pour new wine into new wineskins (Matthew 9:17).

Families of the Anthropocene

But what is the new wine to be poured into new wineskins? Just as new wine must be allowed to age over time, new modes of family relations will take some time to mature as the old patriarchal wineskins pass away. We must allow time for this process to unfold, and support the evolution of family life via continuing dialogue between traditional wisdom and cultural evolution. As Pope Francis recently told the American bishops: "There's no alternative to dialogue. The alternative is to circle the wagons and wait for the end of the world." (NCR, 23 September 2015)

There seems to be three parallel patterns emerging in family life evolution, pointing toward a tripod of partnership, dialogue, and mutuality. The male patriarch is being replaced, as head of the family, by a partnership of patriarch and matriarch. In a family, the father and the mother jointly exercise authority and assume responsibility to take care of the children. When one of the partners is missing, either one assumes headship. In a family, dialogue is the basis for harmony in daily life: dialogue between father and mother, between parents and children, and between generations in extended families. There can be no "circling of the wagons" in a family, and modern communication technologies, now pervasive, can sustain a "culture of encounter" between family members. Finally, in a family, interpersonal relations are characterized by mutuality: different roles -- due to age, gender, and other factors -- are meant to be for mutual enrichment, not mutual exclusion.

It is noteworthy that there is some parallelism between this "partnership, dialogue, mutuality" tripod and the three divine Persons in the Trinity: there is the partnership of "Father and Mother" who bodily become "one flesh;" the dialogue that proceeds from the parents and bodily begets "Children" who become their "Word;" and the "Spirit" of mutuality that respects differences between family members while ensuring their unity and common good. In the midst of turmoil about changing family structures, it may well be that humanity is not only outgrowing patriarchy but advancing, slowly but surely, toward "a new heaven and a new earth." (Revelation 21:1)

Back to Laudato Si'

In Laudato Si', the importance of family life is mentioned many times, including not only references to the nuclear family as the fundamental unit of society but also extended families and the entire human family. Integral human development happens in the family. Integral family development, and an integral human ecology, must be worked out in the family and as a family:

"The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change." (LS #13)

"We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference." (LS #52)

"The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning; technology itself “expresses the inner tension that impels man gradually to overcome material limitations”." (LS #102)

"Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment." (LS #141)

"Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family." (LS #162)

"Ecological education can take place in a variety of settings: at school, in families, in the media, in catechesis and elsewhere. Good education plants seeds when we are young, and these continue to bear fruit throughout life. Here, though, I would stress the great importance of the family, which is “the place in which life – the gift of God – can be properly welcomed and protected against the many attacks to which it is exposed, and can develop in accordance with what constitutes authentic human growth. In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life”. In the family we first learn how to show love and respect for life; we are taught the proper use of things, order and cleanliness, respect for the local ecosystem and care for all creatures. In the family we receive an integral education, which enables us to grow harmoniously in personal maturity. In the family we learn to ask without demanding, to say “thank you” as an expression of genuine gratitude for what we have been given, to control our aggressivity and greed, and to ask forgiveness when we have caused harm. These simple gestures of heartfelt courtesy help to create a culture of shared life and respect for our surroundings." (LS #213)

Wise guidance, but one piece of the puzzle is still missing. The post-patriarchal renewal of the alliance between man and woman is not yet articulated, and in fact is barely mentioned (LS #50 and #155). It is an incongruous omission, and one that the Sustainable Development Goals cover via Goal 5 on gender equality, albeit outside the confines of the Catholic ethos. In accordance with the encyclical's repeated calls for dialogue with all people, the Church of Rome should refrain from "circling the wagons" on this issue. Hopefully the Vatican can explain, clearly and unambiguously, what their position is on gender equality, rather than soft-pedalling the issue with patriarchal rhetoric that would seem to reduce the value of life to the beginning and the end points. Actions speak louder than words: to start ordaining qualified nuns (and other celibate women) to the priesthood and the episcopate would be fully compatible with the Catholic ethos and effectively proclaim the value of each and every human life from conception to natural death.


The human family is not naturally patriarchal. Patriarchy is a law made by human hands, and is not the natural law of creation. The patriarchal family is a flat tire. The human family cannot face the Anthropocene running on the "flat tire" of patriarchy. The patriarchal priesthood is also a flat tire, but the priesthood of the New Law is not intrinsically patriarchal. Jesus Christ came to restore creation to the original order of things. Patriarchy is the most pervasive consequence of corrupting natural law (Genesis 3:16). The bad news is that the ecological crisis is upon us, whether we like it or not. The good news is that the Anthropocene is a providential opportunity for the human family to become a communion of persons in communion with nature.

Reviews of the Laudato Si' encyclical continue to be published worldwide, reflecting varying degrees of agreement and disagreement. The following are some selected links dated September 2015:

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Carl Jung (1875-1961)


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