MAC: Mines and Communities

Loaves and fishes: the Pope's appeal to the world

Published by MAC on 2015-06-21
Source: Environmental News Service, MRZine

Pope Francis has enjoined the world's estimated 1.2 billion Catholics to endorse global reforms to save planet earth from mounting environmental threats, focussing on greenhouse gas emissions, with specific reference to those caused by burning coal.

In last week's encyclical, he also mentions the growing problems of marine waste and protection of the open seas, which could be interpreted as an implicit condemnation of plans to proceed with sea-bed mining.

Understandably over-shadowing the pontiff's lengthy, scientifically-based statement (and not apparently mentioned in it), was a statement issued just before by a group of campaigners who urged that opposition to nuclear power be directly linked to the quest for a carbon-free future.

Coinciding with the publication of the papal encyclical comes an assessment of what China's proclaimed "ecological civilisation" actually means in practice.

It is penned by one of the western world's leading neo-Marxist thinkers, John Bellamy Foster, editor of the Monthy Review.

By no means a panegyric for all China's current practices, it nonetheless draws striking parallels between the theoretical paths pursed by the current regime and those invoked by the Vatican.

As Foster concludes - in language which might well have been used by Pope Francis himself:

"In the age of planetary climate change alternative models must be found. This cannot be accomplished simply by technology but requires new ways of living. If China is truly to succeed in creating a new ecological civilization it will have to go in an even more radical direction, further removed from the regime of capital that has characterized the West and that is responsible for today's planetary ecological emergency".

It is a shame that the encylical does not appear to include uranium-fuelled power plants within the raft of bad human activities which we should forsake. Even though the current Pope has compared nuclear power plants with the "Tower of Babel", this isn't born out by the report itself (see:

Indeed, as the above article notes the Vatican is a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and that: "Many Catholics hope that in his next encyclical on the protection of the environment the Pope will clearly voice also his critical attitude towards nuclear power".

Read the full report: On Care for Our Common Home

Pope Francis: Protect the Climate as a ‘Common Good’

Environmental News Service (ENS)

18 June 2015

VATICAN CITY– “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” declares Pope Francis in his first major teaching on the environment, an encyclical letter released today.

Pope Francis urges all human beings to change their behavior to protect the good resources we all hold in common – the climate, the oceans, biodiversity – “the planet, our common home.”

“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness,” he writes.

Pope Francis has written the first encyclical in history to address humanity’s relationship with the environment. In this, his letter to all the bishops of the Catholic Church, the pontiff repeatedly seeks relief for the world’s poorest people, who suffer the most devastating effects of a warming climate.

“Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest,” writes the Pope. “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”

“I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” he writes.

From the first word of his encyclical, the Pope draws upon the work of Sant Francis of Assisi, “that attractive and compelling figure, whose name I took as my guide and inspiration” when he was elected head of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics in March 2013.

“Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us,” writes the Pope.

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her,” he writes about the planet. “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.”

“The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life,” the Pope explains. “This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor.”

“I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically,” writes the Pope. “He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians.”

“Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human,” he writes.

He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace,” writes Pope Francis about his namesake.

In an overview of the entire encyclical letter, entitled “Laudato Si'” [“Praise be to you,”] named after a canticle written by Saint Francis, the Pope says, “I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.”

Unlike previous encyclicals, this one is directed not to Catholics alone, but to everyone, regardless of religion. “Faced with the global deterioration of the environment, I want to address every person who inhabits this planet,” he writes, proposing “to enter into discussion with everyone regarding our common home.”

“I would state once more that the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.”

That said, the Pope makes a case for phasing out fossil fuels, which emit greenhouse gases responsible for raising the planetary temperature.

He writes, “There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.”

In another part of the encyclical he writes, “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

The Pope places responsibility for correcting the climate crisis at the feet of the industrialized nations. He quotes the bishops of Bolivia, who stated, “The countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused.”

“Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention,” the Pope writes.

The Pope includes governance of the oceans in his concern for the planet, saying, “The growing problem of marine waste and the protection of the open seas represent particular challenges. What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called ‘global commons.'”

The Pope says his aim “is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” he warns.

“The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”

“The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. … We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity.”

Pope Francis calls on people to pressure their politicians for change.

President Barack Obama says he is in agreement with the Pope, especially with respect to climate change.

“I welcome His Holiness Pope Francis’s encyclical, and deeply admire the Pope’s decision to make the case – clearly, powerfully, and with the full moral authority of his position – for action on global climate change,” said the President today.

“As Pope Francis so eloquently stated this morning, we have a profound responsibility to protect our children, and our children’s children, from the damaging impacts of climate change. I believe the United States must be a leader in this effort, which is why I am committed to taking bold actions at home and abroad to cut carbon pollution, to increase clean energy and energy efficiency, to build resilience in vulnerable communities, and to encourage responsible stewardship of our natural resources.”

Commenting on the Pope’s other major theme, Obama said, “We must also protect the world’s poor, who have done the least to contribute to this looming crisis and stand to lose the most if we fail to avert it.”

Obama said he looks forward to discussing these issues with Pope Francis when he visits the White House in September.

“And as we prepare for global climate negotiations in Paris this December, it is my hope that all world leaders, and all God’s children, will reflect on Pope Francis’s call to come together to care for our common home,” said the President.

Raymond Bradley, professor of geosciences and director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, said, “Dealing with global warming and related environmental problems is fundamentally a moral and ethical issue. Pope Francis urges those who focus on short-term political agendas to step back and consider their broader responsibilities. We can only hope (or pray) that those in the Congress who are currently obstructing meaningful action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will take the Pope’s message to heart.”

But Congressional Republicans, who are in control of both houses, dismissed the Pope’s views.

House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is also a Catholic who invited the pontiff to address Congress later this year. “I respect his right to speak out on these important issues,” Boehner said, but he would not commit to legislative action on climate or other environmental issues.

Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, is a Presbyterian and a climate change skeptic. He told “The Hill,” he is “concerned” that the encyclical “will be used by global warming alarmists to advocate for policies that will equate to the largest, most regressive tax increase in our nation’s history.”

“Climate science is not settled,” Inhofe insisted.

Rick Santorum, a declared 2016 presidential candidate and a practicing Catholic, said, “The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think that we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists and focusing on what we’re really good at, which is theology and morality.”

Democrats generally are in greater accord with the Pope’s message.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, a Catholic, said, “The Pope’s powerful encyclical calls for a common response to the critical threat climate change poses to our common home. His plea for all religions to work together reflects the urgency of the challenge.”

“The devastating impacts of climate change – like heat waves, damaging floods, coastal sea level rise and historic droughts – are already taking place, threatening the habitat all humans and other creatures depend on to survive,” warned Kerry. “We have a responsibility to meet this challenge and prevent the worst impacts.”

“We have the overwhelming body of peer-reviewed science to show us what is causing this problem, and we are equipped with the tools and resources to begin solving it,” Kerry said, adding, “Engagement on this issue from a wide range of voices is all the more important as we strive to reach a global climate agreement this December in Paris.”

In a joint statement, the all-Democratic House Sustainable Energy and Environmental Coalition, SEEC, said, “For those unmoved by the science of climate change, we hope that Pope Francis’ encyclical demonstrates the virtue and moral imperative for action. … The time to act on climate is now, and failure to do so will further damage the planet, its people, and our principles.”

SEEC Member Congressman Ted Lieu is a California Democrat, a Catholic, a veteran and an officer in the Air Force reserves. He said he was elected to the United States Congress “to help tackle climate change,” and found the Pope’s position on climate inspiring. “Pope Francis has courageously stood up not only for the earth and the environment, but the poorest and most vulnerable among us who are most affected by climate change.”

SEEC Member Congressman Raul Grijalva is an Arizona Democrat and a Catholic. “Pope Francis’ call for action, reflection and honesty transcends politics and shouldn’t be treated as just another piece of the partisan news cycle,” he said. “It should be heeded and taken to heart, especially by those who profit from environmental damage and human suffering. Our actions and inactions have damaged the lives of billions of people, especially those who have little political or economic power to defend themselves, and Pope Francis is right to put the focus on them.”

Bishops and priests around the world are expected to lead discussions on the encyclical in services this coming Sunday.

Pope Francis: Indigenous Peoples 'Should Be the Principal Dialogue Partners' on Projects

Indian Country Today

18 June 2015

Pope Francis has released his encyclical on climate change, with Indigenous Peoples’ cultural and land rights as major factors both underlying the issues and in seeking solutions.

Indigenous Peoples’ spiritual connection with the environment makes common sense, the 192-page document implies.

“Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community,” the Pope wrote.

“The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.”

He goes on to outline something that sounds very much like consultation and prior, informed consent.

“In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions,” His Holiness wrote. “They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”

Moreover, Indigenous Peoples hold one of the keys to a solution for the climate crisis, he said.

“In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy,” the Pope wrote. “This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples.”

Pope Francis calls for a partnership between science and religion and suggests that the scriptures may have been misinterpreted when it comes to mastery over stewardship. He also links global warming, climate change and poverty, making social justice an environmental issue, as the Washington Post pointed out.

Marxism, Ecological Civilization, And China

By John Bellamy Foster


21 June 2015

China's leadership has called in recent years for the creation of a new "ecological civilization." Some have viewed this as a departure from Marxism and a concession to Western-style "ecological modernization." However, embedded in classical Marxism, as represented by the work of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, was a powerful ecological critique. Marx explicitly defined socialism in terms consistent with the development of an ecological society or civilization -- or, in his words, the "rational" regulation of "the human metabolism with nature.

In recent decades there has been an enormous growth of interest in Marx's ecological ideas, first in the West, and more recently in China. This has generated a tradition of thought known as "ecological Marxism."

This raises three questions:
(1) What was the nature of Marx's ecological critique?
(2) How is this related to the idea of ecological civilization now promoted in China?
(3) Is China actually moving in the direction of ecological civilization, and what are the difficulties standing in its path in this respect?

Marx's Ecological Critique

In the late 1840s the German biologist Matthias Schleiden observed in his book The Plant: A Biography: "Those countries which are now treeless and arid deserts, part of Egypt, Syria, Persia, and so forth, were formerly thickly wooded, traversed by streams." He attributed this to human-generated regional climate change. At the same time as Schleiden was developing these views, the German agronomist Carl Fraas was making similar observations in his Climate and the Plant World, arguing that "the developing culture of people leaves a veritable desert behind it." Marx and Engels, who were becoming increasingly interested in ecological degradation and regional climate change were influenced by these ideas. In 1858, Marx, following Fraas, wrote: "Cultivation -- when it proceeds in natural growth and is not consciously controlled . . . leaves deserts behind it."

By the 1860s, when he was writing Capital, Marx's ecological concerns had intensified. Much of this was under the influence of the great German chemist, Justus von Liebig. In the 1862 edition of his Agricultural Chemistry Liebig argued that industrial agriculture in England was a "robbery" system. The main soil nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) were being removed from the soil and sent hundreds and thousands of miles to the city in the form of food and fiber where they contributed to pollution and were lost to the soil. Britain and other countries attempted to make up for this by digging up the Napoleonic battlefields and robbing the catacombs in Europe to obtain bones to fertilize English fields. They extracted mountains of guano from the islands off of Peru, shipping it to Britain to enrich the soil.

"Instead of a conscious and rational treatment of the land as permanent communal property, as the inalienable condition for the existence and reproduction of the chain of human generations," Marx declared, capitalism led to "the exploitation and squandering of the powers of the earth." The result was an "irreparable rift in the interdependent process of social metabolism" between humanity and nature, requiring the "restoration" of this essential metabolism. In the higher society of socialism, he contended, "the associated producers" would "govern the human metabolism of nature in a rational way . . . accomplishing it with the least expenditure of energy and in conditions most worthy and appropriate for their human nature."

On this basis, Marx developed in Capital what is perhaps the most radical conception of ecological sustainability yet propounded: "From the standpoint of a higher socio-economic formation, the private property of particular individuals in the earth will appear just as absurd as the private property of one man in other men. Even an entire society, a nation, or all simultaneously existing societies taken together, are not the owners of the earth. They are simply its possessors, its beneficiaries, and have to bequeath it in an improved state to succeeding generations, as boni patres familias [good heads of the household]."

Marx and Engels addressed in their writings most of the ecological problems of modern times: climate change (then seen as a regional phenomenon); soil degradation; air and water pollution; overexploitation of natural resources; overpopulation; deforestation; desertification; industrial poisons or toxins; and the destruction of species. In The Dialectics of Nature Engels observed: "Let us not, however, flatter ourselves overmuch on account of our human victories over nature. For each such victory nature takes its revenge on us. . . . Thus at every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing outside nature -- but that we, with flesh, blood and brain, belong to nature, and exist in its midst, and that all of our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly."

China's Ecological Civilization and Marxism

What is clear about the present Chinese emphasis on ecological civilization is that it has emerged out of a broad socialist perspective, influenced by both Marxian analysis and China's own distinct history, culture, and vernacular. In China, as opposed to the West, the land remains social or collective property and cannot be sold. I believe it is wrong therefore to see China's initiative in the construction of ecological civilization to be a direct outgrowth of Western-style ecological modernism, as some have supposed. At the 17th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC), in 2007 it was officially proposed that China should build an "ecological civilization," creating more sustainable relations between production, consumption, distribution, and economic growth. At the18th National Congress of the CPC in 2012, "ecological civilization construction" was written into the CPC Constitution. These principles were built into the latest five-year plan (2011-2015). Although many have questioned the seriousness of the CPC's commitment to the construction of an ecological civilization, it is evident that this: (1) arose out of real needs in China, where there has been enormous ecological devastation; (2) was a response to the growth of massive environmental protests throughout China; and (3) has been followed up by massive government efforts in area of planning, production, and technological development.

Behind all of this of course is the fact that China's environmental problems are massive and growing. This is the inevitable result of extremely rapid economic growth which has not sufficiently protected the environment, coupled with other factors such as climate change. China's environmental concerns include: air pollution in major cities amongst the world's most severe; deforestation; desertification, sandstorms contributing massively to air pollution; loss of arable land; seizures of farmland for urban development; water shortages, water pollution; unsafe drinking water; toxic waste dumping; urban congestion and overcrowding; overpopulation; over-reliance on coal-fired plants, rising carbon dioxide emissions, potential energy shortages; and issues of food security.

Is China Moving in the Direction of Ecological Civilization?

There is no doubt that Chinese leadership has made significant steps toward a more sustainable development. Due to the large role of planning China has been able to make rapid changes in a number of areas, going at times against the logic of economic growth. Examples of such efforts are:
(1) targeted reductions in economic growth justified in terms of more environmentally balanced growth;
(2) the massive promotion of solar and wind technology;
(3) a growing share of non-fossil-fuel energy consumption;
(4) creation of a red line to protect a minimum of 120 million hectares of farmland;
(5) reduction of major air pollutants by 8-10 percent in the 12th Five Year Plan (2011-2015);
(6) removal of six million high-pollution vehicles from the roads in 2014;
(7) a 700 percent increase in the output of electric passenger cars (non-plug ins) in 2014;
(8) initiation of a government campaign for frugal lifestyles and against extravagance (conspicuous consumption) by officials;
(9) growing official criticism of GDP worship; and
(10) a pledge to reduce the carbon intensity of GDP by 40-45 percent by 2020 from 2005 level, coupled with a pledge to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, if not sooner; and
(11) the imposition of a new resource tax on coal.

From the critical standpoint of ecological Marxism, however, such developments are still overwhelmed by China's 7 percent economic growth rate, in which the GDP will double in size in a decade, massively increasing environmental demands. Going along with these growth projections is a plan to increase the number of permanent urban dwellers in the next five years to 60 percent from the present 54 percent. This is to be accompanied by larger, more mechanized family farms in rural areas, with the eventual disappearance of 60 percent of the country's villages, to be merged into small towns and large cities. Chinese environmental laws have hitherto been characterized by weak enforcement, suggesting the dominance of profits over environmental protection. Such an overall development path is, if it should indeed continue on this same basis, is clearly non-sustainable, threatening to replicate some of the worst aspects of Western capitalism. In the age of planetary climate change alternative models must be found. This cannot be accomplished simply by technology but requires new ways of living. If China is truly to succeed in creating a new ecological civilization it will have to go in an even more radical direction, further removed from the regime of capital that has characterized the West and that is responsible for today's planetary ecological emergency.

John Bellamy Foster is editor of Monthly Review and professor of sociology at the University of Oregon.  He is the author of Marx's Ecology: Materialism and Nature (2000), The Great Financial Crisis: Causes and Consequences (with Fred Magdoff, 2009), The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Earth (with Brett Clark and Richard York, 2010), The Endless Crisis: How Monopoly-Finance Capital Produces Stagnation and Upheaval from the USA to China (with Robert W. McChesney), and The Theory of Monopoly Capitalism: An Elaboration of Marxian Political Economy (New Edition, 2014), among many others.  A version of this article was first published in People's Daily Online, (which titled it "China's Unique Way to Build Ecological Civilization"), on 11 June 2015.



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