Vatican Convenes Sustainability Summit, Humanity Enters New Era

As have his two predecessors, Pope Francis is sounding the alarm on climate change and how we treat the natural world – maybe now the message will get through?

This month the Vatican convened a five-day summit, Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature: Our Responsibility, with a goal of making the calls from the Rio+20 Summit a reality. At Rio, the world’s governments agreed that by 2015, universal Sustainable Development Goals would guide future planetary-scale actions.

This obviously hasn’t happened because, say Vatican summit organizers, Rio+20 lacked an "overarching intellectual framework that identifies Nature’s constraints" and because there hasn’t been collective action on from natural and social scientists."

People from scientists to economists attended the Vatican summit and issued a long statement afterwards that makes these points:

"Humanity has entered a new era," moving from the Age of Industrialization marked by remarkable technological change to the Age of the Anthropocene, where humans dominate the planet.

While technological advances from electricity to aviation to the digital revolution have reshaped the world economy into one that’s increasingly connected and urban, it is also more and more unequal.  

"Human action which is not respectful of nature becomes a boomerang that creates inequality and extends what Pope Francis calls "the globalization of indifference" and the "economy of exclusion." 

"Market forces alone, bereft of ethics and collective action, cannot solve the intertwined crises of poverty, exclusion, and the environment."

Problems are exacerbated by measuring economic activity solely by Gross Domestic Product (GDP), which doesn’t factor in  the "degradation of Earth that accompanies it nor the abject inequalities between countries and within each country."

Real sustainable development is within reach, they say. There are no technical barriers, rather it’s a matter of human values. "We need, above all, to change our convictions and attitudes, and combat the globalization of indifference with its culture of waste and idolatry of money."

"We should insist upon the preferential option for the poor; strengthen the family and community; and honor and protect Creation as humanity’s imperative responsibility to future generations. "

"Our message is one of urgent warning, for the dangers of the Anthropocene are real and the injustice of globalization of indifference is serious.  Yet our message is also one of hope and joy.  A healthier, safer, more just, more prosperous, and sustainable world is within reach."

Lesson From Pope Francis

After the summit, Pope Francis offered this "lesson" to his massive audience called, "If We Destroy Creation, It Will Destroy Us," as part of a series on the "seven gifts of the Holy Spirit." This gift is "knowledge."

"The gift of knowledge helps us to avoid falling prey to excessive or incorrect attitudes. The first lies in the risk of considering ourselves masters of Creation. Creation is not a property, which we can rule over at will; or, even less, is the property of only a few: Creation is a gift, it is a wonderful gift that God has given us, so that we care for it … always with great respect and gratitude."

… If we destroy Creation, in the end it will destroy us! Never forget this!

Walks the Talk

Vatican City has been powered by solar since 2010 when it spent $660 million on a massive 100 megawatt solar system.

Solar Vatican

In 2011, the Vatican’s Scientific Panel commissioned a climate report saying "humans must act decisively now to avert a coming crisis." Its recommendations: stop environmental degradation such as deforestation; reduce climate forcers; prepare to adapt.

Read Pope Francis’s brief lesson on Knowledge: 

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