“The ethical, the practical and the eschatological”, these are the three key contributions the Catholic Church makes to the current environmental debate.
Mons. Parolin, the representative of the Holy See, delivered a short but thought-provoking message to the Heads of State and Government in the opening session of COP21 in Paris, underlying three elements that the Vatican -and many other grassroots and faith-based groups- have been repeating for many years.
First, the ethical. Parolin stated the importance of a clear moral orientation, one that included the moral principle formulated back in 1992 at the Rio Conference on Sustainable Development: the so-called principle of common but differentiated responsibilities
. Though it may sound sophisticated, the principle is very simple: those who are suffering the worst consequences of the environmental degradation are the ones who haven’t caused it (the poor) or the ones who are not still here (the future generations). The burden of responsibility, so to speak, falls on those of us who have done most of the damage. So we are all responsible, yes, but in very different degrees.
Then the second, the practical. Ethical principles and finely-worded declarations are important for guidance, but they won’t lead us anywhere near where we need to go unless we take the real steps or “walk the talk”. In the face of a warming planet, the Holy See interprets those steps as “the promotion of renewable energy and dematerialization, as well as the development of energy efficiency […] or the correct management of forests, transport and waste; the development of a circular model for the economy; the implementation of appropriate, sustainable and diversified programs for food safety and to combat food waste; strategies against speculation and ineffective, or even at times harmful, subsidies; and the development and transfer of suitable technologies.” This is ethics into praxis, and here is where real politics comes in: “This necessitates undertaking with conviction the road towards a low-carbon economy and full human development”.
And finally, the eschatological. (Eschatology is the belief concerning death, the end of the world, or the ultimate destiny of humankind). Christian hope is concerned with eschatology, or the vision of last things. This is why, for Christians, ethics and politics -moral principles and practical initiatives- need a sustaining vision, a meaningful horizon, and a long-term perspective. And this is precisely what we need most, because "COP 21 is not a moment of arrival or a starting point, but rather a crucial path in a process that without doubt will not end in 2015," emphasized Parolin. "Here we enter the fundamental fields of education and training, unfortunately often situated at the margins of negotiations for international agreements.” Technical solutions are necessary, but they will not be enough if we do not consider education in sustainable life styles, if we do not consider a meaningful future – a vision where everyone and every creature has a place on Earth.
So we come full circle to where we began: to the ethical, the practical and the eschatological. We need the three, and we need them together. Let’s keep it in mind.
The Ecojesuit Team