Wednesday, 30 July 2008

On the causes of environmental devastation and other social ills

I said a few days back that conservatives cringed a little at some of the Pope's comments on social and environmental issues, and today I came across a classic in this regard.

I'm reading Dr Tracey Rowland's book on Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II at the moment - its very interesting albeit considerably less accessible than her latest book. It seems to be a critique in part of the American (and to a lesser degree Australian) neo-conservative project of attempting to reconcile an essentially Protestant culture (founded on ideas such as the severance of relations between Church and State) with Catholic teaching.

The tensions most often come out in areas such as the Church's social teaching - but also on the Iraq War for example, which the Vatican consistently argued did not meet Just War criteria.

Helping the poor causes environmental devastation???!

So as an example of the attempt to reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable, let me offer this quote on the Pope's teaching in Australia, by Dr Robert Royal on The Catholic Thing:

"Before arriving, he [the Pope] noted: “Many young people today lack hope. They are perplexed by the questions that present themselves ever more urgently in a confusing world, and they are often uncertain which way to turn for answers. They see poverty and injustice and they long to find solutions. They are challenged by the arguments of those who deny the existence of God and they wonder how to respond. They see great damage done to the natural environment through human greed and they struggle to find ways to live in greater harmony with nature and with one another.” All of this, especially the environmental emphasis, was repeated in various WYD events. (Unfortunately, the Holy See today routinely connects environmental problems with greed and not with the unintended consequences of trying to raise the well-being of poor people around the world, the far more usual cause)."

OK, so I really want someone to explain this to me. Silly old me (and I think the Vatican) sees problems like deforestation and the current food price crisis as being driven by rampant consumerism and companies driven purely by the profit motive, unrestrained in most third world countries by adequate regulatory structures.

But in reality it seems those companies were just trying to help the poor by replacing their food crops with biofuel crops, and burning down forests (adding potentially to greenhouse problems and certainly affecting the local climate) to plant even more....

And I'm assuming the logical corollary of this is that we shouldn't actually try helping the poor, because it has all these unintended consequences?


And while I'm on a (what will no doubt be labelled as socialist by some) roll, let me say that I think we should all congratulate the Rudd Government for finally (almost) ending mandatory detention of 'illegal' immigrants (boat people still end up on Christmas Island under the new scheme).

The policy of locking up asylum seekers, including their children, sometimes for years at a time, even when they pose absolutely no threat to the community was a monstrous policy that in fact originated with the Hawke, and not the Howard Government (Howard just tried to up the ante somewhat).

Seeking asylum is not in fact a crime - it is a right under an international law that Australia has signed up to give to all those who arrive at its borders. That's not to say that all who come will pass the test - in reality rejection rates are typically quite high. But better they spend the time while their claim is being assessed in the community rather than in prisons (or marooned on assorted Pacific Islands) at enormous cost to the taxpayer (not withstanding our attempts to make them pay for the pleasure of being detained!).

1 comment:

Louise said...

the logical corollary of this is that we shouldn't actually try helping the poor

The real point is that biofuels are evil and food should be grown primarily for the people of that particular region to eat. If biofuels had not been using up the arable land, none of this extra damage would have been done.