Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis

Chapter III  of Pope Francis’ Encyclical, Laudato Si’, analyzes current aspects of the ecological (both environmental and social) crisis that were described in the first chapter, “so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes” (#15), in a dialogue with philosophy and the human sciences.

Summary quote of this chapter’s message:  “It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and of human action in the world” (#101).

1. Technology: Creativity and Power (#101-105)

In the spirit of Saint Francis, Pope Francis focuses on the concerns of our day and gives central attention to the dominant technocratic paradigm and its effects on people and on their actions in the world. He asks us to look at our understanding of the causes of the ecological crisis and to consider what changes we need to make so that all might share in the benefits of technology.

He calls for dialogue to create an ethical framework of principles and behaviors and suggests several areas for discussion and decision-making.

First, we have been brought to a crossroads by our technological developments. We are grateful for the great technologies to the improvement of the quality of human life through medicine, engineering, and communications. Yet, it needs to be acknowledged that advances in technology are matched by advances in power, especially for those with the knowledge and economic resources to use them (the Pope cites the use of nuclear bombs, the array of technology used by totalitarian regimes and the deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare). There can be the tendency to believe that an increase in power is an increase in progress, that technology gives “those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world” (104). It is precisely the mentality of technocratic domination that leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, especially the most vulnerable populations. Pope Francis observes, however, that technological development must be accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values, and conscience. The situation calls for sound ethics, a culture and spirituality capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint (#102-105).

2. The Globalization of the Technocratic Paradigm (#106-114)

The second is consideration of the globalization of the technocratic paradigm. Technological products are not neutral but create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyle and shaping social possibilities dictated by certain powerful groups that dominate economic and political life, keeping us from recognizing that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (109).  The problems of global hunger and poverty cannot be resolved simply by market growth. Wasteful consumerism offers an unacceptable contrast to dehumanizing privation. From this perception, Pope Francis notes that the deepest roots of our present failures have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth. There needs to be a realization that our struggle to constantly accumulate novelties can lead to a superficial life (#106-114).

Questions for Reflection

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