At The Federalist, a round-table discussion brought up several issues regarding the encyclical, Laudato Si’. A quick reading of the discussion sees several themes emerge: the pope shouldn’t be writing about science, this encyclical comes down too heavily against free markets, and that modernity has much to offer in the way of solving humanity’s many problems.
Now, if free markets and capitalism are really to blame for pollution, it would stand to reason that those would be the countries with the worst ecological problems. That is not the case.
On the contrary, the management of the environment in communist countries has been and continues to be much worse than in capitalist ones. For example, Richard Fuller, president of the environmental non-profit Blacksmith Institute once identified the former Soviet Union as having “by far and away the worst problems…” when it comes to environmental protection and land use.
The magnitude of communism’s damage to the natural environment is perhaps best appreciated by looking at the giant desert that has replaced the onetime Aral Sea, between modern day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. In the mid-20th century, the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world, after the Caspian Sea, and Lakes Superior and Victoria. It was larger than West Virginia. It provided one sixth of the fish consumed in the USSR, and the lands around it produced melons, clover and barley and antelopes roamed the area.
Now there is nothing but a desert and two very small lakes. The sand deposited on the bed of the formerly enormous sea is blown by the wind, contaminating large areas. The wind also contains pesticides and insecticides deposited in the lake and now exposed in its naked bed. This has made the land around the old lake infertile, and all because the Soviet government decided to develop a cotton industry in the area, diverting two rivers to irrigate the new fields.
This is not an isolated case. China’s air pollution problems are well-known. Many participants in the 2014 Beijing Marathon ran with masks on due to the poor air quality. We also know that poor countries have severe ecological issues because they cannot afford good water and sewage systems, yet it is well-funded programs such as the one at Caltech that are working to create better and more sustainable sewage and water solutions.
To blame our current environmental catastrophe on a single ideology or abstract entity is to ignore mankind’s own day-to-day responsibilities. No environmental destruction is the result of some unstoppable system. The culprits behind environmental destruction are all of us.
For them, the pope is definitely wrong to blame free markets. No; he should be blaming US! We are the reason we can’t have nice things! We destroy and trample and deplete. At least, that is the narrative we are given.
Every single person on the face of the planet is created in God’s image. Everybody has the same heavenly Father. Everybody has capacity, talent, and ability. Everybody has responsibility. Everybody has stewardship responsibility. I don’t care what dirt hovel you’re living in, in Brazil or Mexico City or Manila. You have a responsibility to be a steward of the resources under your control because you have a heavenly Father who has put great things inside of you and that’s waiting to be called out and developed and extracted.
Free markets are not to blame for pollution and dangerous drinking water, and the human race is not the cause of environmental catastrophe. Can we be better stewards? Of course. But let us remember that it is our talents, gifts, and ingenuity that will solve many of these issues, just as we have always done.