ROME – In Pope Francis’ newly released encyclical, he calls on all of us to actively fight the injustice of inequality. The document discusses developed nations’ responsibility to aid those in need. It points to victims of poverty being denied basic human rights, like access to water, food and housing, and declares a pressing need for change.
In his encyclical, the Pope draws a connection between environmental degradation and poverty. He warns that the continued exploitation of our environment will most severely affect the developing world. Poor communities are more commonly exposed to pollutants, and less able to afford insurance and other protections.
The Vatican’s document criticizes consumerist economies as economies of exclusion. It explains that those most often excluded are typically people suffering from poverty. In this way, it highlights poverty’s cyclical nature, pointing out that underdeveloped nations are at a constant systemic disadvantage.
The Pope explicitly calls on wealthier and more powerful countries to honor their “social debt” to the world’s poor. His document discusses the interconnectedness of the world’s population and stresses the importance of promoting the common good. He explains that developed nations are morally obliged to provide necessary aid.
The document points out that, especially in today’s globalized society, injustices like poverty should not stand. Developed countries could help pay their social debt by supporting policies and programs of sustainable development. Additionally, a renewed focus on environmental protection would be a tremendous help.
Pope Francis explains that wealthier nations are doubly indebted to the developing world. Extremely high levels of consumption in richer parts of the world correlate with consequential changes in climate worldwide. For example, in poorer regions like Africa, a rise in temperature has had extremely damaging effects on agriculture.
In addition to honoring a significant social debt, developed nations should provide effective solutions to the environmental turmoil they have caused. Significantly reducing consumption of non-renewable energy would be a great place to start.
The encyclical explains that the most effective long-term solutions will necessitate international cooperation. This is an incredibly important area of improvement. In fact, the Pope explicitly criticizes the international community for “how weak international political responses have been so far,” challenging more to step up.
Pope Francis condemns social ills like trafficking, sexual exploitation, the fur trade and slavery in his discussion of institutionalized poverty. He repeatedly places blame on profit-seeking economies that perpetuate exclusion. He points to the physical separation of these types of economies from poorer countries as a major obstacle.
Because key international actors are most often located in affluent urban areas, they cannot experience the reality of the poverty problem first-hand. Regardless of the little direct contact wealthier nations have with extreme poverty, the world’s most capable must intensify their poverty-fighting efforts.
On an individual level too, there is a responsibility of those living in luxury and abundance to act fast. Simple changes like avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption and using public transportation could alleviate environmental decline and moderate the poverty that stems from it.
By simultaneously fighting poverty and climate change, developed nations could eradicate one of the world’s most grave injustices. Now is time for longstanding debts to be paid and changes to be made. In today’s extremely interconnected world, certain international responsibilities can no longer be ignored.
– Sarah Bernard
Sources: Crux, Moyers & Co.
Photo: World Resources Insitute