Is Equality a Foundation for Global Sustainability?

As the sustained media interest attests, Pope Francis’s encyclical “Laudato Si” is a genuinely remarkable intervention. In exhaustive detail he identifies the two profound challenges facing our global civilization: poverty and the stability of the planet’s life support system.

While they have often been treated as separate issues, the Laudato Si names the root cause: an economic system that values wealth accumulation above all else. But what he misses is that they may share a common solution: greater equality.

The media has largely focused on Laudato Si’s climate message – the word is mentioned 17 times and the word “environment” 140. Pope Francis talks about a dynamic planet undergoing rapid change. He begins, “Theological and philosophical reflections on the situation of humanity and the world can sound tiresome and abstract, unless they are grounded in a fresh analysis of our present situation, which is in many ways unprecedented in the history of humanity.”

The Pope has homed in on a growing body of research that pulls together previously disconnected academic disciplines: geology, ecology, oceanography, soil science, atmospheric physics and chemistry and lately, the social and economic sciences. Assembling the Earth system jigsaw has been the focus of intense research in the last three decades led by organisations such as the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme and, more recently, Future Earth.

This research reached its first peak in 2000 with the astounding realization that the considerable growth in human activities, largely since the 1950s, has elevated humanity to the scale of the great geological and astronomical forces shaping our planet.

Related research shows that, following the end of the ice age, the climate of the last 11,000 years has been remarkably stable – greatly benefiting human development. Indeed, as this period, known as the Holocene, kicked off, agriculture appeared independently —> Read More