Vatican Statement on Climate Change Castigates Industrial Agriculture
On Thursday, June 18th, the Vatican released to the public its long awaited official statement on climate change, titled Laudito Si. Taking the austere life of St. Francis of Assisi and his awe and love for nature as a teacher and guide, Pope Francis appeals to Catholics, non-Catholics, and governments alike to take action to protect the earth against global climate change.
The Second Chance Foundation applauds Pope Francis for the statement and for his leadership in the fight against global climate change. We are especially pleased that Pope Francis also highlighted the central role that the deleterious system of industrial agriculture plays in producing global climate change.
In point 20 of the document, the Pope points out that ” fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general” contribute to the pollution of the Earth. “Business interests” present technology as the “only way to solve these problems”, but they cover up the fact that technology “sometimes solves one problem only to create others”. This is a general way of describing the history of industrial agriculture around the globe. In India, industrial agriculture became the dominant paradigm after the Green Revolution of the 1960s and 70s. It momentarily increased yield of wheat and rice, but it’s negative environmental consequences appeared not long after its introduction. By the early 1980s, yields began to decrease as a result of over-production and toxic agricultural chemicals that poisoned the soil. These same chemicals leached into sources of groundwater, and, today, rates of cancer in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, and Andhra Pradesh are alarmingly high. Instead of recognizing the dangerous consequences of their agricultural model, agribusiness companies now offer genetically-modified plants that are resistant to agricultural chemicals, allowing farmers to continue to grow without addressing the toxicity of the environment. This has led to a growing movement for organic agriculture in India.
The Pope was right to point out, as he does in point 51, that multi-national corporations are some of the major producers of environmental degradation and climate change. In their ever expanding search for profit at the expense of all other social values, “they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”. He also critiques the argument that the growing world population is the greatest source of concern because the world does not have enough food nor resources to feed its growing population; multi-national agribusiness corporations frequently recite this dogma and claim that industrial agriculture is the only viable solution to food shortages. The Pope sets the record straight by writing in Section 50 that “demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”, and that inequality in the distribution of resources and over-consumption is to blame.
To create long-lasting and sustainable solutions to the crisis of global climate change, the Pope urges a that we adopt the principles of ecological thinking to guide policy decisions and our everyday actions. ” Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop” (Section 138), and it is premised on the fact that humans are not separate from the environment but exist within and in relation to it. In other words, humans cannot survive without the environment, and it is the responsibility of all humans to protect and nurture ecological live.
When it comes to agriculture, this means adopting organic and agro-ecological approaches that nurture the environment, especially the soil, and use it to both increase yields and keep agriculture sustainable. The movement for organic agriculture is growing in India, building on an already successful set of policies that promote the System of Crop Intensification.
The world has a long way to go before organic agriculture becomes the dominant paradigm, but the Pope’s statement is an important step towards making that a reality.