Image via 350 dot org

It is very gratifying to see Pope Francis declare in his encyclical that, in terms of the Earth,  “We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorized to loot her” he states that “The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.” The problem is “aggravated,” the Pope said, “by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels.” The Pope’s criticism of the “myth of progress” reflects the statement by Ananda Coomaraswamy , lamenting on the ideas of ‘progress’ by the Ceylonese of his time,  “we who call art significant, not knowing of what , are also proud to progress we know not wither”. They both question the current model of ’development’ and call for responsible action.

One supposes that such clear, concerned thinking in the defense of humanity will fly in the face of the ‘consumption is development’ philosophies created to ensure the sustainability of those non-human robots, the corporations and banks. As  the musician Neil Young  notes, “ These corporations were originally created to serve us, but if we don’t appropriately prioritize, they will destroy us. Corporations don’t have children. They don’t have feelings or soul. They don’t depend on uncontaminated water, clean air or healthy food to survive. They are beholden to one thing: the bottom line”.

The attack on the person who affects that bottom line  will be fierce, it will be an extraordinary person who can withstand these pressures. But a Pope who cares for all humanity and extends this care to all living things, is an extraordinary person indeed.  His call demands attention.  To help make the sense of urgency in his message a bit clearer. I append an article  originally published in 1986, very relevant for now.


From whatever perspective we choose this fact is clear ‘there is a threat to life as we know it”, and this threat is being constantly amplified by the actions of man. The actions of modern technological man have helped bring this threat very close to becoming real for us on this planet Earth.

In a fundamental sense, life can exist only in low entropy “islands” within the isothermal energy system that is the universe. Here, information that allows for more detailed descriptions of greater complexity, can be conserved. All being organized and sustained by the differential flows of energy possible in such “islands”.

One such organizing principle has been termed “life” and the expression of this principle in our physical/chemical milieu studied as biology. The first beginnings of life on this planet, as well as its subsequent evolution has been well documented by the fossil record: and biological evolution has been demonstrated to involve a hierarchical ascendancy to more and more complex forms of living beings. We humans, being one expression of life at a time when it has been achieved the greatest diversity in its expression on Earth.

If the historical record demonstrates that the manifestation of life on this planet shows a tendency towards greater complexity, any reduction of the conditions or options allowing evolution along this path will stifle the expression of the organizing principle (life) on it. Observation confirms the fact that the actions of man have contributed to such a reduction of options. In the course of history, the forests of the Mediterranean or the floodplains of China provide some examples of this reduction. However all these reductions pale into insignificance by the action of modern man.

Today we rapidly remove the conditions necessary for the continued existence of genetic, ecological and cultural information, as these are seen to be unimportant to the society of modern man. These losses have now reached critical proportions, the actions leading to such losses being vindicated by the human value system called “Consumerist Growth”. This value system claiming representation of the will of humanity.  Using a theory called “Consumerism sovereignty” where  “whatever contributes to the satisfaction of the individual is decreed good and whatever detracts from the individual satisfaction is decreed bad”; the salesmen of the world set about the activity of creating desire. So that, more and more resources were required to satisfy the individual preference, The individual preference being constantly redefined by the pecuniary actions of these same salesmen. The product of these actions has been to place an ever-increasing demand on all resources, be it renewable or non-renewable. As the values and ideals of the “Consumerist, growth oriented society extend to include more and more of humanity, there is a proportionate reduction in the ability of life to express itself on this planet.

The diversity of species or ecosystems, the function of the great chemical cycles such as Oxygen, Carbon Dioxide, Nitrogen, etc. The value of public goods such as clean air and water, are but some units that we can measure this threat to life by. But until the paralytic grip that the present economists and salesman have on the decision-making politicians and administrators are weakened, there exists a little hope for planning a sane, sustainable future for living beings on this planet.

The “Consumerist, growth oriented society” is in a fundamental sense, an antithesis to life. Its promotion and sale to the world as “development” and “progress” can only be seen as an irresponsible action by power brokers that view the development of a currency system to be of greater validity than the conservation of the living systems.

In the worlds of the American cartoon character Pogo Possum “We have met the enemy, and the enemy is us”. But the problem lies in belling the cat. Self criticism is hard enough for an individual, for an entire discipline and it’s associated professions it will require a sense of responsibility of gargantuan proportions.

Today in Sri Lanka, we are looking for a new and sustainable direction to base our development efforts on. Now that the world has begun demonstrating a new direction, the divestment of all interests in Coal by the Norway Fund or the recognition of the inability of fossil fuels to contribute to development by the G7 countries, suggest future scenarios. We should be cautious in proceeding with planning made without consideration of these realities. We should look towards a national sustainable development plan that considers the history of our current situation while planning for short, medium and long-term goals to frame our progress. We should do way with the ‘model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels’ that we are so addicted to at the present.

  • puniselva

    Tamil and Sinhala translations of this should reach schools, technical colleges and universities.

  • Jayalath

    I had a short discussion with an Englishman few months ago in London whose family raised in a farm land in Scotland , all kicked off , while we eating roast potatoes.and he told me that you would not eat potatoes if you know how much chemicals has been involved to bring those potatoes on the table . I asked him why do you have to use so much chemicals to grow potatoes? He told me that we only can grow small amount of potatoes with little chemicals and which is absolutely harmless to our health but it will not be sufficient enough to feed all you ! After ward he said that we have a choice whether we eat those are made up with chemical just to live or stay starving and die which meant to me is that he says as there are too many people to be fed in this earth that we have to use chemical to get a larger harvest .and it has become compulsory to use immense amount of chemical to keep the harvest out of diseases . So, what does it says to common man ? I believe that rising population is the biggest threat to the life on Earth and its future, the consumption of fossil fuel and consumerism would stay in the second row of the threats , Therefore ,I think we must have a fair and prompt discussion about the rising population across the globe . Without establishing a serious sentiment in the societies against rising numbers of births that all our efforts would be pointless. I mean it should be the first step , but we cannot do that with the politicians of a country who only think of how to get elected . Still there are some chances to minimise the impact if we behaviour as responsible individuals and responsible citizens of the earth .
    I remember when pope Francis visited Philippine last year that he rose many questions regarding the rising of births of Philippine , and he requested from people to take a good responsibility before thinking of giving a birth ,which was quite different suggestion comparing to what the churches were emphasised on people before . According to the some religious perspective ,there aren’t sufficient birth control systems has been placed in some countries and that has caused of unavoidable rise of population , Philippine is a nearest evidence.therefore I see that pope Francis tries to turn things radically and appropriately ,because he has seen irresponsibilities of people today .
    However,if we concern a little bit about unborn generations of world we must ready to behave responsibly right now . We could appeal from the religious institutions to take actions responsibly and most appropriately without delay ,unless the imminent danger and threat to the humanity and all living things on earth would not be inevitable.
    You may aware how much we speak about the sustainable developments today , go green ,eco system etc ,but can the poor countries afford to go Green ? Just concern about the renewable energy which is the key to sustainable development of a country and it has entered the language of politics around the world today .we have identified wind power,wave and tidal energy ,bio-fuels,hydroelectricity,solar energy,nuclear energy and few others as renewable energy and those are very costly to establish as poor countries ,that’s why we see it as a miracle to many countries . I remember once prof .Ian Fells proposed to build modest tidal power scheme to UK energy needs and its estimated cost £ 13 billion , and it could provide only 6 per cent of UK needs , so you can imagine how costly it can be to a country.
    Those are visible factors which has to concerned by responsible citizens.
    However, I was shocked recently after reading an article of independence paper of London which suggest as climate change key in Syrian conflict and it will trigger more wars in warned global warming is likely to unleash more wars in the coming decades .the experts have long predicted that climate change will be a major source of conflicts as drought and rising temperatures hurt pointed out that Syria war is the first war that scientists have explicitly linked to climate change .Researchers say, global warming intensified regions ever draughts,pushing the country into civil war by destroying agriculture and forcing to exodus to cities already straining from poverty and also influx of refugees from war torn Iraq has further worsen the crisis. So, the threat to the life is exerted by many ways today ,and lack of knowledge and awareness among citizens of earth could Aggravate it further. Particularly sustainable retreat is something that scientists suggest now which we can achieve through changing the behaviour of us , I mean our attitude which has to change drastically , but I have no idea how we can persuade a person to use cycles instead of driving posh cars ,this is the problem . Yet ,I strongly believe all those messes that we have today is only can resolve through the political correctness,which should be led by politicians and responsible citizens in the planet . Because we all should know the threats and consequences that could cause by our reckless attitude . So, without understanding the real threat to the life that all the efforts we make will be wasted ,therefore ,political correctness is essential to the whole world ,unless we cannot face the colossal threats that caused for the extinction of life on Earth

    • puniselva

      What a good thing #wecanchange chucked out the Rajapakses five months back. Former Defence Secretary was giving incentives to the armed forces to have more children while the rest of the population and the Dept of Health have been trying their best for 4/5 decades on birth control.