The following is a guest post by Erin Lothes Biviano, who teaches theology at the College of St. Elizabeth.
2015 promises to be a watershed year for climate negotiations and Catholic environmental teaching. Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment is already widely anticipated and an ambitious statement from global Bishops has already appeared after the Lima COP-20. All this is good news in the wake of the latest news that 2014’s global temperatures were the warmest ever.
Another resource is a new Vatican text that comprehensively lays out elements of the increasingly defined Catholic energy ethic. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace has just published the English translation of Energy, Justice and Peace: A Reflection on Energy in the Current Context of Development and Environmental Protection (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2014). This text incorporates, references, and builds upon clear themes of Catholic social teaching whose links to the environment and sustainable development are established—themes such as solidarity, rights to health and development, participation, the option for the poor, and the rights of future generations.
Energy, Justice and Peace conveys important notes in a “new paradigm” of energy ethics. As the secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Bishop Mario Toso has stated, “in view of the realization of peace – and peace includes several goods – it is necessary that energy be thought of, produced, distributed, and used, according to a new paradigm.” I have described this new paradigm of energy ethics elsewhere.
Here I offer a brief introduction to Energy, Justice and Peace, published in Italian in 2013 as a result of a two-year study of energy by the Council with other experts. To detail some of the most evocative new messages of this text, I will highlight those that sound a new tone amisdst familiar CST themes, or cast the CST themes in particularly significant form. Using the rubric of a “new paradigm of energy ethics,” I will address normative teachings, practical points, evangelical or theological themes, and exhortations- calls for action. I describe the theological messages as “evangelical” because they indeed pertain to the “good news”: the call to live out the love of neighbor in the concrete situation of the world today, a situation intersected at every dimension by the question of energy. My aim is to convey the resonances of this text with extended quotations from the document. The text’s introduction reflects on the history of energy, its indispensable nature, and its complexity, then follow sections analyzing the relationship of energy to injustice, the obstacles to energy development, and critiques of the current profit-driven economic model. Discussions of governance and public responsibility, principles for energy management, and concrete proposals are offered before the conclusion.
Normative Teachings. The essential normative message is the centrality of the human person. Energy sources are “indissolubly linked with the development of man, society and culture. In short, the concept of energy being a secondary concept, in order to highlight the related ethical implications, one should always consider the primary reference from which it draws its meaning and importance: the person and his or her integral promotion.. . . Energy should be considered as a common good, as we will emphasize hereinafter, that must be guaranteed to all. Inadequate and unequal access to energy must be, therefore, as an obstacle to the integral development of peoples and to a fair society.
Practical points. Practical concerns include the competition that may result from demand for non-renewable energy sources, pitting strong economies against weak economies, “with the risk of severe penalties for the latter.” Many concrete details are reviewed, including the relationship of energy and geopolitical conflict, hazardous waste, association with cartels, biofuels, subsidies, cookstoves, the energy intensity of beef, and the water – energy – food nexus.
The Council observes that the model of development followed historically by industrial countries may not necessarily be the model for developing and rural areas. Distributed generation, small scale renewable projects, and even simple mechanical devices (replacing diesel pumps for irrigation, for example), and other local solutions must be explored.
Evangelical/ Theological Themes. The many profound theological notes within this book constitute its richest offering of an overall vision of the human meaning of energy. This vision permits the recognition of energy and energy ethics as a theme within evangelization.
First, the very cause of ecological devastation is theologically grounded. “Creation suffers because humanity does not yet live the novelty of Easter.” Humankind’s self-knowledge as a conscious moral agent is at the core of apprehending this theological message. “Taking energy into account means looking upon man, his self-perception in history and the possibilities for humanity to understand and increasingly fulfill his vocation to improvement.”
The document’s profound economic critique condemns seeking profit for profit’s sake with great pastoral sensitivity. While profit is a legitimate goal, it cannot be the sole aim of companies. Profitability may coexist with practices that allow for “the people to be humiliated, their dignity offended and the ecosystem compromised. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will have negative repercussions also on economic efficiency.”
Sustainability must therefore be become an “ethical-moral sustainability,” a mode of development that “listens to nature,” and seeks an “economy of communion” — all consonant with the eschatological orientation of Christianity.
Exhortations. Many practical exhortations are offered in this volume. Increasing consumption is proscribed; energy sobriety is urged. Overall, the text calls for a new paradigm that provides “new behavioral patterns based on justice, responsibility, altruism, subsidiarity and the conception of the integral development of peoples with a view to the common good.” Toward that end, the Council advocates for “sustainable development based more on renewable energy sources than on non-renewable energy ones.”
Perhaps the most trenchant recommendation comes from the insistence that energy should “primarily solve the shortages of the most vulnerable and poorest populations, and, only subsequently, ensure greater consumption for those who already have plenty of energy.” The policy recommendation that follows is the uncompromising admonition that advanced countries have the “moral duty” of using complex energy technologies to limit and reduce their demand for energy sources that are easier to use. Poor countries will then have greater access to such sources. Advanced countries have “the moral duty of developing the use of the most complex and capital-intensive energy technologies, in order to allow poor countries to feed their development, resorting to simpler and less expensive energy technologies.”
Such strong recommendations are rooted not only in a firm call to solidarity, but the recognition of how energy intersects all forms of social, economic, technological, and political globalization. Among these multiple globalizations, Energy, Justice and Peace calls for increased awareness of the reality of moral globalization.
Thus a final exhortation points to the need for education and moral formation about the ethical implications of energy. Recognizing that governments may never prohibit “the use of a jeep to go to buy a superfluous item from a store around the corner,” this behavior is nonetheless labeled as aberrant. The awareness of energy choices as ethical choices must be developed in combination with the spread of the Gospel message. This evangelical education about energy seeks a “conversion of hearts and minds,” that understands the linkage of love with the universal destination of goods and the management of energy in an ethical-moral sustainability.