Environment, nutrition and poverty



Pope Francis dedicated the second Encyclical of his Pontificate to the environment and, recalling St. Francis of Assisi, decided to call it “Laudato si'” (Praise be to you, my Lord). The text highlights best known issues, but never as a trivial matter; actually, they are always addressed with strictest and deepest understanding. Interesting in the initial part are the references to the defence of biodiversity, and to the direct link between environmental degradation and poverty. In fact, the world’s poorest populations are suffering most from the damages of pollution, in all its forms. Just consider the planet overheating, generated by the life model of the so called “First World” countries, which limit agricultural production in the poorest areas, where the rising temperatures and droughts have devastating effects on crops. This overheating also causes the rise of sea levels, and for this reason often people who live in coastal regions are compelled to migrate, even if they have nowhere else they can move to. The Encyclical effectively highlights even the relationship between environment and resources, and specifically between environment and nutrition. Desertification and impoverishment of marine life, for instance, create a great inequality between industrialized and poor countries. In this respect, Pope Francis emphasises that demographic growth cannot, and must not, be blamed for the detrimental effects registered on the Planet: Extreme and selective forms of consumerism should be called to account for them. This is the long-standing problem: by glossing over reality, we tend to legitimise the current distribution model, where a minority believes to be entitled to consume resources in a way which can never be universalized. The lack of equity leads to a true “ecological debt”, whose effects should be evaluated and weighed, particularly in view of the fact that the foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them. It is impossible to even consider that poorest countries may implement measures directed to reduce the environmental impact, as they do not have the know-how for developing the necessary technologies, and the economic empowerment to face their costs. Whereas, it is almost impossible to find solutions without a decisive contribution of the rich and industrialised world, which should put into practice a policy of moderation – as already urged to do more than twenty-five years ago by Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini – capable of limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, creating an equal and rational distribution of food resources. As far as food resources are concerned, it is not useless to point out that millions of tons of food are discarded each year. Instead, it is well to remind what Pope Francis points out, and precisely that “whenever food is thrown out, it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor”.