Society chooses our lifestyle

UN climate summit : We have to change our lifestyle!

At the beginning of next week, delegations from all over the world will meet in Paris to negotiate a global climate protection agreement. For a long time, laborious preparatory meetings have been struggling to find a contract text. Initial agreements are being prepared in national or multilateral climate dialogues and conferences. Climate protection commitments by the USA and China or the resolutions of the G7 summit in June 2015 are further important steps on the way to more climate protection. These signals and the pledge by a large number of heads of state and government to come to Paris at the beginning of the conference underscore the extraordinary importance of this summit. Expectations are high and there is great hope that the breakthrough will be achieved in Paris.

It is now a matter of effectively limiting global warming. Many see the Paris climate conference as the last chance to pass a global climate protection agreement as the successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The guideline is the so-called two-degree target. Beyond this limit, the consequences of climate change cannot be foreseen and the risks increase significantly. The weakest and poorest parts of the world population are already most affected, and will continue to do so in the longer term. So it is high time to effectively limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to contain the consequences of climate change.

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Francis sees a "spiral of self-destruction"

The encyclical published on June 18, 2015 Laudato si ’ from Pope Francis is a powerful appeal to the world community to take a courageous step forward in the face of man-made climate change. However, the Pope not only sees the need for radical changes in climate change, but also broadens the view and calls for a fundamental examination of the dangers to our earth from human error. In doing so, the Pope refers to the destruction of our natural foundations of life as well as to the serious social upheavals that go with it. Both the ecological and social problems limit the life chances of humans and nature and point to “a single and complex socio-ecological crisis” (LS 139).

As the title of his encyclical, Pope Francis chooses a praise from the Canticle of the Sun of St. Francis of Assisi: "Laudato si ’, mi’ Signore - Praise be to you, sir ”. Somewhat overshadowed by this heading is the subtitle: “On care for the common house”. This image of the common house strongly refers to the global community of all human beings - a view that, according to the Pope, has only gradually gained acceptance since the middle of the 20th century: the planet is understood as home and humanity as a people that lives in this common house. This global perspective is also reflected in the addressees of the encyclical. The Pope is not only addressing his letter to Catholics, no, Pope Francis expressly wants to enter into conversation with everyone on this planet.

The ecological crisis and the global social problems make a change of course necessary to get out of the "spiral of self-destruction" (LS 163). The Pope therefore calls for an “ecological conversion”, a conversion that paves the way for a strengthening of ecological awareness, which in turn is the prerequisite for responsible action towards creation. This is the central message that Pope Francis gives us in his encyclical Laudato si ’ want to bring you closer. In view of the state of the world, the Pope finds clear words: “We have never treated and injured our common house as badly as in the last two centuries” (LS 53). Concerning the preservation of the common home of the entire human family, he also urges everyone to take responsibility for the well-being of our planet. Because “the environment is a collective good, a legacy of all humanity and a responsibility for all. If someone appropriates something, it is only to manage it for the good of all ”(LS 95). In reality, however, this principle is all too often violated. Individual interests, be they political or economic, gain the upper hand over the common good - with profound consequences for the environment and the development opportunities of the poorest in society.

The weakest are the hardest hit

If Pope Francis refers to the common good in his letter, then this must be seen in a close connection with his approach of a “holistic ecology”. The Pope understands this to be an ecology that also includes people and their relationships with the reality that surrounds them. Behind this is the insight that the human habitat and nature cannot be viewed separately from one another. Against this background, the Pope broadens the horizon of the common good. It corresponds to his conviction that the full development of humans not only requires just and humane living conditions, but also an intact and healthy environment. The realization of the common good thus corresponds to the demand for a holistic ecology.

As a rule, the state is the primary guarantor of the common good. He has a duty to ensure the good state of the community and to serve the well-being of all its citizens. Since there is no “real political world authority” (LS 175), to which Pope Francis recalls in the tradition of his predecessors, the demand for a global common good requires the expansion or further development of “effectively organized international institutions” (LS 175). Furthermore, the Pope calls for effective forms of international leadership to solve the grave environmental problems and the grave social difficulties. With this he points the way global governance. If “everything in the world is interconnected” (LS 16), then this complexity must also be expressed in politics. According to the Pope, what is needed is "a policy whose thinking encompasses a broad horizon and which helps a new, holistic approach to breakthrough by including the various aspects of the crisis in an interdisciplinary dialogue" (LS 197).

States, international organizations and business must enter into a close dialogue

For the realization of a global common good it is necessary that the states and the international organizations as well as the economy enter into a close dialogue and that all “put themselves resolutely at the service of life” (LS 189). On the other hand, an attitude that is only concerned with one's own benefit and that puts national interests above the global common good weakens international politics. Ultimately, according to the Pope, this is also the reason for the “unsuccessfulness of the world summit on environmental issues” (LS 54). He calls for an "ethics of international relations" and reminds the state and politics of their task to set appropriate framework conditions in order to avoid grievances.

In his encyclical Pope Francis also takes up the historical responsibility of the industrialized nations when he states that it is “a real one ecological guilt - especially between the north and the south ”(LS 51) - there. Without the willingness of the rich countries to distribute the burdens of pollution and destruction more fairly, this imbalance will not be overcome. As the polluter, the industrialized nations are directly obliged to significantly reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions and to support the southern countries with measures to adapt to climate change. As the Western model continues to be imitated worldwide, advances on the way to sustainable economic and prosperity models are essential for a global reorientation.

The awareness of a global community is also incompatible with the reality of social injustice. Against the background of the current situation, in which there is so much social injustice worldwide and in which more and more people are excluded and deprived of their basic human rights, “the principle of the common good, as a logical and inevitable consequence, is immediately transformed into an appeal for solidarity and in a priority option for the poorest ”(LS 158).

Future generations also have rights

Solidarity, which is an essential condition for the realization of the common good, also includes future generations. Keeping an eye on the wellbeing of all means not only observing the rights and needs of the present generation, but also those of the generations to come. The claim to intergenerational justice also includes the preservation of creation. Because, according to Pope Francis, the environment is “a loan that every generation receives and must pass on to the next generation” (LS 159). As residents of the common house, we are not only connected to those who live in our time. That is why it is our obligation to hand over the world in such a way that our descendants can also live in it humanely.

In view of the great global consumption of resources and the environment, this can only be managed if the richer countries significantly reduce their demands and become a convincing example of an environmentally friendly economy and lifestyle for the other countries. The economy is also obliged to find development paths that avoid further increases in the consumption of resources and the environment, take into account the dangers of climate change and improve the development opportunities of the poor.

Francis does not give up hope

But it must not be forgotten that looking after the common house is a task that is not only given to states and businesses, but to all people. Responsibility for the fate of our planet challenges everyone. For people in developed countries in particular, the question of the extent of their ecological footprint arises. According to the Pope, lifestyle changes do more than just make a small individual contribution to protecting the environment. They can also "exert beneficial pressure on those in political, economic, and social power" (LS 206). In addition, the Pope suggests that greater emphasis should be placed on the impact of communities in order to strengthen ecological awareness. In his opinion, the individual is often unable to evade environmentally harmful consumption habits. That is why Pope Francis proposes to network with like-minded people and in this way to cope with the necessary ecological conversion. Solidarity is therefore not limited to a personal attitude towards the ecological and social crisis, but also requires communities that are united in solidarity. This is also a prerequisite for overcoming self-centeredness and individualistic interests.

In his encyclical Pope Francis finds clear words for mistakes and deficits in international development and environmental policy, in the economic system and in the understanding of technology and progress, but he by no means lapses into pessimism. The Pope wants to shake up and encourage people to look for solutions and to break new ground. In view of the global challenges, this will only be possible within the global community. A great opportunity lies in the upcoming world climate conference. Caring for our common home requires putting aside interests and making real compromises for the good of the whole - people and nature. In any case, Pope Francis hopes “that humanity can be remembered from the beginning of the 21st century because it has generously accepted its grave responsibility” (LS 165).

The author is bishop of the diocese of Essen and a Catholic military bishop.

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