Laudato Si, Chapter 1, Part 1: The Throwaway Culture

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The first part of Chapter 1 of Laudato Si talks about the everyday pollution we deal with as well as the more unhealthy stuff that can be found everywhere. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” (Paragraph 21)

Pope Francis links this to what he calls a throwaway culture. starting with something as simple as throwing away paper instead of recycling it. This entire chapter then goes into detail about how the throwaway culture extends beyond merely not recycling paper. “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” (Paragraph 23) However, this chapter shows that at the moment, people aren’t treating the Earth like it should be treated.

Most of this chapter feels like something out of a college-level environmental class, with Pope Francis explaining the environmental damage that is going on in our world. He also says that climate change especially affects those who live in poor areas. The problem, according to him, is that those with the resources to change things would rather mask the problem and conceal symptoms. He suggests investing that money towards things that can consume less energy and constructing and renovating in ways that increase energy efficiency.

There’s an entire section in this chapter that focuses on the issue of water. Paragraph 28 explains why having fresh drinking water is an important issue and points out that many areas are especially affected by lack of access to safe drinking water. Paragraph 29  explains the dangers of not having safe drinking water. Paragraph 30 admonishes making water a commodity.

Part 3 of Chapter 1 is entitled “Loss of Biodiversity.” He spends about eleven paragraphs explaining how human activity affects various ecosystems. He also stresses the importance of protecting ecosystems such as the rainforest. (Cue Captain Planet theme. And yes, I did grow up watching that show.) Two paragraphs focus on ocean environments. Again, this entire section feels very much like a textbook. Too bad nobody likes to study.

It’s no surprise, then, that I like Part 4 of this chapter the most because it finally brings in the human factor. He points out how artificial things are. It brings to mind, at least for me, the contrast between the ostentatious and meticulously maintained estate of Rosings and Mr. Darcy’s wild and vast estate of Pemberley in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  He also looks into the social impact the environment has. Paragraph 47 particularly stabs at my heart because it looks into the pros and cons of being a world immersed in technology.

I’ll look into the second half of Chapter 1 tomorrow. For now, I’m going to share some parts of Chapter 1 that particularly stood out for me.

Standout quotes

Paragraph 30

Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behaviour within a context of great inequality.

From Paragraph 34:

We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.

From Paragraph 42

Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.

From Paragraph 43

Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.

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