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ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES

Human person in the process of producing through his many activities has misused the environment and caused damage to it. Now we are  faced  with global environmental deterioration. Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation. This is to say that there is a  need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity inasmuch as the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will defin­itively turn against man.

The destruction of the human environ­ment is extremely serious  because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement.

Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the estab­lished structures of power which today govern societies. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connec­tion in an ordered system.  When we talk about environment we also intend life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence.

The natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social envi­ronment has also suffered damage. Both are ulti­mately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless. To destroy the biological diversity,  to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life is to   commit a crime against the natural world and against ourselves.

The urgent challenge to protect  the environment, or nature, which in one extent or the other is our com­mon home requires each of us to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.

We all demand  changes in our society. But how can we claim to be building a better fu­ture without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded or the more vulnerable? Is it possible at all?

The continued acceleration of changes af­fecting humanity and the planet is coupled to­day with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called rapidification. We need everything and “Now”! Although change is part of the working of complex sys­tems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not neces­sarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.

I. Pollution and climate change

Some forms of pollution are part of peo­ple’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes mil­lions of premature deaths. People get sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides and herbicides in general. Technology, which is linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves inca­pable of seeing the mysterious network of re­lations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, which is our home, is begin­ning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elder­ly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemi­cal products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irrevers­ibly affected.

2. Climate as a common good

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witness­ing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and con­sumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggra­vate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scien­tific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.

Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, eco­nomic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal chal­lenges facing humanity in our day.  But its  worst im­pact is being  felt by our developing coun­tries.  This is because, many  of the poor  people live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and eco­systemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the liveli­hood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children.  Furthermore, the  exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and the problem of poverty has yet to be  solved.

For example: fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for health care, agriculture and industry. Water poverty espe­cially affects our African countries where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede agricultur­al production.

 One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor people, even in our country. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical sub­stances.

 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. Think about the many companies that have taken this natural resources as theirs and they sell water, which was intended to be free for everyone. Some of these are: Kilimanjaro water supply, Uhai and many others.

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.

In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its ef­fects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely

  1. Decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society

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.

The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. These are signs that the growth  of economy  has not always led to an integral development and an im­provement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.

 Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.

Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of gener­ous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of information  which eventu­ally leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.

The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot ad­equately combat environmental degradation un­less we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet. For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water pollution particu­larly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled wa­ter; and rises in the sea level mainly affect impov­erished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of re­sources, and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. The problem of climate change is being considered as the result of the increase of population. So many people do damage the climate, according to some thinkers, especially in the West. So, instead of resolving the problems of the poor people living in the developing countries, and thinking of how the world can be dif­ferent, some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, our developing countries face forms of international pressure which make eco­nomic assistance contingent on certain policies of “reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the envi­ronment, it must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and se­lective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be uni­versalized, since the planet could not even con­tain the waste products of such consumption.

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