Climate Change, Human Anthropology, and Global Development

By: Patrice Ndayisenga

March 23, 2015

Responding to Climate Change: Intergenerational Justice and the Universal Common Good

The environmental degradation that we face today is obviously a consequence of humans’ uncontrolled appetite for exploiting the earth. We have failed as a human race to acknowledge our responsibility towards one another and towards the environment. We have lost our sense of belonging to the cosmos which otherwise should define our essential ties to the bigger spectrum of the cosmos. Consequently, we have acted for so long as if the environment was a mere object of our selfish exploitation that does not deserve any protection and care. 

With the data at our disposal, however, we cannot continue doing things as if it were “business as usual.” It is clearly within our hands to turn the course of events if we genuinely wish to have an assured future and peaceful cohabitation within the ecosystem. In Kim’s lecture, we notice that careless exploitation of natural resources and unscrupulous industrial businesses have resulted in appalling climate changes that have caused disastrous downfalls in development prospects of some countries and continue to exacerbate the already alarming economic disparities.

We need a change of mentality and of attitude towards the environment. Our philosophies of life should build on the fact that we are part and parcel of the ecosystem and have the privilege of being at the helm of creation. As Teilhard de Chardin puts it, we are part of the ecosystem in which we are the only beings with an evolved consciousness endowed with the capacity to know and that of knowing that we know. This conscious knowledge makes humanity a powerful species; but with power there comes responsibility. This power entails that we cannot do things recklessly, without caring about the consequences of our actions. Karl Rahner extols this position stating that “mankind is not ultimately one factor in a cosmos of things…but a subject on whose freedom as subject hangs the fate of the whole cosmos.” 

Scientific data warn us that our future is at stake, and our development aspirations might remain only wishful thoughts unless we act responsibly and care for the environment as much as we care for the future generations. This is the wisdom of the “ecological conversion” which should translate in our consciousness towards the protection of the common good and the promotion of the principle of solidarity. Indeed, caring for the environment does not only help respond to the advancement of the common good through which each individual member of society can participate in the shared prosperity of our universal belonging, but also its protection is a moral duty which should ensure the “intergenerational justice” that Pope Benedict XVI considers as the ultimate development framework meant to inspire our long-term vision of development.

Lastly, the challenges we face in the form of the current environmental crisis call for a radical change and growth in personal responsibility; and this could only happen through formation of consciences. Thus, our ideals about true development can be actualized if we place them in a holistic vision of human advancement that is environmentally sound and humanly value-based.  
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