Safeguarding the environment and assuming responsibility for its development has been a consistent theme in the recent discourse of the Holy See. Pope Benedict’s Message for the World Day of Peace (January 1, 2010) and his Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See (January 11) both emphasized how spiritual and secular leaders must become increasingly aware of the urgency and seriousness of ecological issues threatening our planet’s wellbeing. But if these challenges are to be effectively met they require an international solidarity which “calls for concord and stability between States.”
They also remind us, as the Synod’s delegates asserted in their Proposition 29, that the peoples of Africa are thwarted in their experience of natural resources as being a blessing. The reasons are varied, thought it must certainly be admitted that Africa is often a “victim of bad public-management by local authorities and exploitation by foreign powers.” Multinational corporations are known to treat Africa’s resources as merely a source of their own monetary profit, sometimes offering ‘incentives’ to local and regional authorities and citizens so as to ensure that their strategy of manipulation will proceed unchecked. This represents neither respect for the land nor for its inhabitants.
Such complicity has to be resisted and it can never be condoned or ignored. As a response, the Synod asserts its opposition to the “culture of consumerism,” a phenomenon as wasteful as it is negligent of a patrimony that is ethically beyond the reach of any purchase price. No one has the right to buy or sell a legacy which pertains to the ‘common good’, and which is meant to be passed on to succeeding generations. A “culture of moderation” must be allowed to penetrate and transform public consciousness. Moreover, the cooperative assistance of the world community is needed so as to enact legislation on “the national and international levels which will guarantee” the just distribution of revenue derived from the appropriate usage of natural resources. The illegal and reckless pillage of the land has to cease.
But no single country is able to confront and curb this problem of Africa’s environmental abuse. For it is so pervasive and entrenched that only an approach which combines transnational competencies and capabilities can foster and sustain the necessary platform to implement change. Therefore, in addition to urging African governments “to adopt a suitable juridic framework,” the Synod aims to recruit Church institutions “to establish a desk in various countries of the continent” in order to monitor all that relates to the natural resource domain.
Among the consequences of the unwarranted violation of natural resources is that the poor are habitually displaced and dispossessed. They are least able to cope with the assault by mega-corporate interests. Thus, the Synod’s Proposition 30 speaks to “the unjust alienation of the land” and the deprivation of “access to water.” It recommends that dioceses investigate thoroughly so as to acquire accurate and substantial information. Once that data is obtained, the Church may then embrace the duty to “educate the People of God” and thereby empower them to react against whatever undermines the resources proper to them. Let it be recognized, though, that the bishops did not entirely reject business transactions related to resources and their products. Instead, what they seek is that “all negotiations on land deals” should be “conducted in full transparency” and “with the participation of the local communities which may be affected.”
Those communities must be afforded preparation so as to exercise their “free, prior and informed consent.” And their adequate financial compensation is the minimum requisite. The same Proposition further seeks that agricultural workers would be assured a fair wage, particularly “in light of the fact that investments promote the creation of employment.” With this, an effort must be promoted to train youth in scientific agricultural techniques in the hope of “stemming the uncontrolled flight from the villages to the cities.” Soil depletion and “the exhaustion of drinkable water reserves,” like so many environmental dilemmas, have the potential for a viable solution. However negative the trend, an adverse impact can ultimately be reversed.