Saturday, April 16, 2016

Laudato Si: Sunday Reflection #35... Looking after our 'global commons'

Cows on Selsley Common -- an image from Wikipedia
I've been thinking a lot this week about commons. In Canada, we have the House of Commons. There's a lot of talk about 'creative commons' these days, where people create, share their creations, and learn from one another. Then there are the common grazing lands that used to be shared in feudal times, or the common plazas where open air markets appeared in various cities in Europe, though I suspect people pay to set up booths in the present era. These kinds of things used by "commoners" were called commons because they were held in common.

And what do human beings hold in common now? The air? The sky? The oceans? The thing about a lot of the commons left to us now is that, because they don't belong to particular individuals, no one really pays attention to their care until something goes wrong. But we should all be paying attention! Really, the earth and everything in it belongs to every living creature -- it's just human beings and our skewed sense of ownership that say otherwise.

This week's piece of Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home focuses on the things we need to do to protect our 'global commons.' We're looking at paragraphs 173 to 177, which can be accessed by clicking here and scrolling down.

I'd like to begin by highlighting the entirety of paragraph 173, where Pope Francis and the encyclical team, in talking about protecting our earth, say
Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed, since local authorities are not always capable of effective intervention. Relations between states must be respectful of each other's sovereignty, but must also lay down mutually agreed means of averting regional disasters which would eventually affect everyone. Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies or countries dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries.
Companies from my own country need to be regulated, particularly in their mining practices, but we can all probably name several other examples where offshore industries are taking advantage of less developed countries' more lax regulations. Who is in charge of regulations in those situations? Who protects those countries that suffer from wealthy nations' contamination of their land or water, and who cares for those who don't receive a living wage for their work? Our governments often look the other way, all in the name of our economy, which is why global oversight is necessary.

Image result for purple sea starWe saw last week how different global concerns were handled by different conventions where many concerned countries were represented. These kinds of conventions still occur, and in paragraph 174 Pope Francis makes note of the fact that international and regional conventions on ocean governance come up short due to "fragmentation and the lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control and penalization..."

The ocean is a big place, touching all but landlocked countries, and its health affects the entire planet's weather patterns and therefore, our food systems. even if we don't eat seafood. But too often it is used as a garbage dump or exploited for resources to the point that the viability of its many life forms is endangered. I recently read about the sea star wasting disease in BC that is "a really big deal" as one scientist put it. I've always loved looking at those amazing creatures in tide pools whenever we've visited the ocean, and it breaks my heart to think that so many have already died.

Pope Francis can't be more right when he says at the end of paragraph 174 that "What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called "global commons."" We may not know how to solve the sea star's illness, but if we could ever come up with a way to involve the entire planet in looking after our common home, now would be a good time!

In paragraph 175, the Pope mentions that we need to make more radical decisions about reducing pollution and eliminating poverty. It seems we human beings are stuck in a rut when it comes to handling our problems, he says, because "the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political."

So maybe it's time to think outside our previous boxes, "to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions" (paragraph 175).

But how the heck can we do that?

I'm imagining a convention comprised of one politician, one scientist and one educated young adult from every country in the world, divided into small groups where each continent is represented, brainstorming ways to deal with poverty and pollution that will work for their country of origin, and sharing those possibilities with the larger group. Then these ideas would be distilled, given a monetary value, and handed off to the 1% of the world's wealthiest people who are then mandated to spend their fortunes fixing the world's problems. They don't really need all that money, do they? I can't imagine what they actually do with such excess.

I'm a dreamer, I know I am. But sometimes solutions to problems come through dreaming, brainstorming and throwing out ridiculous possibilities. If you had to come up with "a true world political authority" as Pope Benedict (yes, the previous pope) calls it at the end of paragraph 175, how would you do it? The UN tries to be that authority, but gets all tied up in politics. Wouldn't it be great to have another wise world governing body that can look after humanity as a whole in times of crisis, work for disarmament and peace, ensure an end to poverty, disease and hunger, and protect the web of life that we call creation?

It would be fantastic! But how do we go about creating it? I have no idea... do you? Fortunately, there are many organizations that are working towards some or all of these things mentioned above in whatever small ways they can. They have experience and knowledge in their particular areas, and they might even come up with ideas to govern our planetary commons. So when I come across information that they share and I like what I see, I offer financial support when I can because I think that they are more likely to provide the kind of leadership we need than our governments or corporations ever will. I have a feeling that many of these organizations will find ways to come together for the common good and be that body of world leadership.

So here's a challenge for the week ahead. Find an organization (or two, maybe three?) that you can support which cares for the environment, the disenfranchised, the hungry, those on the margins, or whatever planet-saving cause you support and get on their mailing/email list if you aren't already. See if there are ways you can help them in training leaders to work for the environment, for justice and peace, and for our marginalized sisters and brothers around the world. Or, if you already support such an organization, send them your encouragement in whatever way you are able. Have you ever thought of simply writing them a message of appreciation for the work they do?

I don't know how to create a world governing body that will make a difference, but I can support organizations that dream and brainstorm and train leaders that may gather together one day save our 'global commons.' How about you?

A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.


(A prayer for our earth and all quotations from Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home © Libreria Editrice Vaticana)

Next up: "Truly, much can be done!"

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