Yesterday, after a super-long work week, I had the chance to read the Encyclical issued by Pope Francis. Yes, I spent the time to read the nearly 190 page document – minus the notes, bibliography and title page. After that, I spent some time reading other opinions on what the Pope had written. In the end, I found the entire ordeal a little taxing, but interesting enough to write some of my own thoughts.
Now, there are folks – even within the Pagan blogosphere – that write far better on the topic than I will. Furthermore, they will discuss in-depth what the Pope had written, and what precisely he had said. I am going to deviate from that script – again, simply because others will write far more intelligently and eloquently than I will. Instead, I will touch on some of the concepts put forth by the Encyclical and how I think in those areas. Specifically, I am going to touch on consumerism, over-population, the digital age, and climate change itself. Each one could merit a long rantish post, so I will try to keep things short and sweet, Just remember, these are my own observations on the topics. Of the four, the digital age is probably the closest to my own wheel-house, but I am by no means an expert on any of the four.
Lets start here, because the topic tends to dove-tail – in my opinion – from this point. In any environment there’s a balance that has to be maintained for things to be “right”. For instance, an over-population of deer will destroy the ecosystem through over-feeding. The destruction of the environment by that over-feeding puts the well being of other animals that rely on that same environment for shelter and food, into jeopardy as well. What happened to make this change? Mountain Lions and other predators were hunted to near extinction. The same thing occurs when human beings over-populate an area.
I hate to pick on cities, but let’s take a look at my own metro area – Dallas/Fort Worth. If I turned the power off tomorrow, destroyed the ability to move freight by car, plane or rail from other areas, and forced the inhabitants to rely on crops and livestock they produce themselves — its likely they would die of starvation in very large numbers. And that’s after the inevitable munching on pets, and cannibalism that would happen. Let’s face it, people will do what is necessary to survive, even measures that are unthinkable at this moment. Once this happens, the population would eventually stabilize at a point where the environment was capable of supporting the survivors. Eventually, the population would grow, farming and livestock growth methods would get better through trial and error. The growth would be small, but it would be there.
Now, before you run out to buy a crossbow and prepare for the zombie alpaca-lips (misspelling intentional), let’s take a short measure of stock, shall we?? None of that is about to occur, the point is that we live in such large numbers in various areas which overtaxes the resources of that area to the point of not being able to sustain the inhabitants whatsoever. We then rely on the transportation capacity of our nation to bring food supplies in to make up for that issue. That’s just a matter of simple supply-and-demand economics. We do need to figure out a manner in which to keep our population at a level of sustainability…I’m merely unsure of how to accomplish this. In the last century, we had two major world conflicts that drove population numbers down. I’m not suggesting that this is the way to go about controlling the population – just pointing out two events that contributed to a lower population. Hopefully, there are some smarter people out there that can come up with an idea of how to manage this in a manner that doesn’t come down to a Heinlein-ish theory, such as his idea that federal service allows you citizenship which can help in an application towards becoming a parent. A bit draconian for my taste…
In case you were wondering, the Pope glossed over the concept of population issues in the Encyclical.
Ok, I am one to talk here. I own a massive computer system that cost me a very large amount of money to purchase. However, my intention is for this computer to last a very, very long time. But my purchase is a symptom of consumerism. And we humans do this to a very, very large degree. We purchase items that we want and/or covet, simply because our neighbors or friends have that item. We don’t have a major use for it – just a desire to have one too. And we buy the item, along with all the wrapping and packaging that goes with it. Which gets removed and discarded wherever. Typically, it goes into the garbage bin. Or if we are a little more conscious of what we do – into the recycling bin if its plastic or cardboard or aluminum. Every Tuesday, I set my garbage out on the curb. Typically, one garbage bag and a nearly full recycling bin. I can see seven houses down the street from my front door. The amount of waste that goes out is nearly nine times that which I put out — for each house. Only two of my neighbors have more than the two people that live here. Its understandable that they would generate a bit more waste than I do. But I sincerely doubt that any of my neighbors are aware of how wasteful their spending habits are. I really doubt that they take into consideration the packaging of the products that they purchase at the grocery store before they buy them. I used to not pay attention either. Now, I look for packaging that can be recycled, as a primary factor towards my purchase. Furthermore, I do my best to purchase items that are fresh, rather than pre-packaged. The fresh items get placed into a small plastic bag, which goes into my recycling bin when I unpack the groceries at home.
In truth, I agonized over the packaging that Apple put into my Mac Pro, and my two Thunderbolt monitors. The cardboard and plastic was at a minimum, while the styrofoam supports was a touch over the top. I understand where the need to package for protection was necessary, but cardboard struts could have been utilized to a similar effect. But the packaging with styrofoam “seems” to be safer to the consumer – and thus gets utilized. I only have one option with this stuff — to the garbage bin. Which then goes to the small mountain of trash that resides a few miles from my house. The Denton county landfill. Where items are sent to degrade over many years.
Climate Change Debate
That type of population does not even take into account the amount of pollutants we put into the air through the usage of our fossil fuel engines. And that’s only a small part of the pollution problem of the environment, but it is a contributing factor to the issue of climate change. Texas has already seen some majorly crazy weather in just this calendar year. We had a very heavy snowfall in the beginning of the year. Followed by a very unseasonable warm spat of weather right around the beginning of February which made for a nice time at the ADF Imbolc Retreat. This was followed by another very cold weather pattern, which was followed by the torrential flooding we have been going through for almost a month now. Typical weather pattern? Possibly. In fact, I would say “yes” it was. Except that it was made more extreme in its nature through the damage that we humans have done to our ecosphere over many decades of pollution.
Climate Change deniers will speak out against the concept time and time again. They even produce scientists that will say that the data does not support the conclusion. Of course, this is to balance out against the growing number of Climatologists and Meteorologists that have already started to discern a pattern of immense change. And to be clear, this is merely the Earth trying to balance the Ecosphere back to where it should be. The patterns and shifts in weather that we currently are experiencing would have happened eventually, in response to previous man-made issues that have effected the Ecosphere. But the continued abuse of our environment, and the continued disregard of the environment as something that we are a part of (instead choosing to view the environment as something for our exclusive use) is what is bringing more severe changes as the Earth attempts to achieve balance.
It continue to bring up the point: is there enough time to make the changes that we need in order to keep the Earth as an Ecosphere where we can survive? I sincerely doubt that there is enough time to debate whether its happening right now or not…and a bit foolish to do so, since its here already.
The Worth of the Digital Age
In my opinion, this is perhaps the most controversial topic within the Encyclical, and likely to be the most over-looked. But in a simple way, the Pope has pointed out something that older internet users have all started to notice. The internet has become something it was never meant to be – the checkout line at the grocery store. The original purposes of the internet was to “share information” between researchers. Sometime around the mid 1990s, it moved into the commercial vein it has become. Sometime around ten years later, its become the digital information cesspool it is today. We utilize it to sift through information exchanges to see how our family is doing, start digital debates and flamewars on Facebook feeds, keep up with how Bruce Jenner’s sex change operation is going (like its really ANY of our business), and ease the manner in which we feed our consumerism. Oh, we do use it for information exchange (blogs, podcasts, news reports, news feeds, etc etc), but that increasingly takes a backseat to other pursuits. On Facebook, we post our memes (I do that too), we cite our inflammatory commentary from our seats in our homes – comfortable in the knowledge that we can be rude and inflammatory to others, behind the anonymity of our digital location. We utilize the digital publishing paradigm to steal intellectual property from authors, musicians, movie companies…and declare the “rightness” of the action over the “high cost” of the product. Here’s a different thought: if the cost is too high, don’t buy it. That’s called the “marketplace” – if a consumer deems a product to be priced too high, then the demand will be driven lower, which will force the producer of the product to drive prices down to find a match with demand. Stealing product from a producer does nothing but make everything difficult for everyone – consumer and producer alike.
There are good parts to the Digital Age as well. We have speedier communications, which helps to make the world a smaller place. We can get news almost immediately from the time it happens. We can stop relying on trees to make products such as books (Yes, I do miss the feel of a good book in my hand over that of an iPad or Kindle) or album and compact-disc packaging. But we have to utilize such things as this before it makes any kind of sizable impact.
I sincerely doubt that the Pope’s statement will make that much of an impact anywhere in the world. I am already reading articles of people stating that Catholics are dismissing the Pope out of hand. Of course, even those articles have to be taken as a bit suspect – since the idea of digital media news can be manipulated in ways to mask the truth. Oddly enough, I find myself ending my own thoughts here not on climate change, consumerism, the merits of the digital age, or over-population. Rather, I am left with a bit of sadness that all four of these areas are met not with skeptical curiosity by most, but dismissed out of hand in the same manner in which Right-wing Conservatives and Left-wing Liberals treat the other’s perspective. As sad as my final thought is – its apparent that before we can even address the ideas of how to save our Ecosphere from ourselves, we have to dig through the muck of aggrandized propaganda to find the real merit of those ideas.
One manner of getting past that and finding the real truth is working across spiritual lines, which means that the air needs to be cleared of the propaganda. This is done quite well in the book “Celebrating Planet Earth” from Moon Books. I wrote a review of this book recently, and I would suggest that it is discussions such as this that will be the real measure of paving the way forward. As I stated before…there are people out there who are a lot more eloquent and concise on this topic within the Pagan blogosphere…and in the Pagan book-world as well.