Written by Staff Writer
The message to young people who live in the world’s richest countries is that they will benefit from their participation in political processes and public debate, Pope Francis told young Italians at the end of his recent trip to Bulgaria, Greece and Hungary.
“When I was a priest (in Argentina), I saw the wonders of the world,” the Pope told a gathering of young people gathered in Trigoria, a town on the outskirts of Rome on Friday. “We were not getting off the planet (using the mode of transport) that we live on; we lived on a ship floating on the sea, one that was of metal. And then they built another one and another one, and they built a dam. And one day the dam overflowed.”
“The ship stops, the ship sinks.”
The Pope’s jibe reflects the view of many Italian activists and citizens who argue that the Pope has drawn too many parallels between ecological and economic destruction during his visits this past week.
The Pope was referring to the impact of China’s economic growth over the past 20 years, to which his remarks refer.
“But now the ship sinks. And the ship stops. The ship sinks, the ship sinks. The people are screaming. What is happening?” he said.
The Pope has said that the principle of subsidiarity is vital in order to ensure that those that are least able to protect nature and their own well-being — including in poor countries — are given a strong voice and their voices considered.
Friday’s audience was also attended by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who both praised the Pope’s stand against climate change and for the role played by young people in holding the world to account.
In Europe, the Catholic Church has previously faced criticism from climate change activists, including from far-left German Green Party politicians, after it called for leaders to cut emissions on World Environment Day last year.
In a video message from April, Pope Francis pointed out that 85% of greenhouse gas emissions came from the developed world, and that it was then time for “difficult decisions” to be taken to avert dangerous climate change.
Still, despite the Pope’s criticisms of capitalism, environmental injustices have remained an especially strong selling point for many young climate change activists.
The pontiff has therefore urged young people to fight against complacency during his recent visit to Greece, Hungary and Bulgaria and to remain “sympathetic and open to dialogue.”
One such activist was Ed Martínez, 32, who died on Friday after being shot during a protest in Athens. The shooter, described by friends as a “security guard,” has been jailed pending a trial, but supporters believe the Greek government is investigating the death merely to undermine the Pope’s advocacy for environmental justice.
“The Pope is trying to bring attention to the sufferings of the (climate change) people, and the people don’t like that,” said Kristina Parker, a volunteer with Greenpeace Action Greece. “They think the Pope is an imperialist, they think he wants money. He doesn’t want money. But he wants justice and he wants the people on top of the issue.”
While the Pope has certainly received a great deal of media attention and raised the profile of these issues in many countries, it’s perhaps just as important to remember that the global economic system in many cases does not put the environment first.
Each of the world’s countries produces a very different level of pollution, depending on the growth rate, production of resource and manufacturing capacity.
According to a 2017 report by World Resources Institute, the 10 countries that emitted the most carbon dioxide from industry in 2014 were Argentina, Indonesia, China, India, Kenya, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Tanzania, China and the Philippines. At the other end of the scale, Iceland was the only country that emitted less than half as much.
But all of these countries have industrialized rapidly.
“One of the problems with these ‘developed’ countries, whether rich or poor, is that they are very geographically isolated,” said Parker. “They have no concept of global solutions for their problems.”
In a letter to European leaders published last month, the pope also acknowledged that the “economic model of industrialization … is considered as the defining architectural element of our time.”
“Therefore, the worldwide interest in the environmental crisis and the way it relates to economic injustice and inequality, is generating an unprecedented interest in the question of poverty reduction, the relation between the earth and the human person, social justice and harmony between culture and nature, and the interrelation between climate change and human life,” he said.