Posted July 7, 2015
The future of the planet
Taken from The National Catholic Reporter
Francis: The Environment
Awful fact: By 2030, half a billion people will be practicing open
defecation. That's an improvement.
The current numbers are staggering: 2.5
billion people lack adequate sanitary facilities ; 849 million practice open
defecation. In Southeast Asia, that means 38 percent of the population; in
sub-Saharan Africa, 25 percent meet their needs without safety and
More people have mobile phones than toilets.
Half of them are
The United Nations presented its Millennial Development Goals in
2000. A recently released UNICEF report, "Progress for Children ," surveys
successes and failures in meeting those goals. It is a pretty dismal
For example: Despite all efforts, 1 billion people live in extreme
poverty, nearly half under the age of 18; female youths are almost twice as
likely to be illiterate as their male counterparts; girls account for nearly
two-thirds of adolescent HIV/AIDS infections. These statistics show improvement.
Things may be getting better, but things are getting worse for the poorest,
especially for women and girls.
So as madmen wander around beheading and
blowing up people in their demented search for both world domination and the
blessings of their God, little girls in simple villages have no bathrooms, no
education, and exponential chances of dying of AIDS.
Every culture has its
priorities. The developed West is beginning to understand it must respect the
planet. But it is one thing to "go green" and quite another to respect the human
person. Apparently, it is even more difficult to respect the female human
person. The stupidities of the developed world -- the noise that masquerades as
music, the intense interest in epicurean delights, the unending search for
pleasures of every description -- turn eyes and minds from the needs of people,
real people, who are suffering.
Facts of life: There are just too many people
living in absolute poverty. There are just too many people lacking education,
lacking shelter, lacking water.
Some say the answer is fewer people, that
more and better means of birth control would solve the problem. Some say there
is already enough food and water, just no adequate ways to distribute it. Some
say it's because of the Jews, or the Muslims, or the Christians, who want to
control wealth and power. None say it is because of their own selfishness and
With all the finger-pointing going on, how many look in the
mirror and say it is their own fool fault?
And when folks raise their voices
to lay blame, who listens? Pope Francis' lovely encyclical Laudato Si'  in no
uncertain terms connects abuse of the environment with abuse of the poor.
Francis cites no fewer than 16 world bishops' conferences plus Ecumenical
Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople as stating before him in one way or
another that the earth and its people are on a collision course. The chorus
speaks: Something's got to give.
Who is listening? The encyclical, leaked as
it was by an anti-Francis Italian journalist, lost what punch it might have had
both because of the early leak and because it was not properly timed to catch
the world news cycle. (Note to pope: A Thursday afternoon on the cusp of summer
is not the best time to catch major journalists at their desks.) There may have
been climatologists advising in the encyclical's preparatory stages, but after
all was written and done, news coverage came the Friday before the Northern
Hemisphere's summer solstice.
Where do we go from here? The United Nations
has new benchmarks called Sustainable Development Goals to work at for the next
15 years. Francis' message is one answer to UNICEF's dismal predictions. The
pope wrote in Laudato Si' that he hoped to help "bring the whole human family
together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for," as he wrote, "we
know that things can change."
[Phyllis Zagano is senior research
associate-in-residence at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. She will speak
Sept. 19 in Philadelphia. Her newest books include Mysticism and the Spiritual
Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology  and Women in Ministry: Emerging Questions
about the Diaconate . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org .]