Your planet needs you

Your planet needs you

A very popular and well-known World War I poster depicts Field-Marshal Lord Kitchener (1850–1916) – (a national war hero and Secretary of State for War) pointing his finger towards the viewers with the words: “Your country needs you”. The image was designed by Alfred Leete and became an icon.

It was also purported that the poster succeeded in persuading many to enlist to go to war. Probably this claim is exaggerated. Suffice it to note that the war was declared on August 5, 1914 while the poster was diffused towards the end of September. Nearly half a million joined up between August 4 and September, well before the poster became popular. But the myth still stands

Today another man, probably more known than Kitchener is making a heartfelt appeal. His message is also very direct. It does not address the needs of a county. “Your planet needs you” is the strong message that Pope Francis is giving in his latest encyclical Laudato si. On the Care of our common home.

One hopes that Pope Francis’s message will have more success that the above mentioned poster! He will be taking his encyclical and its appeal on his trip to the United States in autumn and will use the encyclical letter to influence the summit about climate change that the United Nations will organise in Paris towards the end of the year.

I am dedicating my commentary on The Sunday Times of Malta to the same subject trying to highlight the Pope’s position on the cultural/philosophical reasons that led us to this crisis. He mentions the model of technology we operate; a misguided anthropology and relativism.

This blog, on the other hand, mentions some of the practical things that the Pope said we should do. Such documents have an inherent temptation. People can think that the onus of correcting mistakes lies with the powerful of this world. The Pope says a lot about what such persons should do. However he also says what private individuals like you and me should do.

He is, for example, asking for an ecological conversion. This is an idea and a term he borrowed from Pope St John Paul II. Conversion is a very strong term in Catholic theology and spirituality. It implies a change of heart and a change of lifestyles.

Throughout Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that part of this conversion involves the abandonment of the consumerist mentality that has taken over us. Freeing ourselves of the enslavement of extreme and compulsive consumerism in one of the efforts that Pope Francis invites us to do. He describes this compulsion as the whirlwind of needless buying and spending. We all know that overspent credit cards are one of the results of this compulsion.

Strong marketing campaigns made us believe that we are free as long as we have the supposed freedom (Pope Francis’s words) to consume. We define people, in fact, by the consumer products that they purchase. Being in possession of the latest brands is the epitome of human dignity, according to this mentality. But such a way of life leads to a lot of waste. We buy what we don’t need just to prove that we are better than the Joneses. Those who are really free are not the frenzy-buying consumers but “the minority who wield economic and financial power”, says Pope Francis.

Moreover Pope Francis believes that a change of lifestyle is not only important but also effective. Let me conclude with a reference from paragraph 206 of the encyclical letter:

“A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power. This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products. They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”.[Pope Benedict] Today, in a word, the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle”.

But to save our planet are we ready to change our lifestyle characterized as it is by so much waste?

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