Cass Sunstein (CDT 9/24, “Pope’s climate change message tricky”), while a legal scholar, can’t see the connections that the pope makes between environmental degradation, poverty and spiritual emptiness. Really?
Economic growth fueled by free-market capitalism is directly correlated to environmental degradation. The richest countries use the most resources and create the most pollution, more than Earth can handle. Continued growth cannot address climate change or the larger goal of sustainability. Growth degrades the Earth. It is immoral whether you’re Catholic or atheist.
We recognize that growth is needed in poor countries so that people can live decent lives. If we want to stabilize or reduce the total world economy, rich countries will have to pare back to make room for neighbors to have more.
Believing in material wealth and economic growth as an end in itself leads to spiritual emptiness. It worships wealth and glorifies greed. It downplays the importance of cooperation and community and encourages competition and individualism.
Poor people will be the hardest hit by climate change and pollution as they live at the margin of survival. As a further injustice, many of these poor people were not responsible for, nor benefited from, the production and consumption that generated the pollution.
What irks me most about Sunstein’s criticism of the pope is his belief that economists “turn out to be pretty decent moralists.” Wow. Think about it. He’s saying that we should trust the moral authority of economists more than the pope. God help us.