Faith, climate-altering technologies, and the Arctic

Maria HammershøyGuest post by Maria Hammershøy, Secretary-General of Caritas Denmark and Vice-President of Justice and Peace Europe. Maria was a panelist in a C2G session on Saving the Arctic: Ethics, Values and the Next Generation at the 2019 Arctic Circle Assembly. / 30 October 2019

[The views of guest post authors are their own. C2G does not necessarily endorse the opinions stated in guest posts. We do, however, encourage a constructive conversation involving multiple viewpoints and voices.]

People working in the science, business or politics of climate change might usually give little thought to what the Catholic Church or other faith communities think about the governance of climate-altering technologies.

Yet the major world religions have accumulated thousands of years of reflection on our role as caretakers of Earth, as well as ethical and moral reflections on new technologies and large-scale risk.

These could have profound relevance as people consider the potential deployment of new technologies to save the Arctic.

The Arctic represents a special challenge for mankind, which requires a global collaboration that goes beyond self-interest. The benefit we might be able to draw from technological progress will very much depend on the degree to which it is employed in an ethical manner.

Principles which can guide decisions

I will use Catholic Social Teaching to touch on three core principles, which I believe are fundamental to this discussion.

The social doctrine encourages Catholics to actively take part in the stewardship of Earth and in the lives of their fellow humans, and to consciously monitor their own actions.

Following Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, which focuses on the inter-connectedness of all things, Catholics at all levels have been engaged in promoting care for creation, or – to use the words of Pope Francis – ‘Our Common Home’.

The first principle I want to bring to the table is Universality.

Catholics believe that man is created in the image of God, and thus every single person on this planet is special, loved and a brother or sister in the human family.

Each of us comes from a country, a region, a city or a culture which gives us something special, that we should be appreciative and proud of, but we are still equal as humans.

Politicians rightly represent a local community or a country. But the discussion on the Arctic has to be Universal in its approach, taking into account everybody, in all countries affected. Faith communities can offer a universal voice in discussions otherwise rooted in local politics.

The next principle I want to mention is the principle of The Common Good.

As every human life matters, we need to look at any challenge from a broad view, and discuss what will benefit all.

In a situation where The Common Good is not attainable, we may have to decide what constitutes The Lesser Evil. This can be a difficult discussion to have, but is common in climate issues, and principles from faith communities can be helpful in these reflections.

The final principle I want to mention is the Preferential Option for the Poor.

This means, in very simple terms, that if one of us is poor, ill or otherwise vulnerable, then that person should be our focus and first priority.

We cannot thrive as a human race if we do not treat our poor well. This includes those with no voice or advocacy, and the unborn are counted among them.

Who might represent the voice of a poor farmer, whose livelihood might be destroyed due to the knock-on effects of climate altering technologies triggered by good intentions to save the Arctic?

Most faith communities focus on the poor and the voiceless, and will give them privilege in these discussions.

From faith to cooperation

Clearly, what is needed to save the Arctic is large-scale political will and co-operation. But change is impossible without a process of introspection, conversion, motivation and education.

Faith communities hold great resources and experience in dealing with the preservation of creation, and in moral and ethical issues concerning new technologies which are universal in their approach, crossing borders of ethnicity, nationality and class.

Catholic Social Teaching encourages concretely fostering a culture of encounter and interdisciplinary dialogue.

Pope Francis recently concluded a conference on AI by affirming that “a better world is possible thanks to technological progress, if this is accompanied by an ethic inspired by a vision of the common good, an ethic of freedom, responsibility and fraternity, capable of fostering the full development of people in relation to others and to the whole of creation”.

This is just as applicable to climate-altering technologies.

Indeed, a new dialogue on how we are shaping the future of our planet is much needed, and the conversation must include everyone.

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