Chapter 11 - Poverty as Economic and Ecological Problems

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There is a close link between poverty and economy because in a failing economy it is almost impossible to overcome problems of poverty. For example, if per capita rice production is insufficient, any effort to solve poverty problems can never be successful. On the other hand, the economic structure can enslave human beings, as seen in the enslavement of humanity by capitalism in the last century.

Recently it has become obvious that poverty problems cannot be separated from ecological issues. Poverty is a factor in the deterioration of the ecology and the poor are often the main victims of natural destruction.

Solving the two problems, namely, maintaining a high economic growth and at the same time preserving the ecological environment is very difficult and is often felt to be contradictory. First, there is often tension between economy and ecology. Secondly, the struggle for social justice is not often free from negative ecological impacts. Building a factory creates job opportunities but also increases environmental pollution and industrial waste.

The Church in her social teachings has long paid attention to the moral aspects of the economy while the ecology began receiving more attention only lately. The two last social encyclicals (SRS and CA) discuss the issue. In the ecumenical meeting in Seoul in 1990 on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation it appeared that on the issue of the ecology churches of the North and the South have different priorities. For the representatives from the South the main problem is justice, particularly in the relationship between the North and the South, while those from rich countries are sensitive to the preservation of the environment and nature.


The Problem of Poverty and Ecology in the Economic System

                           International Economy

                           Real: Trade (Import - Export)

                           Monetary:foreign exchange (credits etc.)





SOURCES                                 PRODUCTS                    UTILIZATION

(INPUT)                                     (OUTPUT)

                                                   Real economic circle:         work


Production factors

1. Naturals

2. Work -Production process -Social products -National income -Consumption

Human capital -productivity capital   -goods and services  -wages, salary

Enterpreneurship- jobs, distribution of all economic profit, interest, rent, etc

                            allocation        subjects (private and governmental).

Technology                                                     Savings = investment


3. Capital                      

money                              DISTRIBUTION    Basic needs

machinery etc.                  Relative poverty       Absolute poverty

                          Economic structure

                          1. Sectors:




                           2. Market-/money economy vs subsistent/informal

                    Monetary economy circle:            Spending of consumption


Economic Order             SUPPLY                MARKET               DEMAND

governmental roles        Quality and types of goods and services

private roles

                                        Money, Finance


The Main Elements of the Economic Structure

The diagram on page 172 illustrates the relationship of poverty to the economy and its related problems with ecological issues.

The diagram should be understood as a circle, in which the extreme left is linked to the extreme right. This diagram (which is basically valid for the international economy) can be explained from the following aspects:

(1) The economic process basically follows the following pattern: input ==> output ==> distribution ==> utilization. With a certain input a targeted output is produced and then distributed and utilized.

(2) The economic process is basically found in a real economy circle, namely goods and services are produced as real products that can be really utilized and consumed. In a subsistent economy, the relationship is direct: what is produced is utilized by the producer. However, in the modern economy there is a more complex interaction through the monetary economy circle. Work produces earning in the form of money, which is spent on buying goods and services. In reality, the two circles are related to one another. However, the real economic circle is always much more important. Money is in fact only a symbol for the work done and for the right to consume its equivalent. The amount of the circulating money must be more or less in accordance with the amount of production. If the balance is disturbed, because of the overprinting of money, a dangerous high inflation rate will take place. In other words, all prosperity is produced by real work and human expertise and not by the discovery of gold or the possession of money as argued by some.

(3) The economic process is described in more detail as the production process. Input is a production factor. It produces natural resources (land, raw materials and energy), human work in any form (performed by daily workers, skilled workers, experts and the employers) in accordance with the local technological skills, and capital in the form of money or things (machinery, buildings, and infrastructures). Both the quantity and the quality (education and technology) of the production factors determine the products.

In the production process all factors are combined as efficiently as possible by the employers, managers and entrepreneurs so that an optimal ratio of the input and the output is achieved. The ratio or productivity depends on the proper allocation (of the place, sector and product) of the production factors in accordance with their availability or scarcity and the available technology as well as the right job distribution.

The outcome of production is a social product. It includes all goods and services produced by economic subjects, both private and governmental, in a certain country in a certain year. The social product is basically the same as the national income, namely what is earned by each citizen in the form of wage, salary, interest or rent. Therefore, the distribution of the national income depends very much on the ownership structure of a certain community, whether individuals have land and capital or whether they live only on their wage and salary. Most earnings are spent on consumption including that of basic necessities. The other part is saved for capital investment. Both the labor consumption and new capital are fed back into the production process.

(4) All production processes can be examined according to the economy structure. In this case, there should be a distinction made between the primary or agricultural factor, the secondary or industrial factor, and the tertiary or service sector (transportation, banking and health), each with its own subsectors. In addition, we can also distinguish the formal market economy, which involves much capital and receives much attention, and the informal economy, which is a kind of a separate economic market circle with less capital and less attention. The informal sector is closely related to the subsistent economy, which produces for consumption only.

(5) Almost all economic transaction nowadays is performed through the function of money, which is the foundation of the monetary economy circle. In a certain sense, the complicated money sector is nowadays an autonomous market with money as the good. However, the symbolic function of money, as mentioned before, remains the most basic element. This means that money is seen primarily as a simple, easily understood market symbol. Both supply and demand are symbolized quantitatively in money by pricing. Thus, the market can adjust the supply and demand based on the prices of production factors, the goods and the services. The prices determine the proper choices of the production factors: which should be prioritized and what goods or services should be produced. Considering the above, the monetary policy of a government is very important.

(6) The entire economic system depends on the states economy structure. This is particularly related to the job distribution of private companies and the government. After the failure of the commando economic system in communist countries, there is a consensus that there is no alternative to the market economy although the state should give it a framework. This general principle can be manifested in various different concrete forms.

(7) Any national economy nowadays is related to the international economy, both real (export and import of goods and services) or monetary (loans). Such relationship is generally considered beneficial but can also create dangerous dependence on the foreign economy. Therefore, the state's economic policy is very important.

(8) Finally, it should be noted that the process of the economy has side effects, particularly to human and ecological environments, which seem not to be included in the economy and thus are often ignored. However, this view has been proven wrong because both the condition of human beings and the society and the ecological condition have important long-term economic effects. These aspects will now be discussed in more detail.

The Economy with Preferential Option for the Poor

The general description of the economy in the above diagram is a foundation to study the economy from the perspective of poverty aiming at discovering a guideline for an economy, which prioritizes the poor, and the powerless. The following are some main concerns:

(1) Whatever happens, the economy of the powerless basically goes along with the pattern of the economical process described above. The poor can only use the goods and services produced earlier. This also applies to the fulfillment of basic needs to prevent absolute poverty. Food, clothing, housing, clean water, health facilities and education should be created first by the economy. This reality is called the economical dimension permeating all aspects of life (see Basic Categories of Social Analysis in Chapter 5). To eradicate poverty in a rather poor country assumes economic growth. Besides, the national economy determines many aspects involving the life of the people. A policy not to fight inflation, for example, will harm the powerless, the usual victims of inflation.

(2) The economy is not a separate world based on its own natural laws. It is always a socio-economy, which is closely related to the socio-cultural system (see Structural Approach in Social Sciences in Chapter 9 and Problems of Poverty From the Socio-Cultural View in Chapter 10). Similarly the economy is always the politico-economy in the sense that it is directed and determined by political action and policies. It is for this reason that the goal of the economy with preferential option for the poor can be justified.

(3) In a production process, the work is the most important factor for the poor. Most of them can solve their poverty problems only if their jobs are compensated with wages, which are at least enough to meet their basic necessities. Considering the high rate of open and hidden employment, job opportunities rely heavily on labor-intensive investment and the right choice of applied technology.

Considering the importance of the economic progress to achieve high growth and international competition, the poor should increase their job quality through training because skilled labor and experts can find jobs easier and earn higher income. Therefore, assistance to educate the poor is very important.

Jobs are related not only to wages but to all of human life. The human work environment should include the safety and health of the work place, health insurance, retirement plan, and the right to participate and to strike. Those are all needed because it is in their work that people express themselves. Treating workers not as slaves but as human beings is not only an ethical requirement but is also economically wiser because humanly-treated workers show a higher achievement and involvement.

(4) In relation to the utilization of national income, the economy clearly distinguishes between consumption and savings for capital investment. In an advanced economy, such distinction is usually appropriate, but in developing countries consumption for the poor is in fact a capital investment in the sense that such will increase the work quality and productivity. The hungry, undernourished, sick or illiterate cannot work properly.

(5) The distribution of national income, which reflects relative poverty, is an important social structure. It depends on wages and salaries, and ownership distribution of the production factors. The poor seldom own production factors such as land. The rich and the powerful have often taken over land from the poor without proper compensation for developing industries and tourism projects.

There are still other social problems. Social discrepancy or relative poverty results in the deterioration of the conditions of the poor.

If the distribution of the national income is not balanced, there will be absolute poverty (see Poverty from the Viewpoint of Social Sciences in Chapter 8). The numerous poor people have so little money and little capability to spend, so that their demand for goods is low. The law of the market says that supply follows demand. As a result, the production structure will adapt itself to rich peoples purchasing power and the demand for expensive and luxurious products. No factory produces unsalable products because such will lead to bankruptcy. A further effect is that production for the rich tends to be capital intensive and uses the latest technology, which does not create job opportunities for the jobless poor. Therefore, the entire economy structurally separates itself from the needs of the poor and, accordingly, will become an expensive floating economy. In other words, sharp relative poverty is a serious obstacle for economic progress in general.

(6) As a result, the poor often have to create a separate economic circle for their needs for products, services and jobs. An informal economy guarantees the life continuity of the poor and is a proof of the poors creativity and entrepreneurship. In fact an informal economy is not at all free from the formal economy. Many poor people work in both systems because of their low wages. Thus, the informal sector in fact subsidizes the formal economy. Similarly, the informal economy in many cases supports the formal economy such as in recycling, which is a cost saver for big industries in dealing with industrial waste. Therefore, it is very unwise if the informal economy becomes the victim of policies to abolish pedicabs, sidewalk stalls, and street vendors. Policies which emphasize preferential option for the poor should support small economic businesses so that they will develop and then be closely and healthily related to the national economy.

Pollution and Destruction of the Environment

Problems that recently have become global issues and threaten the continuity of the earth and humanity are ecological problems: water and land pollution; destruction of fertile lands into desserts, extreme exploitation of unrenewable natural resources such as tropical rain forests; global climatic change caused by emission of gasses which destroy the ozone layer; and a number of others.

Those ecological problems are related to the economy in two ways. First, natural resources as production factors are becoming more rare because of extreme exploitation and lack of care. As aptly described by E.F. Schumacher two decades ago, it is inappropriate for the economy to treat natural resources as products just like other goods. Production factors such as oil, raw materials and mines are ecological capital, which should be preserved. This action is, in fact, also an economic demand because production processes in the future, such as food production, will depend on the preservation of the ecology.

Secondly, this also applies to the influence of production factors on pollution and the destruction of the environment. Any production burdens the ecological environment. However, modern economy which aims at growth as the foundation of general prosperity for an increasing population escalates this problem. The higher economic products will trigger more industrial waste, air pollution and land toxication by industrial and agricultural chemical wastes.  It will also increase the number of fuel-wasting and air-polluting cars, luxurious objects and domestic waste. All those threaten human health, future economical productivity and earth sustainability.

The causes of the ecological crisis are varied: A cultural pattern which considers nature as an object of exploitation, the wasteful economy and consumption patterns of rich countries, the greed of the rich to obtain high profit without effort, such as through careless felling of forest: an economy system which does not care for ecological costs and which results in unrealistic pricing.

However, poverty is also an unignorable causing factor. Many poor countries with huge foreign debts try to produce foreign earning through the export of natural wealth. Similarly, the poor often do not have any other choice but to cut down trees in the forest to find a settlement and farm. They also cut down trees on mountain slopes to be made into firewood for cooking and heating.

Seen from the macro-economic aspect, the high economy growth to reduce poverty and the preservation of nature for the coming generations are two contradictory goals difficult to reconcile. Therefore, tension between the economy and the ecology is often found. Struggle for social justice can have a negative impact on the ecology. If the production of cars creates many job opportunities, thus reducing unemployment, it also increases air pollution and wastes energy both in the production process itself and in the increase of private cars.

Though these problems are global in nature, the effects are felt by ordinary people, particularly the poor. They are usually the first victims of any disaster because they do not have power and money to defend themselves and to protect their environment. Their houses are often close to polluting factories. Unhealthy settlements and poorly constructed homes are the first threatened by erosion and flood. If a natural disaster strikes, the poor are the first ecological refugees. This is the vicious circle of the ecological poverty trap: the poor are poor and so they have to damage ecology, which leads to more poverty.

This global ecological problem can be solved globally in the partnership between the North and the South. The main responsibility lies in the hand of rich countries and the rich in developing countries. They need to change their luxurious and wasteful production and consumption patterns. An ethics of restraint is needed for those who cannot live in any simpler form if we are to be in solidarity with the poor.


Theology of Work: The Primacy of the Human Being over Capital

As seen in the above analysis, the economy and the ecology are closely related. Economic growth does not always bring benefit to the ecology. On the other hand, economic growth is needed for life as well as for the preservation of the ecology. In the following, we will reflect on the ecological and economical problems in the perspective of faith. Such problems are directly related to work as people struggle to meet their needs, and to cultivate the land and to produce goods, sometimes with negative and positive results. Human work can be considered a key, probably the most essential key, to the whole social question, if we try to see that question really from the point of view of mans good (LE 3.1.). The sad reality of work and increasing rampant unemployment nowadays should underscore the above statement.

From the first social encyclical (RN, 1891) until the latest (CA, 1991), the employment and work issues have been a deep concern in Church social teaching. The sad reality of work in our modern civilization is that work has instrumentalized and alienated human beings. Work and rest rhythms have changed. People are driven by competitive and aggressive work, and are alienated because of unemployment. Work has been manipulated by economic processes. It has become a kind of trade: work is a commodity and workers are forced to sell themselves. Violence is often the result of the exploitation of human work.

The condition of modern work is not only an individual issue but is an unconstitutional and structural one supported by ideological concepts and group interest, whether realized or not (see Chapter 10). John Paul II realized this in his encyclical about human work (LE) and called this group indirect employers.  Theseinclude both persons and institutions of various kinds. It also includes collective labor contracts and the principles of conduct which are laid down by these persons and institutions and which determine the whole socio-economic system or are its result (LE 17).

In the context of manipulating and alienating work, we can refer to Pope John Paul IIs teaching about human work. He distinguishes work in the objective and subjective senses. In the objective sense, work refers to what is produced by human work, as revealed in culture and civilization throughout the centuries with the necessary tools and technology.(LE 5). In the subjective sense, it means individuals who are the subjects of work. The foundation and those who give dignity to work are human beings. They are called to work. Work is for human beings and not human beings for work (LE 6). Therefore, human beings cannot be treated as mere means nor seen as mere production tools. The kind of economy and work, which treat human beings only as objects cannot be accepted.

In line with the above, the primacy of human beings over things and technology and the primacy of work over capital are emphasized. Capital, which is a collection of production means, is also a product of human work. Capital is for human beings and not the other way around. A materialistic economy which values human work only for the sake economic profit cannot be tolerated.

The only chance there seems to be for radically overcoming this error is through adequate changes both in theory and in practice, changes in line with the definite conviction of the primacy of the person over things and of human labor over capital as a whole collection of means of productions (LE 13).

For the sake of work, ownership of production tools is not exempted from socialization. Based on their work, workers should also jointly own production tools, determine the industry, and share in the profits. In other words, workers should be involved in the entire production process. We can feel how far away these ideals are when even a fair minimum wage is not met. A just and fair wage is not offered as the charity of the employers it is the workers right. Withholding just wages is robbing workers of their rights.

In the perspective of our faith, such defense for work has very high religious meanings and values, originating from human dignity as the image of God. In work human beings participate in Gods creativity. Because social characteristics and human nature are part of the universe as Gods creation, human co-creativity should be performed with other people and with nature. We will have further reflection on this topic in relation to ecological issues later in this chapter (see Ecotheology in Chapter 11).

In the context of manipulating and alienating work, faith encourages us to fight for work in such a way that it is liberative and offers salvation. Such an attitude toward work requires analysis and praxis processes which can challenge illusions, slavery and alienation in such a way that we are free and ready to fight for the primacy of work over capital, the primacy of subjects over objects. This orientation and praxis which is always underscored by analysis and contemplation will make work a loving, act, where human potentials meet in fertile creativity.

In the world of work, what we have reflected on earlier (Chapter 8) as preferential option for the poor comes into reality in solidarity towards and with the workers. Such is the manifestation of loyalty to Christ and the way of being church as the Church of the poor (see LE 8). Workers are not only those in factories and companies but also tenants, small farmers, fisher people and so on.

Moral Principles in Economic Life

The Churchs social teachings do not offer prescriptions for solving economical problems. Social teachings are not the third alternative to liberal capitalism and Marxist socialism but they offer considerations based on moral values.

In the encyclical Populorum Progressio, Paul VI criticized liberal capitalism because it is against human dignity.

“However, certain concepts have somehow arisen out of these new conditions and insinuated themselves into the fabric of human society. These concepts present profit as the chief spur to economic progress, free competition as the guiding norm of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right, having no limits nor concomitant social obligations” (PP 26).

Pope Paul VI directed his views to capitalists from rich countries that work in poor countries with clear criticism:

“It often happens that in their own land they do not lack a social sense. Why is it, then, that they give in to baser motives of self-interest when they set out to do business in the developing countries? “(PP 70).

After the collapse of Marxist socialism perhaps people think that his criticism against capitalism is obsolete. It seems that capitalism is the only real alternative. However, it does not mean that the economic system of liberal capitalism is by itself victorious and capable of solving present-day global economic problems.

John Paul IIs encyclical Centesimus Annus is more positive in judging the market economy, profit motivation, competition and the free global economic system. However, the values he was concerned with in his criticism towards liberal capitalism are still actual. For example, he rejected socialism due to its economic inefficiency, the collectivistic anthropological notion, atheism, and the concept of class antagonism (CA 12-15; 22-25). These do not mean the victory of capitalism (CA 35). Again, his concerns are the oppressed human values by whichever system. Therefore, the acceptance of free market economy as the most efficient instrument for utilizing resources and effectively responding to needs (CA 34), is accompanied with warnings not to idolize the free market economy to such an extent that it will neglect human values which are not marketable objects (CA 40; 42).

The central position of humankind is also seen in the concept of ownership, which is extended through human beings themselves, who master knowledge, technology and science. They possess economic initiatives, can organize well and can understand and meet the demands of their neighbors. Human beings themselves as a productive force are more important than the world and physical capital, as seen in the fall of the Marxist economic system (CA 31-32).

Economic problems are serious and involve many aspects, so the state has the responsibility to create a framework for economic enterprises. This is in relation the goals of achieving justice and fighting against liberalistic views on the society and economy.

“The state, however, has the task of determining the juridical framework within which economic affairs are to be conducted and thus of safeguarding the prerequisites of a free economy, which presume a certain equality between the parties such that one party would not be so powerful as practically to reduce the other to subservience” (CA 15).

Christian moral principles in the economic life arise from the dignity of human beings as the image of God and at the same time from the basic equality of all people and all nations. On this basis, development and progress should be humanly understood. This is also the reason for universal solidarity, preferential option for the poor, as well as the reason for creating structures without violence.

To underscore the above, we see the important moral principles presented by the US bishops in the pastoral letter about economic justice.

(1) Any economic decision and institution should be judged on whether they protect or debase human dignity. The human person is holy. The human dignity is derived from God and not from nationality, race, ethnicity, sex, economic status or the likes. The economy should serve human beings and not the other way around.

(2) Human dignity should be manifested and protected in community. Human beings are social. Love for other human beings has individual dimensions and requires a wider social involvement for the sake of common welfare. The yardstick of economic life is whether it elevates or threatens the common human life as a community.

(3) Every individual has the right to participate in communal economic life. Basic justice requires a guarantee for the minimum level of people to participate in the economic life. It cannot be justified if an individual or a group is prohibited from participation or abandoned in unemployment.

(4) All community members have an obligation towards the poor and the weak. In the history of Israel and of the early Christians, the poor were the agents of Gods transforming power. The above social reflection (see Economy with Preferential Option for the Poor in Chapter 11) shows also that ethical principles of treating workers humanely in the long run will bring economic benefits. Thus, the struggle for the interests of the poor is not only a faith imperative but in the long run will benefit wider economic processes.

(5) Human rights are minimum conditions for communal living. They include not only civil and political but also economic rights. In line with preferential option for the poor, the rights of the poor to participate in the economic life and to advance their welfare, should receive priority above the rights of the rich to multiply their wealth.

(6) The society as a whole in acting through private and public institutions has a moral responsibility to elevate human dignity and to protect human rights. The governments and their systems as well as private institutions are not free from the responsibility to protect and advance these general values.


Human work has not only brought progress; it has also manipulated nature, destroyed the environment, and threatened the sustainability of creation, thus, threatening human life itself.

“At the root of the senseless destruction of the natural environment lies an anthropological error, which unfortunately is widespread in our day. (...) Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature, which is more tyrannized than governed by him.” (CA 37)

Ecotheology is concerned with the position of human beings in creation. Here, we continue our reflection on the economic and employment problem. Human beings are the image of God. So God created human kind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them (Gen 1:27). The image of God, imago Dei, should be understood not only individually but socially and cosmically or ecologically, as well. In the interconnectedness of life, human beings find the entire meaning of life and work and manifest their dignity in co-creativity with Gods own acts of creation.

Personally, human beings are loved by God and invited to enter a personal love relationship with God. The direction and goals of human life should constitute a loving surrender as answer to Gods love.

Human beings with equal rights and dignity are created by God as beings capable of entering an interpersonal relationship. What determines human behavior is love and openness. Without these, human dignity as the image of God will fade away. In the manifestation of love, justice cannot be forgotten. Love without justice can be manipulated by personal or group interests.

The human community is a community of men and women with equal rights. The image of God is revealed fully in men and women in a mutual enriching relationship. An ecofeminist perspective unites the concerns of the environment with that of women. While women are oppressed, the image of cannot be fully obvious in the world.

Human beings are invited by God to participate in preserving the integrity of creation. Without this preservation, human life is threatened.  As co-operators and co-creators with God the Creator we work together to transform, reshape and maintain the universe. Such an interpretation of the image of God welcomes contextual theology as developed in Asia, Africa and Latin America as well as political theology in Europe, and the theologies developed in North America by Black people, the Hispanics and feminists.

In Jesus Christ we are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). We participate in Jesusconcern, namely the Reign of God (see Chapter 7). This means that we participate in overcoming degradation, alienation, manipulation and oppression, as well as the violence and destruction of the universe. United with Jesus, we are Gods co-workers in reshaping the new creation, not centered only on human beings but on God.

Let us remember that our relationship with God takes place in a direct-indirect paradox, namely in mediated immediacy (see Grasping Poverty Through Participatory Observation in Chapter 4). Therefore we need various mediations. We always need symbols and models, which are relational and limited. In and through the symbols we approach and experience a relationship with the Divine mystery but we can never dominate it. One symbol close to the problem of the environment is the mediation of Gods symbol as the Mother of the universe. This reveals a love, which creates, maintains and includes all aspects of life. God is a mother who has given birth to all creation and is longing for a relationship in mutual sharing and mutual care. As co-operators and co-creators of the Mother of the Universe we work to transform, give birth to and take care of the universe.

Behind the symbol Mother of the Universe we have an experience similar to St. Francis of Assisis when he referred to the sun, the moon and creation asbrothers and sisters. They come from the same source as human life, namely the same God. They are all Gods gifts, signs of Gods love and providence. These creatures are our brothers and sisters. With them and through them, Francis glorified and praised God.

In the psalms we are invited to praise and glorify God with all of creation (see Psalm 148; cf. Dan. 3:51-90).  With and in the entire creation, human beings acknowledge Gods truth, kindness, and beauty, and return to God, who is greater and beyond all.

The challenge of our situation, social and ecological injustice, and the challenge of cultural and religious plurality require a certain spirituality, the one oriented to creation. History has come to realize that all of creation and cultures are mutually related. We need spirituality to choose life for all.

Moral Principles of Environment Sustainability

For the day of peace in 1990 Pope John Paul II delivered a very strong message about the ecological crisis and the need for joint responsibility in those matters. In the message we find very important moral theological considerations. Here are moral principles for preserving the environment:

The deepest foundation for the responsibility to preserve nature is respect of life. Greed destroys nature and the environment, as well as the life of humankind and other creatures. Ecological responsibility is the manifestation of responsibility for the present life and the life of future generations.

Respect for life requires relational-inclusive views of creation. This perspective unites all creation, human beings, animals, plants, and land with its biotic elements as inter-related realities. It requires responsibility to struggle for peace inclusively, including all of creation, to maintain and develop virtues, truth, and beauty, which come from and glorify God.

Concern for creation requires solidarity among all people. The wealth of creation does not justify accumulation of wealth for the few. From this ecological perspective, preferential option for the poor should be emphasized again. Struggling for ecological justice cannot be separated from struggling for social justice. The option for the poor and the option for life become one. Considering the global and international extent of this problem, national and international solidarity is required because both the destruction of the environment and structural poverty are related to global world structures.

With regard to this concern, it is important to cultivate and care for the agricultural land. In Indonesia, a concrete manifestation of this ecological responsibility can be seen among farmers united in the Farmers Association for International Food Day. Among the efforts of the farmers to develop social-ecological responsibility is, organic farming. By emphasizing the use of composite fertilizer and using chemical fertilizer only as an addition, the dependence on dealers of chemical fertilizers can be reduced and the natural fertility of the land, which will be needed by their grandchildren and future generations, is preserved.

Ecological problems also require serious attention to life styles. Consumerism on one hand and indifference to environmental destruction on the other are irresponsible life styles. Respect for life requires an option for a simple life, which recognizes the limits of consumption and shows sensitivity to self-restraint.

In this entire complex and difficult movement, education on environmental responsibility is urgent. The importance of this ecological education goes hand in hand with the education of, for and with the poor. Respect for life and a taste of beauty should be fostered and developed as early as possible in the education of children.

Finally, the role of the faith community with its tradition needs to be specifically mentioned. Teachings, which interpret the reality and direct life as well as the entire faith tradition require a new interpretation, reformulation and new realization. This does not mean that past teachings were wrong.


  • Discuss the relevance of SRS article 34 for us:
“Nor can the moral character of development exclude respect for the beings which constitute the natural world, which the ancient Greeks - alluding precisely to the order which distinguishes it - called the 'cosmos’. Such realities also demand respect, by virtue of a threefold consideration, which is useful to reflect upon carefully. The first consideration is the appropriateness of acquiring a growing awareness of the fact that one cannot use with impunity the different categories of beings, whether living or inanimate - animals, plants, the natural elements - simply as one wishes, according to one’s own economic needs. (...)
The second consideration is based on the realization - which is perhaps more urgent - that natural resources are limited; some are not, as it is said, renewable. Using them as if they were inexhaustible, with absolute dominion, seriously endangers their availability not only for the present generation but above all for generations to come. The third consideration refers directly to the consequences of a certain type of development on the quality of life in the industrialized zones. We all know that the direct or indirect result of industrialization is, ever more frequently, the pollution of the environment, with serious consequences for the health of the population.”
  • Discuss the relevance of the pastoral letter of the US Bishop     Conference (13 November 1986): Economic Justice for All: Social Catholic Teaching and The US Economy, 131 - 132:
131. In focusing on some of the American life in the light of moral principles, we are aware that the movement is difficult and that although moral values are essential in determining public policies, they do not dictate specific solution. They must interact with empirical data, with historical, social and political realities, and with competing demands on limited resources. The soundness of our prudential judgments depends not only on the moral force of our principles, but also on the accuracy of our information and the validity of our assumptions.
132. Our judgments and recommendations on specific economic issues, therefore, do not carry the same moral authority as our statements of universal moral principles and formal church teaching; the former are related to circumstances which can change or which can be interpreted differently by people of good will. We expect and welcome debate on our specific policy recommendations. Nevertheless, we want our statements on these matters to be given serious consideration by Catholics as they determine whether their own moral judgments are consistent with the Gospel and with Catholic social teaching. We believe that differences in complex economic questions, when they arise in the framework of agreed-upon principles and values, should be expressed in a spirit of mutual respect and open dialogue.
  • The Jewish-Christian tradition is often accused of encouraging   human beings to exploit and cause the present destruction of nature. It is said that this tradition originates from Gen. 1:28: Fill the earth and subdue it.
  • Is the accusation true?
  • What is meant by the above quotation?
  • In your opinion, what has caused ecological destruction?

(4)        In a poor village a factory will be built with the support of the local government because there is a lot of local unemployment. The factory promises to employ local people. Of course the unemployed people are happy. However, many people in the village do not agree with the plan. They have heard about pollution caused by similar factories in other places. The local water will become not only dirty, but undrinkable and it will cause skin irritation if used for bathing.

  • What is your opinion about this conflict?
  • Which side will you take?



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1990    Earth, Sky, Gods & Mortals, Developing an Ecological Spirituality. Mystic, CT: Twenty-Third Publications.
Milne, Antony
1991    Dunia di Ambang Kepunahan. Jakarta: BPK Gunung Mulia.
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1986    “Pewartaan Injil dan Keadilan in Gereja dan Masyarakat, ed. J.B.Banawiratma. Yogyakarta: Kanisius, 59-107.
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1984    To Work and To Love: A Theology of Creation. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
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