Whereas the previous factors we have identified – globalization, financialization, and agricultural knowledge and technology – emerged out of our symposium discussions, supported by research studies and organizational reports, this next factor was articulated by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si. In Chapter Three of his universal letter – addressed “to all men and women of good will” – he writes about our technical prowess and how this “creativity and power has brought us to a crossroads.”(LS, 102)
We are the beneficiaries, the pope writes, of two centuries of enormous waves of change which have brought about the invention and development of steam engines, railways, electricity, automobiles (including tractors and farm equipment, we might add), chemical industries, information technology and, more recently, biotechnologies. “It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for ‘science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity.’”81 (LS, 102)
“Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings,” Pope Francis goes on to say, so how can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress? Besides great improvements in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications, we can add agricultural improvements in seeds, crop yields, livestock production – virtually all along the food chain line from field to fork.
But Pope Francis warns that technology is also powerful — and not every increase in power is an increase of progress. We need a “culture and spirituality genuinely capable of setting limits and teaching clear-minded self-restraint” (LS, 105) in order to use technologies ethically. Science and technology are not neutral. Many environmental problems stem from the tendency to make the method and aims of science and technology a “one-dimensional paradigm” which shapes the lives of individuals and the workings of society. Our current dominant technocratic paradigm has gone awry to the serious detriment of the world around us.
Whereas human civilizations have constantly intervened in nature, there was a time we did so in tune with nature — receiving what nature itself allowed, as if from its own hand. (LS, 106) Now, by contrast, we are the ones to lay our hands on things, attempting to extract everything possible from the land while frequently ignoring or forgetting the reality in front of us. Our relationship has become confrontational; we are squeezing the planet dry by going beyond every limit. This behavior is enabled by the false notion that “an infinite quantity of energy and resources are available, that it is possible to renew them quickly, and that the negative effects of the exploitation of the natural order can be easily absorbed.” (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church)
The technocratic bias also tends to dominate economics and political life, and this of course has a substantive impact on the primary sector of any economy: agriculture. Every advance in technology is hailed according to its efficiency in generating profit; less concern is given to impacts on the environment and in some notable cases, human beings and communities. We are slow in learning the lessons of environmental deterioration; financial interests fail to heed more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. We appear blind to the deepest roots of our present failures.
So to reflect: Do my actions promote the dignity of those around me?
[Continue to next section: Ecological Changes]