Art. 30 registers a Magisterial teaching on the right of access to water. This teaching is by no means something one can “dodge” because the Pope isn’t a scientist:
Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.
But someone will object: If this were true, our infrastructure and laws would have to change. Exactly!
Art. 33 laments the human-induced loss of species:
The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.
Amen! The “book of nature” is, as St. Bonaventure taught, the first revelation of God to man. We are enabled to read the “Book of Scripture” only because we first have access to the “book of nature” written both on the tablets of our hearts and also in the face of the world.
I hope good Catholics who may work at companies such as Monsanto will read and take to heart art. 34:
many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful. We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
Does any of this have to do with moral teaching? Indeed it does. Art. 36:
We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
The pope is indeed making a multi-faceted theological argument against all of this Big Corporation and greed based devastation of the environment. The first is that God gives things natures, so that each thing has its natural tendencies (ends) and its elemental constitution (atomic and molecular, etc., ingredients). When we “sculpt” these through our artistry, we must do so in such a way as to draw out, harmoniously with these natures, those possibilities that add beauty to the world and render service to us – the noblest creatures and those for whom the world was made. If we think very narrowly with our artistry, we might ignore these natures and bend certain properties to our seeming advantage, while in the end setting these things on a course of destruction. How much prudence must be exercised before any attempts at Genetic Modification is undertaken! And how little prudence actually is exercised. The second is that the multifarious hierarchies in the order of creation attest to the glory of God. They sing his praises. The biologist who catches a glimpse of these is invited to see God “through a mirror darkly,” as I (the layman) am invited to see God darkly in the Grand Canyon. Nor is human provision opposed to these two God-endowed marvels. The opposite. Good human grooming of the environment adds another dimension: For man, cooperating with God, brings the world to an even greater beauty. God, through man, renders glory to God in the gardens, in the farms well maintained (with proper bio-diversity and complementarity).
But someone objects: None of this has anything to do with the Gospel!
Response: On the Contrary! Christ cares about man. Christ came to give life to man, and the Glory of God is man fully alive. No that was not a modernist theologian. That was St. Irenaeus of Lyons! The pope teaches:
43. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.
We have settled for this. We have settled into this. We are like frogs boiling in the stew of our own unwitting device. Yet we were not meant for this. WHO that has worked in a nature program, that has seen inner-city boys go out to a marvelous camp in Wisconsin or Wyoming or Colorado, and seen them de-stress, de-tox, grow calmer and more natural – I say WHO that has seen this can possibly contend with the pope when he protests:
We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature (art. 44).
Indeed, we were not! O Lord – a healthy world is not our salvation. And yet, a sick world is our devastation. It brings no glory to you to see a planet sooted with the greed of tyrants. And should one of them, should one of the CEO’s ruling a mega-corporation that has its footprint on this environment, like a boot to the neck of a poor, downtrodden man, should I say such a one read the pope’s prophetic lament: May he repent of his company’s ills, and take firm measure to change them!