Katherine Kersten inspired me to prayer this morning, and by that I mean more than the usual “Oh, God, not her again!” After reading her heated attack on the dastardly new “Church of Sustainability” that threatens sanity, morals, corporate profits and the very existence of the United States of America, I turned to the recent pronouncement by Pope Francis on the very same subject. And I had to wonder: was KK really so exercised over what university students are doing, or was the real trigger for her outrage the decidedly anti-capitalist, pro-environmental teaching of Pope Francis?
KK’s attack on sustainability wrapped in a number of her usual enemies:
“Sustainability, it turns out, is the new battle cry in an old war. It’s a wraparound concept that links the old, familiar liberal causes of environmental activism, animosity toward free markets, and a progressive take on ‘social justice.’”
She’s right about the interconnectedness, even though she focuses on universities and misses the bigger target: the Roman Catholic Church, teaching through Pope Francis. KK attacks sustainability for including “a curious grab bag of social issues,” such as “’gender-neutral’ campus housing for transgender students; patronizing women-owned businesses, and denouncing ‘white privilege’ and police brutality.”
Pope Francis insists on the interconnectedness of these issues and more:
“I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.
“In the present condition of global society, where injustices abound and growing numbers of people are deprived of basic human rights and considered expendable, the principle of the common good immediately becomes, logically and inevitably, a summons to solidarity and a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters.”
KK complains that universities and students “depict the American economy as a tool of greedy, ruthless capitalists.” If so, maybe they are finally getting economics right. Pope Francis offers a critique that applies not only to the American economy, but to world economy based on the primacy of markets and profits:
“Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. … Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. …
“Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? “
For Katherine Kersten, sustainability is not only wrong, but ineffectual. She objects to the emphasis of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus, saying that it “bombards students with preachy exhortations on the gospel of sustainability,” including “biking, transit, recycling and composting.” At St. John’s University, KK sniffs, students use “corn utensils and recyclable plates” in the dining hall. How silly!
Or not. Pope Francis praises efforts at environmental education, and says we need more. He also emphasizes the importance of lifestyle changes and individual actions:
“Environmental education has broadened its goals. Whereas in the beginning it was mainly centred on scientific information, consciousness- raising and the prevention of environmental risks, it tends now to include a critique of the “myths” of a modernity grounded in a utilitarian mindset (individualism, unlimited progress, competition, consumerism, the unregulated market). …
“There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle. Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices. All of these reflect a generous and worthy creativity which brings out the best in human beings.”
I should be grateful to Kersten: without the push provided by her Sunday morning nonsense, it would have taken me much longer to get around to reading the text of Pope Francis’s thought-provoking and inspiring encyclical. I’m sure that he won’t mind my attaching the full text of that encyclical to this blog post, in case you want to read more.
Incidentally, Pope Francis has chosen a prominent woman political activist to help lead a Vatican-sponsored conference on the environment. No, not Katherine Kersten. The pope chose “one of the world’s most high-profile social activists and a ferocious critic of 21st-century capitalism,” Naomi Klein.