Yesterday at the Stream, I responded to Pope Francis’s recent message on the Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, in which, citing Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, he called climate change a sin. I think climate change is real and that we should care about it. But climate change doesn’t give us warrant to ignore economic laws and history.
What seems to be lost on these hierarchs is what to do about the problem. The pope praises the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement, but similar statements have not proven effective in combating climate change. What has proven effective? Industrialization and free markets. Really.
In the short run, of course, industrialization is the problem. A quick glance at a global pollution map reveals that newly-industrialized China and India are some of the worst offenders. However, so long as we truly care about the poor, we must not overlook the fact that these countries are where the greatest progress in overcoming poverty has happened since the 1970s. Hundreds of millions of people have escaped crushing poverty through the industrialization and increased liberalization of their economies.
So are we doomed to choose between the plight of the poor and the plight of the planet? Thankfully, no. As a recent study in the journal Nature on environmental care from 1993-2009 notes, “while the human population has increased by 23% and the world economy has grown 153%, the human footprint has increased by just 9%.” Economic growth is compatible with care for creation.
Read the whole essay at the Stream here.