Environment, Peace, and Economy
May 24, 1999
I am truly overjoyed with the present gathering. We are assembled here in love, beyond our regular professional obligations, and this reality adds a supreme sensitivity to the atmosphere that is created among us, something that already constitutes a spiritual environment. For, we are not standing opposite one another in order to exchange some professional agreement or contract, but rather we are standing together with one another as coworkers in a common good.
The first part of this common good is getting to know one another and establishing an inviolable bond of friendship, which marks the presupposition of any harmonious cooperation. The second part of this common good is the study of our mutual interests in order to examine how we might successfully achieve our goals. We are deeply grateful for your invitation to this gathering in order to contribute whatever we can to your goals. We are also grateful for your evident love, which reveals feeling hearts and thinking minds.
Exchanging Money and Serving People
If one considers matters superficially, then one would say that there are no common points that we share. For, you work in the sphere of matter and money, while we work in the sphere of the spirit. Nevertheless, a deeper study of matters persuades us that things are not quite this way. Indeed, we are bound by a fundamental common element, namely our interest in the human person. Let us develop what we mean by this.
The literal sense of money in the Greek language implies its inner meaning, namely something that can be used. However, wherever we speak of usage, we are implying someone who uses as well as a goal for this usage. This signifies that human beings do the using, while their aim is to cover material – and more rarely, when these are related to material goods – to meet spiritual needs. Therefore, money is a tool in the hands of human beings, and its purpose is to serve human needs. This means that, inasmuch as you are occupied with money and preoccupied in dealing with money, in the final analysis you are – or should be – serving humanity. For, money is surely not an end in itself. Nor is money the object of some lifeless treasuring up. Rather, money is a catalyst that facilitates exchanges; it is an ever-moving catalyst, which, when properly used, offers a sense of satisfaction on the persons through whose hands it is exchanged. This happens even in the case of someone who painfully counts it out; for, it is also a matter of reward for that person. Consequently, in meeting material human needs, you are ultimately serving human beings.
From a different perspective, and with quite different means, we too serve human beings, seeking to meet their spiritual needs. Nevertheless, we know that the human person is a psychosomatic being, comprising spirit and matter, and that its physical needs must be met in order for that person to stay alive and enjoy spiritual needs. Therefore, if a person does not satisfy one’s material needs, whether individually or through other people such as yourselves, then we are required to assume responsibility for their needs voluntarily and charitably. The Gospel command is very clear in this regard: Give to those who do not have; take care of the orphans and the widows; feed the hungry; heal the sick; help the helpless. The Church does not ignore material needs, but it incorporates these within an appropriate hierarchy, wherever necessary giving priority to the primary and ranking lower the secondary, in order to meet the basic needs of those who are lacking in material and spiritual things.
Bearing this in mind, when we notice our fellow human being lacking even that which is given freely by God to all, namely life-giving oxygen and clean air, simply because other human beings consume the available oxygen and pollute the atmosphere with harmful waste, we come to the conclusion that the abuse of our technical resources is morally impermissible. This is because it results in the deprivation of life-giving natural goods among some people and in the enrichment of others through financial profit. So, then, just as it took many years to establish free shipping trade, namely to accept that the seas are open for the use of all humanity, in the same way efforts are required to establish people’s right to breathe clean air and to inflict proper penalties on those who pollute the air. Since clean air and the preservation of the natural environment in general are necessary for the healthy existence of each person, these are also the obligation of each person.
Unfortunately, people have not yet become conscious of this obligation, and so we have mobilized ourselves out of the above-mentioned sense of charity to assume responsibility to enlighten everyone – for, we all consume air and water – concerning the harmful consequences of our pollution for humanity. For such attitudes and actions that result in pollution, also conceal an ethical insensitivity. Our efforts aim at sensitizing people’s conscience and at voluntarily curtailing mass actions of pollution for the sake of social obligation. Indeed, the arousal of people’s conscience constitutes a prerequisite for us to stop actions that destroy the natural environment.
Therefore, we propose that we might spend a little more time on this critical issue. The aim is not to idolize the environment but to serve humanity. In particular, we would like to develop the aspect of the environment that relates to peace and war. For, if during times of peace, when the protection of human beings is perceived positively, ecological issues are acute, then how much more critical are these issues during times of war, when the extermination of others and the destruction of their environment are the unfortunate objective?
If we study in detail the conditions of war described in the epics of Homer, and then proceeds to compare these to contemporary situations, we will be surprised at the insignificant impact of war at that time on the environment, at least by comparison with the tragic effects that we witness today. Indeed, if we consider the consequences of war at different historical periods, then we shall also observe the sad reality that, the closer one comes to our period, the more dramatic the effects of military clashes on the natural environment.
An Environmental Decalogue of the Impact of War
An enumeration of the precise impacts and effects of war on the environment is not easy for someone who is not a specialist or scholar in the field. However, a rough outline of the most obvious ones would offer the following table:
A significant number of fatalities, leading to the disruption of families and sometimes even societal structures in communities
A vast number of casualties, with the same consequences and additional expenses for their health care and preservation, which are costs subtracted from other areas of life.
An unknown number of those who succumb to illnesses as a result of military pollution of the environment by means of chemical gases, radioactive substances, fire and decomposition.
An indeterminable number of spiritual wounds resulting from the cruelty of war in numerous communities, which thereafter foster anti-social feelings and disturb the human environment.
Long-term pollution of the region by the wastes that result from military machinery. For instance, huge amounts of air pollution are dumped as a result of the thousands of hours in military flights over a given region, the shooting of jet-propelled rockets, the sailing of navy ships, the movement of army and administrative vehicles. All these pollutants travel not only on the specific region of the war but throughout the neighboring regions, even reaching distant territories where they affect good and evil people alike.
An especially affected and gravely polluted region where the conflict occurs, as well as the nearby regions, which suffer from the by-products of explosives, charged and diffused, in the form of radioactive shells of ammunition, rockets, bombs and other modern weapons of mass destruction. This pollution is conveyed throughout the region not simply by means of the air, but also by means of water, thereby affecting areas that are not even involved in the conflict.
Equally tragic is the destruction and discharge that occurs in tanks and reservoirs, as well as in factories of chemical products. If one considers the detailed, strict and careful measures in place for the safe transferal, storage and development of these dangerous products until they are transformed into inactive and harmless products for general consumption; and if one considers how all of these products are exploded into the air together as a result of military bombing, then it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by a sense of sorrow. It should be noted that the involuntary recipient of these pollutants is not only the military opponent; indeed, it is not only the non-combatant civilians among the enemy, which in any case, according to international regulations of war should not be the target of military attacks. Rather, the recipient also includes those populations beyond the borders of the country at war, whether in neighboring or more distant regions. Indeed, it even includes the soldiers themselves who are causing the destruction! The unforeseen effects of the heavy pollution caused by war may appear on the other side of the planet, including the country of those instigating the military attack! For, the interconnections and mutual influences within nature are vast and often inscrutable. It is sufficient to recall the example of scientists, that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings in Japan is sufficient to be the cause of rain in America.
Still more tragic is the radical and often irreparable destruction wrought upon local human and other ecosystems, which suffer as a result of the effects of war. Ecosystems in the oceans, in rivers and in lakes are killed by explosions of bombs and mines; terrestrial ecosystems are destroyed and annihilated not only by explosives but also by fires, which further clear forests and level homes; road systems are dismantled and organized human lives regress to the conditions of the past.
In addition to all this, cultural monuments are destroyed or damaged, so that civilization itself suffers a lasting blow, as the organization Europa Nostra has declared through its resolution dated April 29, 1999.
Finally, the spiritual atmosphere is also inundated by boundless falsehoods of propaganda; passions are cultivated in people’s souls; hatred and an attitude of destruction are justified; the effects of this spiritual “pollution” are manifested at any point in the world, irrespective of distance, for example in a school where a young child learns to develop racist attitudes against invisible enemies or even among visible schoolmates. This psychological pollution, which adversely affects the human environment, is especially important for us, although usually overlooked by those who deal with environmental issues.
The Irrationality of War
This general “Decalogue of environmental effects” that result from contemporary war indicates the irrationality of military conflict, which can only be explained as a paranoid act. For, while war is instigated in order supposedly to protect certain people who are provoked by their unjust treatment by other people, nevertheless the unjust treatment is extended to include numerous other people. Moreover, while the injustice against which people seek to protect themselves is connected to some financial or territorial gain, nevertheless vast amounts are expended for the destruction of the enemy and only minimal amounts are left for the consolation of the aggrieved. Perhaps an inverse apportionment and expenditure might have successfully resolved many conflicts.
Therefore, the irrationality of war is evident from its effect on humanity and on the natural environment. It is our duty to intervene, wherever possible, to persuade those who are responsible for making decisions in order that they might seek peaceful resolutions to human problems. With good will and the proper effort, such solutions can be found. The choice of military violence as the sole method for resolving or imposing issues betrays a lack of satisfactory imagination, and reveals intellectual laziness as well as confidence in the erroneous notion that evil can be corrected by evil.
As heralds of the Gospel truth, which is the only complete truth, we repeat the words of the Apostle: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12.21). We conclude with this exhortation, adding only our fervent prayers that irrational wars may cease as soon as possible and that the almighty and beneficent Lord may grant everyone the wisdom to understand that war is an impasse. May the same Lord decrease as much as possible the dark consequences of military attacks and grant peace to all peoples.