Humanity’s relationship with each other, and with nature is an implicit theme that runs within the literature of climate change, sustainable development, or environmental justice. But the basis of our environmental integrity is predicated upon improving human relationships. If we are to continue being the advocate for the environment, we must also incorporate being an advocate for our human brothers and sisters.
Discussions about climate change, the environment, and sustainable development tend to fixate on putting the environment at the center, thereby moving away from an anthropocentric perspective and towards an eco-centric view. This can be seen as the cautionary response from our history of degrading ecosystems through improper industrialization or insatiable consumption.
Understandably, this brings the question of whether humans are the enemy, rather than the advocates to nature. With this mentality, humans are viewed as a threat to nature rather a steward of it. This approach leaves little room for the two to co-exist.
In his book Flourishing: A Frank Conversation on Sustainability, John Ehrenfeld noted that sustainable development rests on recovering our lost sense of our place in the natural world, and our lost sense of responsibility for our actions and our relationships with each other” (2013: 88-89). His last tenet referring to ‘our relationships with each other’ is profound and opens a new school of thought within environmental activism. Ehrenfeld recognizes that there is no use in trying to save the planet, if we are unwilling to improve our bond with each other.
Pope Benedict similarly stated in his work Caritas in Veritate that “the way humanity treats the environment influences the way it treats itself, and vice versa” (2009: 51). Pope Benedict implied that these two entities, nature and humans, and our relationship with such influence each other.
Before Benedict XVI, Pope John Paul II wrote “In our day, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened … also by a lack of due respect for nature.” (1990: 1). This suggests that we learn our behavior with nature from our behavior with ourselves. If we apply this thought to Benedict’s earlier statement, this further implies that how we treat nature teaches us how we treat each other.
These ideas demonstrate the need for an inner personal movement out of one’s own selfishness and own worldview, We must look outward to realize “my life is not the center of the universe”, and go beyond our own egos to be present with “who” and “what” is around us. We must develop a more holistic view of compassion for the environment that must not ignore our human relationships.
Benedict, X.V.I., 2009. Caritas in veritate [On integral human development in charity and truth]. Retrieved from the Vatican website: <http://www.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/encyclicals/documents/hf_ben-xvi_enc_20090629_caritas-in-veritate.html>
Ehrenfeld, J.R. and Hoffman, A.J., 2013. Flourishing: A frank conversation about sustainability. Stanford University Press.
Francis, P., 2015. Laudato si: On care for our common home. Our Sunday Visitor.
Paul, J., 1990. FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE WORLD DAY OF PEACE. Retrieved from the Vatican website:<http://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace.html>