Pope Francis

As expected Pope Francis is about to release his encyclical concerning the environment and climate change. The Guardian article below explains much of what is likely to be included in the Bull. The Pope concurs with many of our ideas here at The BA. One important aspect is the cultural & aesthetic appreciation of Nature in its own right. Remember too that the Vatican has a voice at the UN and is a country in its own right; as well as speaking for over a billion Catholics worldwide.

Also as expected the Yankee Republicans said “the pope should stick to his job!”


16 thoughts on “Pope Francis

    1. Michael White Post author

      This is an excellent document, I’m about half way through it. Francis says many of the same things that we concluded during our individual life works, and the setting up of The BA. Not only does papal concurrence help our efforts, but he is a Head of State as well as being Head of his Church. I do not recall any other Head of State speaking in such frank and honest terms πŸ™‚

  1. Janos

    What I miss is not what Pope Francis included in this document but what he did not. For example is there anything he had to say about population pressure? Or about birth control? Or about the fact that currently there are about 5-6 times more human beings living on this planet than it’s carrying capacity? How does he expect to resolve the pressing problems of our age if the most fundamental problem has not been addressed?

    1. Michael White Post author

      Thanks Janos, you can go to point 50, but it’s worth reading in context from point 48 onwards.

      I’m curious how you derived your carrying capacity of Earth? You say that “there are about 5-6 times more human beings living on this planet than its carrying capacity”. Where did that come from?

      Malthus did predict that human population growth would be limited by food production or availablility; not unreasonably. Some one else (?) said if we remained hunter-gatherers then our limit would have been around 100 million. E. O. Wilson suggests 7 billion if we are all vegetarians.

      UNEP-GEAS notes that considerable uncertainty surrounds attempts to calculate the upper limit for human population: but that the majority of estimates fall between 8-16 billion.


      It is true that if everyone consumed at the same level as middle-class Americans, then we would have nowhere near enough resources (& that is probably where the need for 1.5 planets came from). It is also true that the greed of the so-called developed nations (the consumer society) means that the remaining 75% have to exist on subsistence, or below-subsistence resource levels.

      Fresh water use is going to be a major limiting factor very shortly πŸ™

      1. Janos

        Mike, I used World Bank data for my estimation along with the following logic: As I learned from WWF Living Planet Index, roughly 1970 was the year when aggregated ecological footprint of the human population exceeded the carrying capacity of one planet Earth.

        To me by the way it means that from that point of time in our history we, humans, consume not only the annual offspring what this planet could deliver but consume the sources of the offspring, the breeding population as well, so that the full annual recovery of the population (of plants, animals, etc) was not possible anymore.

        Now if I look at World Bank data, I can see that in 1970 the population of the Earth was estimated to be 3,686,820,666 human individuals. By now this figure has been doubled.

        In 1970 a huge number of people lived in extreme poverty. Looking at the World Bank GDP figure, which I think is proportional with the ecological footprint, I can see that the world average per capita GDP was around US$ 800. For the USA this figure was US$ 5,247, the average of the countries currently belonging to the European Monetary Union was US$ 2,256.

        Now let me infer that the average per capita GDP of the EMU countries in 1970 represented an acceptable living standard for millions. (The freedom to move was given for the majority of these countries and still their population did not immigrate to other continents.)

        The average per capita GDP of the EMU countries in 1970 was nearly 3 times higher than the world average! We can observe a huge gap between the GDP (living standard, level of take, ecological footprint) of an average inhabitant of the EMU countries and an average inhabitant of many other countries in Asia, Africa, etc.

        So it means that if the living standard of the ‘average citizen of the world’ had been significantly better in 1970, the carrying capacity of the Earth would have reached much sooner.

        If I extrapolate from the above mentioned GDP figure, the average of the EMU countries, to the rest of the world, I could say that if the world average had been 3 times higher that it was actually, than the carrying capacity of the Earth would have exceeded 3 times by 1970 already. Compared to 1970’s global population figure we stand now at the double of that, which leads me to the conclusion that if every human inhabitant liked to enjoy the average living standard of the EMU countries in 1970 than 3 * 2 = 6 planet Earth capacity is required. But, there is only one. So it is 6 times overpopulated.

        Expectations since 1970 has grew and now are significantly higher. In the above logic I used the assumption that GDP, living standard, ecological footprint and level of take (from the biosphere) are linearly proportional to each other. Obviously my above described inference is not a scientifically precisely founded theory. Still I think that as a rule of thumb it shows quite clearly where do we stand now.

        Concerning the ‘scientifically’ estimated carrying capacity of the Earth I guess those figures are based on the assumption that humans consume all available space on Earth for growing crops, farming and harvesting, leaving nothing for pristine biological diversity.

        1. Michael White Post author

          Thanks Janos, well explained πŸ™‚

          Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that human population isn’t a problem, as it probably is, or soon will be. I’m mindful that global population in 1900 was only about 1.5 billion, just as antiseptics came into wider use. We then had 2 major wars: each removing a huge section of the breeding population; Spanish flu; and numerous other conflicts ~ but still our population doubled twice last century.

          Rather I see the greater concern being our gross misuse of resources. As we all know here the rate of consumption (ecological footprint) is very unequal. Your examples are perfect, because they demonstrate that in order to survive we need to consume wisely, in great moderation, and equitably. As the Pope, WWF, UNEP, us at The BA, and countless others say “we cannot use our finite resources unsustainably, and still expect things to remain in balance”. We cannot, and could not consume at the rate of the EMU nations or especially the US level.

          Our challenge is how to address this imbalance? The hyper-consuming nations will not reduce their resource usage until forced to. In their reality this means market forces: i.e. they will shop until there’s nothing left to buy. Coupled to this is protectionism (including TTIP, TSA, or other free-trade zones etc). The global south is being destroyed for the more-greedy north. We see it is increasingly difficult for nations that try to live sustainably to hold on to their resources (money pressure).

          Usually when we discuss population control the rich world imagines that depopulation means all the poor people would die off, leaving all those extra resources to be consumed by the shopping world. They would still use all the resources ~ just to keep the economy ticking along; and soon would need a few more planets to survive. The opposite approach: for everyone to live a simple, consciously sustainable life: giving more than we take, planting extensively, sharing widely, and fulfilling our needs rather than our wants is the one with most merit, yet it barely gets a look in.

          Looking at the biodiversity impact poll on our home page we can see the votes are evenly spread between overpopulation and greed (corporate greed is also human greed). So the thing that has to change is our consumption rate. Given that cities are unsustainable (no food production, little water, heavily overpopulated, and massive waste issues) if a few of those disappeared off the map (tsunami, sea level rise or similar) then the situation would turn around quite quickly. However, business as usual is a dead-end game, Mike πŸ™‚

          1. Janos

            I agree Mike that misuse of resources and consumption rate in many countries (i.e. hyper-consumption) are also major factors in the problem-triad: overpopulation, resource-misuse and hyper-consumption.

            If we accept the statement from WWF about crossing the one planet Earth resource consumption level in 1970, we than can have clear facts on our table. As I cited the world average per capita GDP in that year was US$ 800. Let’s use the per capita GDP as a good indicator for per capita consumption. We know it is not fully appropriate but will do the job for us.

            I guess it is pretty fair to say that if in 1970 with US$ 800 for 3.7 billion people we reached the one planet Earth carrying capacity, than now in 2015 for twice as many, 7.4 billion people we should not exceed the half of 1970’s average: US$ 400 (per capita GDP) to stay below the carrying capacity.

            According to World Bank data in 2013 Niger had US$ 415 per capita GDP. I can find only few other countries in that range, such as Congo, Dem.Rep.(484), Ethiopia (505), Gambia (485). Liberia (454), Madagascar (462).

            The world average per capita GDP has increased 15-fold during the last 45 years.

            If I look at the 1970 level, I can see countries like Belize, Brazil, Fiji, Iran, Jordan having around US$ 400 per capita GDP.

            It means that the whole world – in average – should drop the consumption to the level where Brazil was in 1970 (in average). I am perfectly fine with it, the question is how can we convince the rest part of the world which consumes well above the ’70s average level, and especially those who consumes thousand times more than the average.

            So when you say “I’m not saying that human population isn’t a problem, as it probably is.” I think the word ‘probably’ is quite soft to characterize the situation.

            1. Michael White Post author

              Thanks Janos, your penultimate paragraph is the challenge!!!

              Some of your examples are great as I’ve been to several of those places. Gambia, Belize & Brazil are largely jungle; Fiji has lots of islands. So numbers of people in a place will be another factor rather than just GDP. Interestingly Gambia, Belize and Fiji still have fairly low GDPs $400-500); Brazil shot up to $11,000. [I typed: xyz country + population and came up with some great overviews, popn graph, GDP and wiki refs]. By the way population numbers are still fairly low. Britain’s GDP is almost $42,000 pp; USA $53,000 pp.

              I like the triad idea: overpopulation, misuse of resources, and hyper-consumption. I think it needs one more element: inequality. This is because the greediest (or wealthiest) people/places tend to use far more resources than the impoverished portions of society. I was thinking of Fiji: Nadi is well populated, so is Suva, but the Outer Islands are not.

              Cook Islands will be a good example too. 2012 posted a per capita GDP of $15,000 ::: BUT~ ‘services’ accounted for 82% of that; agriculture just over 5%; industry 12%. Tongareva has none of those things at all. Also Rarotonga has about 85-90% of the national population, so that skews the per capita sums. So we can say that most of the countries in the Cook Islands would be well inside our hypothetical 1970 GDP figure; but Rarotonga is well outside it. In Britain the worst hyper-consumer is going to be London by a very big margin. Any thoughts on this approach? πŸ™‚

              1. Janos

                I understand your words Mike, but I don’t really get the approach. Of course there are significant inequalities in consumption, pollution, etc, in most of the countries. In Hungary the capital Budapest consumes and pollutes more with 2 million citizen than the rest of the country with 8 million. So what is the approach you think of?

                1. Michael White Post author

                  I’m not completely sure yet Janos. GDP per capita as we understand it is the total GDP divided by the number of people (at present by country). As you mentioned for Budapest, and I noted for Rarotonga and London, consumption is far highrer there than out in the rural areas. So gaining a reduction in resource use for those cities will see a much greater saving than a per country reduction. In addition the cities are also going to cause greater impacts globally (CO2, pollution, waste etc.). Perhaps where our attention is better focused will be for sustainable cities. Imagine a carbon-neutral city? I’m still thinking πŸ™‚

  2. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    True Janos, the population issue has been left out. And looking at an earlier declaration: “In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as β€œa tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity,” omitting to mention that human procreating activity has also been responsible. The Catholic Church has to this day been adamant about sex, birth control and divorce. Perhaps its attitude towards these has to change too.
    I have my doubts as to the accuracy or even applicability of the UNEP-GEAS document Mike. And as you rightly mentioned, there are people consuming many, many times than others, and that necessary too. As an academic exercise, for example, the population of of the USA could be correlated as 2-3 times higher, due to their consumption levels. Sounds incredible.

    1. Michael White Post author

      Thanks Ven. Catholicism first: I think we are seeing a shift. Previously the ‘business plan’ was saving Souls ~ more realistically: collecting as many as possible, to deny them to the opposition. That was manifested as being obligatory to raise children in the Catholic faith, and to have as many offspring as possible. When I was a child the larger families (10-12 kids) were Catholics. But even Catholic families these days have fewer children (economics?).

      When I look at my own historical family my paternal grandmother had 5 children; maternal grandmother had 3. Aunts & uncles had 1, 2, or in one case 7 children. My generation (cousins) have 0, 1 or 2. Possibly a reason for the larger size Victorian families was child survival rates.

      UNEP-GEAS: I downloaded the pdf but have not yet read it.

      I do like your ‘academic’ exercise & I reckon that the ‘ecological footprint’ rather than GDP is a better measure. That could tie in nicely with Janos’s suggestion about carbon-pricing of consumer goods. To show the true cost of everything we consume. Without doubt we need to return to more simple ways of life: consume less, give more than we take, and share what we have with others πŸ™‚

  3. Venkatasamy Rama Krishna

    Bleak indeed Mike. There are so many things, mostly negative and irreversible in the near future, happening in the world right now. Population is one serious problem and that one cannot be resolved in a short period of time. Water is probably the most important….desertification, lakes drying out, aquifers overexploited, changes in rainfall patterns etc….and all linked to food production. Certainly not a nice picture but I doubt that humanity has experienced all these at the same time in its history.

    1. Michael White Post author

      Thanks Ven. Somewhat surprisingly I think that the fact of so many disastrous things happening together may well be the factor of hope that we pray for. I doubt that these have happened together before. Sure we’ve had droughts and famines, but with only a fraction of our global population. In those circumstances folk have migrated elesewhere or died.

      Imagine a huge set of scales: in one pan we have the things that lead to balance (caring, planting, conserving water and soil, reforesting, healthy reefs, sustainable living, rich biodiversity etc.); and in the other all of the present and imminent destructive forces (deforestation, overuse of water, desertification, habitat destruction, biodiversity loss … constantly being added to by war, profiteering, and mega-industry … supported by politics and vested interests). Perhaps the hope lies in all the people sitting in the destructive pan moving across to the beneficial one. As an analogy that is the scale of what currently faces us ~ media offers soundbites and little more. Governments and corporates design new talking shops and treaties to be ratified in a few decades ~ nothing for now, and nothing that could be considered ‘joined up thinking’. Like you I think the water wars will be the one to watch. California shows the future, Africa the past. Fingers crossed for humanity waking up πŸ™‚

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