The deep connection between environment destruction and poverty
by Fred Kammer, SJ
One of the most significant insights of Pope Francis in his May 24 encyclical on the environment—Laudato Si’—is the direct connection between environmental degradation and the plight of people who are poor. A critical look at this connection can help to unlock the message of the entire document. 
The concern of Francis for the poor and the environment is not new to papal teaching nor Catholic social concern. In his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI developed the theme of a “covenant between human beings and the environment”   in which he delineated a threefold responsibility that is part of the human relationship to the environment: “a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations, and towards humanity as a whole” .
Before Benedict, St. Pope John Paul II had made the connection in his 1990 World Day of Peace message Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation. National and regional conferences of bishops also made the same connection in the years that followed. Of course, teaching at the hierarchical level was deeply influenced by the work of local Catholics and other people of good will on issues of environment preservation and “environmental justice” (often referring to the connection of environmental degradation and its profound impact especially on poor and minority communities).
Banner Photo: Shutterstock
By Fred Kammer, SJ
Poverty is one of the three focus areas for the work of JSRI. In their 1986 book-length pastoral letter Economic Justice for All the US Bishops reminded us of the importance of confronting poverty in these words: "Dealing with poverty is not a luxury to which our nation can attend when it finds the time and resources. Rather, it is a moral imperative of the highest priority."
But what does it mean to speak of poverty in the United States? Drawing on the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, the bishops explained it this way, “By poverty, we are referring here to the lack of sufficient material resources required for a decent life.” Then, in the next sentence, they acknowledge the complexity of the question, “We use the government’s definition of poverty, although we recognize its limits.” And a footnote introduces elements of the national debate about what we call “the poverty line.” [Continue on to MORE about measuring poverty and poverty in the Gulf South.]
ARCHIVED ARTICLES ON POVERTY
The Payday Shark in Your Bank Account -- Mikulich
Catholicism and Capitalism -- Kammer
Banner Image: Brenda Ann Keneally/AmericanPoverty.org