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Solidarity, a fundamental principle for a sustainable world

31 July 2016
Dried-up fields in Lesotho, in southern Africa due to the El Niño-induced drought in 2015 to 2016, one of the strongest ever recorded and resulting in serious food and water crisis in the region. Photo credit: FAO

Dried-up fields in Lesotho, in southern Africa due to the El Niño-induced drought in 2015 to 2016, one of the strongest ever recorded and resulting in serious food and water crisis in the region. Photo credit: FAO

Jean-Christian Ndoki, SJ

Since Lynn White’s article “The Historical Roots of our Ecologic Crisis” in 1967 and the Brundtland Report on “Our Common Future” in 1987, a great number of texts have been published and several meetings held on the issues of ecology and sustainability, the most recent being Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato si’ and the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP 21) last November 2015 in Paris.

A few weeks before COP 21, in September 2015, the UN Sustainable Development Summit adopted a document entitled “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”  At the level of the Church in Africa, a concern was expressed in various ways during the two Synods and the question is still scrutinized by theologians, politicians, economists, scientists, among others.

I do appreciate this worldwide interest for those issues.  However, I find that most of these writings or gatherings continue to put human beings at the top or the center of the universe.  Human beings consider themselves as invested with the mission of caring for the planet, for the world.  They are responsible for the world.

A very important dimension was not deepened enough to my taste: the principle of solidarity.  I firmly believe that this principle, deeply rooted in the African “way of life,” offers a better way of grasping and handling the challenges of ecology and sustainability.

In fact, the African way of life does not consider the world as something external to us humans.  Neither does it put humanity at the top or the center of universe.  Human beings are part of the universe.  In fact, the world is like a universal body in which circulates the same blood: life.  And all are part: minerals, plants, animals, humans, the living, the dead or those yet to be born, and all share in the same life, the same vital force.

Therefore, there is a relationship of mutual care between the world and human beings.  Life in any creature is to be respected.  Any action should be oriented toward sustaining or increasing life.  All creatures are deeply interconnected and there is a balance in the relationship between them.

Yet various causes may lead to upsetting this balance.  As far as human responsibility is concerned, I see three main causes for the rupture of that balance: ignorance, greed, and poverty.

Ignorance is the fact that people do not properly know, or are not aware of the relationship between them and the world.  Therefore, they undertake actions that disturb the balance.  Greed means that people want to consume more than what they really need, thus depriving others their share to enable them live decent lives.  As greed is never satisfied, human beings end up destroying all the resources, wrongly assuming that these are unlimited or infinitely renewed.  Poverty is one of the consequences of greed.  It leads those who do not have even the minimum for their survival, to put more pressure on the world and its resources, regardless of the damage, as long as they can get something to survive.

Peter Knox, Ferdinand Muhigirwa, and some other contributors to the book Just Sustainability: Technology, Ecology, and Resource Extraction (2015) explore the issue of agricultural or mineral resource exploitation in Africa.  Is every one getting a decent life from this exploitation?  The experience of DR Congo shows that most of the time, local populations do not benefit from that exploitation and this generates frustrations.  In various parts of the world, we already assist in the explosion of bombs from a frustrated world and humanity: war, terrorism, refugees, epidemics, geo-climatic perturbations, and others.

Unless we retrieve and promote the value of solidarity among people, among nations, and between human beings and the world that carries and nourishes us, there will be no sustainability or ecological balance.  A proper education is necessary to be more aware of the need for solidarity.

The example of solidarity in Nature should lead to economic solidarity and that might be the remedy against poverty and greed.  Solidarity means the consciousness and inner conviction that we do share the same life, and each and every one deserves a decent life.

Solidarity is not charity.  Solidarity is justice, a conformity with what is right.  Living solidarity in our world today might signify renouncing a certain comfort we cherish very much.  Are we ready for that?

Jean-Christian Ndoki, SJ is currently studying at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry in Brighton, Massachusetts, USA.

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