The relevance and prophetic calls for action that Laudato Si’ shared five years ago are important reminders that we must act fast to “regenerate” our disrupted relationships with Creation and with one another to address the broader ecological crisis, and not to limit our actions to merely “recover the economy” from the COVID-19 crisis.
Fr Augusto Zampini, adjunct secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development and recently tasked to lead the Vatican COVID-19 Commission, shared this recommendation during Laudato Si’ at 5: As Prophetic and Relevant as Ever, a webinar hosted by the Global Catholic Climate Movement during Laudato Si’ Week 2020.
Christiana Figueres, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, also joined the webinar and emphasized that our response to this pandemic and how we come out of this crisis will determine the future of humanity, as “this is about the only chance that we have to alleviate poverty, and to bring all of those who are absolutely under the line of dignity.”
Fr Zampini, along with Christiana Figueres, former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, underscored the importance of not going back to where we were before the pandemic, but to go to a different direction that internalizes the message of Laudato Si’.
“Laudato Si’ says that if we don’t understand our connections, our relationships, it’s very difficult for the proposals that we provide to be suited for the crisis. People are talking about “recovery,” “recovering the economy,” but recovering means going back to what we were before. We don’t want that,” Zampini said.
“We have the responsibility, as we come out of this, to live greener, more inclusive, more compassionate individual lives as human beings, and we also have the responsibility to remind our elected officials that that is our expectation of them,” Figueres said.
Lessons from the COVID-19 crisis
While recognizing the immense impact of COVID-19 and the pain it has brought to individuals and nations, both speakers agreed that this pandemic is teaching us lessons that we can use in tackling the ecological crisis.
According to Figueres, the global response to the pandemic teaches us that individuals can actually make a huge impact in the face of a broad crisis. She said that while many are overwhelmed by the threat of climate change, the fact that all of us contribute in flattening the COVID-19 curve by making changes in our personal lives show how much power there is in collective action.
“We have to remember this and not feel helpless in the face of global threats, because each of us can contribute to global impact. Each of us must,” she said.
She also said she takes heart in the many stories of people and groups reaching out to show love and support to the most vulnerable, “without necessarily having to know each other previously or having anything to do with each other afterward, but just reaching out because of the shared experience of pain and difficulty.”
On a broader scale, Zampini said that the pandemic is making us realize what Laudato Si’ has been teaching us: that we cannot continue “a growth that is based on destroying our source of life.”
“With the COVID crisis, even more people are starting to realize. It is possible. We can change; not just personal lifestyles, but we can change the [economic development] model. Because otherwise, what’s the alternative?” he said.
Pushing the reset button
Figueres described the present crisis as climate change “in a time warp,” giving us a foretaste of its impacts if we do not deal responsibly with the ecological crisis.
“The pain that we are experiencing now is an instructive example of what could happen; the scale of magnitude is worse if we do not deal with climate change,” she warned, noting that with the pandemic, health, economic, and climate crises have now piled up.
The most strategic way to deal with these, according to Figueres, is to treat these as one crisis, converging solutions rather than tackling them as separate problems, thus giving us the “unprecedented opportunity to press the reset button.”
She added that it is an opportunity “to prove that we have learnt from our mistakes of the past, that we can actually act with much more responsibility, solidarity, and much longer vision, and that we are entirely capable of making decisions now to build back better in every way.”
Figueres said the expected US$20 trillion in a proposed global stimulus package should be used to generate and promote millions of jobs that are good quality, and sustainable, and we need to do it in 3 to 18 months as “we do not have the luxury of time.”
She added that “by the end of 2021, we have to collectively decide who we are as people and what society we really want to create.”
Zampini seconded this, sharing the Vatican COVID-19 Commission’s work in analyzing and reflecting on the new socio-economic-cultural future and developing proposals in tackling the crisis while taking into ecological, economic, health, and social factors.
“[Changing the] model of growth is key. How can we regenerate an economy that will suffer a lot in the next years?” he said. “Are we going to create more coal mines? Are we going to resume fracking? That is not what we want.”
According to Zampini, this change is not about ideology but is about the basic question of relationship, as Laudato Si’ pointed out five years ago and is as relevant as today.
“Any care for our environment and ecology cannot omit human beings,” he said. “And any care for human beings and for justice cannot omit the place where we live, without which we cannot thrive, we cannot develop.”