Hierarchy calls for Western sacrifices to alleviate global environmental crisis
by Timothy Elphick THE bishops of England and Wales this week called on the country to make profound sacrifices to help redress the imbalance of world economic development and prevent the ecological disaster facing mankind.
In the run-up to the Earth Summit of 150 world leaders to be held in Rio de Janeiro at the beginning of June, the bishops issued a warning from their Low Week meeting at Westminster that to ignore the plight of poorer nations could be man's last great folly.
The root cause of the world's ecological problems is poverty, they said. In response to Prince Charles' attack on the Vatican this week for blocking attempts to put population on the Rio conference agenda, the bishops stressed that accelerating birth rates in the Third World will only fall if living standards rise.
An environmental team from the Holy See will attend the
Prince Charles warned at a meeting in London that population growth and poverty must be addressed "in the same breath" if mankind is to live in harmony with the earth. "Sadly it seems that certain delegations are determined to prevent discussion of population growth," he said.
The bishops condemned as "too easy" the view of wealthy Western societies that "rapid population growth is in fact largely a symptom and effect of poverty rather than its cause".
The bishops also called on Mr Major's new government to take a radical lead at the conference in Brazil by implementing in full the United Nations target for aid to the Third World of 0.7 per cent of gross national product.
"Poverty destroys the conditions which favour stable family relations, and the freedom of men and women jointly, equally, deliberately, responsibly and morally to make decisions about when and how many children to have," said the bishops. They said that attempts by the richer countries of the North to impose population control on the South stigmatised Third World nations as "irresponsible or incompetent", while at the same time obscuring the West's responsibility for the poorer countries' "debilitating poverty".
"It is disproportionate consumption of resources which sucks in resources from the South on a scale and pattern which causes environmental degradation at source," the bishops warned.
A call from the Catholic Fund for Overseas Development (CAFOD) that "obstacles to sustainable development such as debt and unfair trade should be removed and that rich countries should accept their share of responsibility for problems such as global warming" was endorsed by the bishops' Low Week meeting.
"The bishops want to focus everyone's attention on the Rio de Janeiro summit and impress on them that it is poverty and underdevelopment that must be tackled. There are no free lunches when it comes to deciding the earth's future," said Nicholas Coote, assistant general secretary to the bishops' conference.
More than 30 religious leaders from across the world met in Brazil this week under the banner of the World Conference on Religion and Peace, in preparation for the Earth Summit. The leaders accused industrialised nations of uncontrolled pillaging of Latin America's human and natural resources.
The conference, led by retired Archbishop Angelo Fernandes of New Delhi, said in a statement that it supported "the peaceful organisations of indigenous peoples and marginalised groups in their efforts to find concrete solutions, such as agrarian reforms, to the conditions in which they live".
"The world will never find peace until our children are...safe from the dangers of poverty and disease and from the growing gap between the rich and poor within and among all countries."