AECQ : Cry Of The Earth ; Cry Of The Poor

Cry Of The Earth ; Cry Of The Poor

Le Comité des affaires sociales
de l'Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec
Message of May 1st 2001 | Version française

1. For several years, the people and the communities involved in the defence of the rights of the poor have linked the issue of poverty with that of the destruction of the ecological environment. In fact, the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor are one. At first glance, these expressions may seem surprising. We must ask ourselves : Are we still capable of hearing and listening to the cry of the poor? Are we attentive to the cry of the earth itself?

2. I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering (Ex. 3 :7). In our spiritual tradition, we know that God is close to those who suffer violence, injustice and poverty. In this regard, we must go on in order to move towards God's salvation which can never be separate from the liberation of all forms of slavery here on earth.

3. If my land cries for vengeance against me, and its furrows weep in concert,(...) let brambles grow instead of wheat (Jb. 31 : 38-40). This relatively unknown text from the Book of Job shows that even the earth can bear witness against human beings for the violence to which it is subjected. Victim of violence and of destruction, it borrows the voice of humans to declare that it is time for change. And all the trees of the forest cry out for joy at Yahweh's approach, for he is coming to judge the earth (1Ch 16 : 33).

An Ecological and Social Question

4. Each year, on the first of May, in honour of all workers, the Social Affairs Committee of the Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec publishes a pastoral message. This year, at the outset of the third millennium and in extension of the Great Jubilee, we would like to underline the profound connection between the issue of ecology and social issues.

5. Indeed, specific problematic situations are not lacking; our society is constantly trying to adjust on all fronts : health, education, municipal reform, fiscality, the definition of the role of the State, radical changes in the concept of the family, regional disparities, global warming, etc. However, we believe that the present situation placed in the foreground during the celebration of the Jubilee, enables the integration of several important dimensions of the social question and clearly establishes its connection with the ecological question.

6. In the process of social analysis, we have a tendency to separate social issues from ecological ones. We view ecological issues (desertification, pollution, diminishment of biological diversity, climatic changes, etc.) as scientific and technical challenges and, even as political challenges that are out of the hands of citizens, we consider social questions as issues in and of themselves, separate from their context. On this point it is good to recall the conclusions already made in 1987, by the World Commission on Development and the Environment :


Until recently, the planet was a large world in which human activities and their effects were neatly compartmentalized within nations, within sectors (energy, agriculture, trade), and within broad areas of concern (environmental, economic, social). These compartments have begun to dissolve. This applies in particular to the various global ‘crises' that have seized public concern particularly over the past decade. These are not separate crises : an environmental crisis, a development crisis, an energy crisis. They are all one.

Social and Ecological Destruction

7. This unique characteristic of the crisis and the direct relationship between the ecological milieu and the social milieu are especially evident in the poorest countries, particularly those in the South. The pressures of international commerce and the market demands from rich countries for certain food products, destabilize mixed farming and push for the establishment of intensive farming. The demand for rapid development of production exacts large investments that ruin life for the peasants and favor big property owners and monopolies. This forces an exodus and a move toward the cities, as well as increased urbanization and the destruction of traditional ways of life. Thus, we can see that globalization and the world market destroy cultural diversity. Finally, poverty itself becomes a pollution, the worst kind of pollution. People living in poverty find themselves dispossessed of their goods, treated as ignorant, and have no control over their own lives nor their future. In the end, they are forced to destroy their ecological milieu simply to survive.

8. Even though we live in a country that enjoys a high quality of life and abundant natural resources, many people see the direct connection between the deterioration of Quebec's ecological environment and various aspects of the social condition, especially where issues of unemployment and regional disparities are concerned. Note, among others, the situation of fisheries where the depletion of stocks has enormously weakened the industry of this sector. Note also, the immense worry regarding the method of deforestation shockingly documented in the film « L'erreur boréale » (The Boreal Error, free translation). There again, the people in those regions have the impression that control of their lives is being taken from them. This is done for the profit of companies who are not even concerned about the survival and the renewal of the forest and of the necessity for all partners concerned to manage this common resource. Governmental management itself is in question. The same problems are felt even more acutely by native peoples, regarding the question of subsistence as well as the cultural and spiritual dimension of their relationship with the Earth.

9. We could also raise the major issue of agriculture, and its methods of exploitation that make survival so difficult for small enterprises, all for the benefit of big business with no concern for the perverse effects of certain types of exploitation, such as : intensive farming and breeding, massive use of manure, over-fertilization, pollution of waterways and aquatic environments. Numerous conflicts regarding pollution and the harm it causes are tearing local communities apart, without any hope of a solution on the horizon.

10. In 1999-2000, when the Bureau d'audiences publiques sur l'environnement held consultation meetings (public audiences) regarding water, the public exhibited a very strong concern about Quebec's fresh water, both above and below ground. People are worried about the exploitation of water, about its purity, its properties, its quality, its link with health, its eventual exportation, the manner of its management, etc. The unexpected events at Walkerton give rise to anxiety in Quebec also. In one sense, the whole issue of water is a reflection of our tensions, our debates, our challenges. The conclusion of the Commission in charge of holding audiences proposed a vast program : The overall diagnostic is relatively clear. The present issue concerning water and aquatic environments is sector-based, poorly integrated, and insufficiently concerned about the protection of the resource. It is necessary to move toward integrated management, and better harmonization at the government level, by combining the tasks of development and protection of water, and by resolutely implementing management by drainage basin. (free translation) Inasmuch as gratitude is due to the government for having proceeded with such an extensive consultation, to the same extent it is imperative to insist that the proposed reform be put in place quickly and resolutely.

Toward Concrete Action

11. In domains as vast as the aforementioned, avenues for action are numerous and diverse. We strongly urge Christian Communities to become actively involved in ecological issues related to the social challenges of our society.

12. This is an opportune time to recall the famous principle coined by the eminent ecologist René Dubos, concerning the environment : Think globally, act locally. In fact, it is imperative to think globally, for only an overall view capable of embracing the whole ecosystem has a chance of being efficacious. Isolated and poorly integrated actions can generate negative effects that are far worse than the evils that we are trying to repair. Thus, the necessity for so-called systemic and integrated approaches as well as public processes for information and discussion that would engage people in decision-making.

13. On the other hand, passively waiting for decisions to come from the Government is not sufficient; reform and action must come from the grassroot level. We see numerous examples of this in the management of secondary resources and waste, in the economy of resources and transportation. We could also refer to numerous initiatives from the so-called social economy such as daycare at five dollars per day or home-care services, to name a few.

14. In particular, we urge members of Christian Communities to become involved in education related to the environment and to work toward the inclusion of environmental issues in every school's mission statement. In fact, the environment is much more than a scientific issue and a technical challenge. It is a central issue that calls into question our individual and collective behavior and obliges us to reflect on the place of human beings in the universe and on their relationship to God and to the Earth.

15. Many observers indicate that the words, ‘economy and ecology' come from the same Greek root, oixia, meaning home. Ecology is the science of the human home, of the human milieu, of the environment. Economy is the reasonable control or management of it. The contemporary obsession with wealth and the frantic race for riches in utter contempt for society and its people, raise serious questions for us. We are witnessing a tremendous upswing of speculation for speculation's sake, often to the detriment of the economy itself and of service to society. It is really imperative to reestablish the connection between the economy and ecology. Ecological and social costs must be factored into the calculation of economic costs. For example, the cost of pollution and the social malaise generated by certain projects should be included, otherwise we contribute to the privatization of profits and the socialization of costs.

16. For this to be done, impact studies and public debates must be undertaken for all large projects whether public or private, industrial or urban. In this area, Quebec has a good track record thanks to the practices developed around the evaluation of impact studies. It is essential to expand upon this experience and to ensure its application in the municipal sector. The creation of new mega-cities is the ideal occasion to make sure that such a process sees the light of day and becomes a regular practice. We urge individuals and groups to be vigilant about this and to ensure that the process of amalgamating these cities is an opportunity for democracy.

17. All of us must hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor, the cry of those deprived of their future and the distress of the earth ransacked by excessive consumption. In this spirit, the campaign undertaken during the Jubilee Year for the abolition of the Third World's debt should be continued. It is impossible to complete such an initiative in the time frame of one year, such as that of the Jubilee. Therefore, it is important to pursue international action and to continue this kind of pressure. Locally, we must remain vigilant regarding the debt of the poor and the growing difficulties with which they are constantly and increasingly confronted. The restructuring of financial institutions calls for special attention for they can diminish their services and their presence within communities.

Conclusion

18. In today's context and in the prolongation of the Jubilee Year, so many courses of action could be proposed. However, three actions seem important for Christians in our milieu : relentlessly pursue social analysis from the point of view of the poor; work with other organizations to lead effective and worthwhile campaigns promoting marginalized people's capacity for initiative; be able to account for the hope that motivates us.

19. The commitment to justice and to the promotion of the rights of the poor is not just an added task for believers. It is the very corollary of the commandment to love. This labour of love takes priority through solidarity and the clear and courageous search for justice. This work is never finished; it is always ongoing. In this regard, our role is one of vigilance and foresight.

Reflection

1. Can I identify the ecological problems in my milieu?

2. What is the connection between these ecological problems and the social problems that we encounter?

3. In our milieu, what groups intervene regarding the environment? On what issues do they intervene?

4. Can we rally and add our support to actions already undertaken by ecological groups in our milieu?

5. The following affirmation from the Book of Leviticus (25 : 23) is attributed to God. What meaning does it have for us?
Land will not be sold absolutely, for the land belongs to me,
and you are only strangers and guests of mine.

The Social Affairs Committee of the Assemblée des évêques catholiques du Québec

† Martin Veillette, President, Bishop of Trois-Rivières

† Louis Dicaire, Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal

† Raymond Dumais, Bishop of Gaspé

† Gérard Drainville, Bishop of Amos

† Jean-Guy Hamelin, Bishop of Rouyn-Noranda

Patrick Arsenault, Bonaventure, Gaspé

Louise Gagné, Montreal

René Guay, Chicoutimi

Vivian Labrie, Quebec

Gisèle Marquis, Secretary

Dépôt légal, 2e trimestre 2001
Bibliothèque nationale du Québec

ISBN 2-89279-071-9