Option for the Poor
The ecological problem is intimately connected to justice for the poor. “The goods of the earth, which in the divine plan should be a common patrimony,” Pope John Paul II reminded us, “often risk becoming the monopoly of a few who often spoil it and, sometimes destroy it, thereby creating a loss for all humanity” (October 25, 1991 Address at Conference Marking the Presentation of the Second Edition of the St. Francis “Canticle of the Creatures” International Award for the Environment).
The poor of the earth offer a special test of our solidarity. The painful adjustments we have to undertake in our own economies for the sake of the environment must not diminish our sensitivity to the needs of the poor at home and abroad. The option for the poor embedded in the Gospel and the Church’s teaching makes us aware that the poor suffer most directly from environmental decline and have the least access to relief from their suffering. Indigenous people die with their forests and grasslands. In Bhopal and Chernobyl, it was the urban poor and working people who suffered the most immediate and intense contamination. Nature will truly enjoy its second spring only when humanity has compassion for its own members.
A related and vital concern is the Church’s constant commitment to the dignity of work and the rights of workers. Environmental progress cannot come at the expense of workers and their rights. Solutions must be found that do not force us to choose between a decent environment and a decent life for workers.
We recognize the potential conflicts in this area and will work for greater understanding, communication, and common ground between workers and environmentalists. Clearly, workers cannot be asked to make sacrifices to improve the environment without concrete support from the broader community. Where jobs are lost, society must help in the process of economic conversion, so that not only the earth but also workers and their families are protected.