The Planetary Common Good
In 1963, Pope John XXIII, in the letter Pacem in Terris, emphasized the world’s growing interdependence. He saw problems emerging, which the traditional political mechanisms could no longer address, and he extended the traditional principle of the common good from the nation-state to the world community. Ecological concern has now heightened our awareness of just how interdependent our world is. Some of the gravest environmental problems are clearly global.
In this shrinking world, everyone is affected and everyone is responsible, although those most responsible are often the least affected. The universal common good can serve as a foundation for a global environmental ethic.
In many of his statements, Pope John Paul II recognized the need for such an ethic. For example, in The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility, his 1990 World Day of Peace Message, he wrote,
“Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone…[I]ts various aspects demonstrate the need for concerted efforts aimed at establishing the duties and obligations that belong to individuals, peoples, States and the international community.(no,15).
Governments have particular responsibility in this area. In Centesimus Annus, the pope insists that the state has the task of providing “for the defense and preservation of common good such as the natural and human environments, which cannot be safeguarded simply by market forces”(no 40).