Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
March 18, 2002
Our mission and our moment
The unsustainable nature of the Western way of life is becoming ever-more evident. Carbon emissions grew nine per cent in the last decade even though it was well known that those emissions appeared to be related to the warming of the planet with potential devastating consequences.
Economic disparities have increased to the point the wealthiest three people in the world now have incomes equal to the combined incomes of the world's poorest 48 nations.
One-fifth of the world's people live on less than $1 a day, three-quarters of them in rural areas that are home to the agriculture that keeps the rest of us alive.
Despite the growing economic inequalities, food production in the last half century has increased more rapidly than has population. Hunger grows because the food is not shared.
But in wealthy nations, obesity is the latest health hazard, leading to adult-onset diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and some forms of cancer.
Poorer nations remain afflicted by infectious diseases, particularly diarrhea, HIV/AIDS, pneumonia, malaria and measles. Yet health-care systems are driven more by profits than by people's needs.
Ninety per cent of drugs are sold in industrial nations. One study found that only 13 out of 1,223 medicines developed by multi-national drug companies between 1975 and 1997 were designed to treat tropical diseases.
Can the world continue in this way?
Nations - usually the poorest ones - are devastated by war.
We seem bound for destruction, leaving the planet a waste, with only a small proportion of today's population left, mainly in the Western world, clinging to what remains of their wealth.
In relation to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush proclaimed, "We have found our mission and our moment." But that mission has already shown itself to be one more of preventing evil than of doing good.
The world faces a profound choice. We can fight fire with fire, eventually turning the whole globe into an armed camp like Israel, with a plethora of suicide bombers on the side of the weak and enormous retaliation by the strong.
Or, we can take the slow, but sure steps to a world where mercy, sharing, respect for life, and local solutions to local problems hold sway.
Mahatma Gandhi said seven things will destroy us: Wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, business without morality, science without humanity, religion without sacrifice and politics without principles.
All these sins are at work in our world. But so are the countervailing trends that would create a deeper humanity in our world.
As more and more people see the unsustainability of our current way of life, more seek ways that will tread more lightly on the earth and on people.
As people of the reign of God, there is little question about where we should stand. If in doubt, we have the words of Pope John Paul to guide us: There needs to be "a concerted world wide effort to promote development, . . . (which) may mean making important changes in established lifestyles in order to limit the waste of environmental and human resources, thus enabling every individual and all the peoples of the earth to have a sufficient share of those resources (Centesimus Annus, 52)."
We live in bleak and dangerous times.
They are also times that hold crucial opportunities for people to break the chains of oppression that encircle the world and to build new ways that give greater respect to human dignity.
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