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Laudato Si

Class, Empathy, and the Green New Deal

By John Russo - Working-Class Perspectives, May 6, 2019

The recent debate over the Green New Deal got me thinking about a lecture I gave in 2018 at the Columbia University Seminar on Energy Ethics. The faculty who attended were mostly environmental lawyers and scientists. I am neither. But they asked me to discuss “The Fragility of the Blue-Green Alliance” – not so much the formal partnerships between union and environmental groups but rather the complex challenges of bridging differences between workers and environmentalists. My remarks were informed by three things: Pope Francis’s Encyclical (2015) on the environment, Laudato Si; my research on working-class communities and economic change; and my frustration with the reporters, liberals, and environmentalists who show little understanding of the experiences of working people.

Our views on climate change reflect our social and economic positions, which in turn reflect multiple factors — class, race, ethnicity, gender, place, and religious and ethical frameworks.  Any discussion of climate change or environmental policies must acknowledge not only that individuals have different stakes in the environment and the economy but that sometimes, those stakes are themselves contradictory. Working-class people and their communities are harmed by both environmental and economic injustices, and they have few economic choices. Solutions that might seem obvious, like ending the use of coal, can come with real costs to workers and their communities, even as they address environmental injustices and climate change.

In talking with colleagues at Columbia, I drew on a local example, from an article in the New York Times, “How Skipping Hotel Housekeeping Could Help the Environment and Your Wallet.” The article described how hotels were promoting opting out of daily room cleaning as a sustainability program, because it reduced the hotels’ use of electricity, water, and chemicals. Customers could earn food and beverage credit by skipping housekeeping. But, I asked, sustainability for whom? As the Chicago Tribune reported in 2014, “green programs” like this were killing jobs and cutting wages as housekeepers lost tips and had to work harder, since fewer workers now had to clean rooms after guests left, but with the same hours as before.

Feminism and the Politics of “Our Common Home”

By Greg Williams - Capitalism vs. the Climate, July 15, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

“[A] feminist perspective on the commons is important because it begins with the realization that, as the primary subjects of reproductive work, historically and in our time, women have depended on access to communal natural resources more than men and have been most penalized by their privatization and most committed to their defense.”
– Silvia Federici, “Feminism and the Politics of the Commons”

“If Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of God, cannot be an option for Gays and Lesbians, then he cannot be an option.”
– M. Shawn Copeland, “Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being”

If my Facebook wall is any indication, both the Christian Left and the environmental movement are practically glowing with enthusiasm for Pope Francis’s recent encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home. Quotes from it are ubiquitous, faith leaders are instructing their followers to read it, and even secular environmentalists are convinced that it is one of the most important documents in recent memory. celebrated the encyclical, saying that it “reinforces the tectonic shift that is happening, we simply cannot continue to treat the Earth as a tool for exploitation.” Even the significantly more left-wing official page of Javier Sethness-Castro’s book Imperiled Life: Revolution Against Climate Catastrophe has been posting excerpts.

Not all of this praise is unwarranted; after all, there is much in Laudato Si’ that acknowledges what environmental justice advocates have been saying for a long time. Instead of viewing climate change as a “single issue” and suggesting a set of policy approaches, Francis acknowledges that “neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself” (#117), and that “every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged” (#93). In short, the encyclical embraces the perspective that environmental justice lies at the intersection of colonialism – the extractive relationship that exists between organized money and stolen land – and capitalism – the exploitative relationship that exists between organized money and stolen labor, and that any meaningful solution to the changing climate will involve changing these social and economic systems. “Today,” writes Francis, “we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (#49).

In spite of this, I must confess to being somewhat taken aback by the uncritical endorsement that self-identified radicals and progressives have given Laudato Si’. For starters, none of the rave reviews that I have seen even attempt to grapple with the hardline anti-abortion stance that the pope takes in the encyclical:

 Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other valuable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulty? (#120)

It is altogether quite shocking that this passage, which reaffirms the papacy’s staunch opposition to women’s right to reproductive choice, should go completely unmentioned by environmentalists like those at who claim to be part of the Left, and therefore implicitly committed to women’s rights as human rights.

The Fine Print I:

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