ADDRESS by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. 12th Eurasian Economic Summit.
Istanbul, May 6-8, 2009.
|It is an honor to be invited to address this auspicious gathering of the 12th Eurasian Economic Summit, organized by the Marmara Foundation here in Istanbul in order for high-level dignitaries, policy-makers and relevant authorities to consider, among other critical issues, the relationship between international economy and global ecology.|
Whether speaking about economy or ecology, from the perspective of the Orthodox Church, it is important to recognize that this world is our home – which is precisely what the Greek root (oikos) or the prefix “eco” implies. This world is the home of everyone and of all creation. Indeed, the terms “ecology” and “economy” share the same etymological root. Oiko-nomia (or the care and “management of our household”), oiko-logia (or the appreciation or “study of our household”), and oikou-mene (or the way of “inhabiting the world” as our home) are all derived from the root word oikos.
This means that the way we respond to issues related to economy or ecology will inevitably determine our worldview and our policy for the future of our planet. In very simple terms, it means that the way we treat basic natural resources, such as air and water, is crucial for the lifestyle that we choose to lead and the politics we choose to practice. The kind of priorities and programs that we establish with regard to consumption and recycling, eradicating biological and chemical waste, addressing the problem of global warming, and preserving our oceans, rivers and lakes – all of these reflect the genuine interest that we have for the survival of the world, entrusted to us by our Creator.
Thus, it is not by chance that the Ecumenical Patriarchate has focused its attention and ministry on preserving the natural environment. It is unfortunate and selfish, however, that we have restricted the application of the words “ecology” and “economy” to ourselves, as if we are the only inhabitants and proprietors of this world. This planet is indeed our home; yet it is also the home of everyone, as it is the home of every animal creature, as well as of every form of life created by God. It is a sign of arrogance to presume that we human beings alone inhabit this world. The truth is that no economic system – no matter how technologically or socially advanced – can survive the collapse of the environmental systems that support it.
This recognition is surely one of the simplest, yet greatest lessons we have all learned about globalization. None of us can any longer pretend to live as if the rest of the world does not exist. We engage with the rest of the world in our many travels, in our everyday conversations, in our morning newspapers every day, and on our television sets every evening. We have an ethical responsibility to consider carefully the way that we inhabit the world and the lifestyles that we choose to adopt. We can no longer live as isolated individuals, disengaged from events in our world. We are created for encounter; and we are judged based on our response to each encounter. We are social beings; we share the world; we live in community.
Moreover, the borders of this community have today been broadened to encompass our entire planet, and beyond. Today, we know all too well the sins associated with cheap labor and economic inequality. We are all able to perceive how assets or investments are transferred from one country to another in a way that leaves ordinary people feeling bewildered and disenfranchised, while at the same time making it impossible for anyone to hold investors accountable for their social and environmental behavior. We can see clearly that in global competition for economic gain there are losers as well as winners, victors as well as victims. And, through our own behavior or consumer choices, as well as our generally unquestioning acquisitiveness, we may also be encouraging bad behavior by the companies which dominate the global economy, instead of using whatever influence we may have in a positive way.
The Orthodox Church recognizes the natural creation as inseparable from the identity and destiny of humanity, because every human action leaves a lasting imprint on the body of the earth. Human attitudes and behavior toward creation directly impact on and reflect human attitudes and behavior toward other people. Our global economy is simply outgrowing the capacity of our planet to support it. At stake is not just our ability to live in a sustainable way, but our very survival. Scientists estimate that those most hurt by global warming in years to come will be those who can least afford it. Therefore, the ecological problem of pollution is invariably connected to the social problem of poverty; indeed, all ecological activity is ultimately measured and properly judged by its impact and effect upon the poor.
This connection is detailed in a stark manner in the Parable of the Last Judgment, where the Lord says: “I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink” (Matt. 25.35). A poor farmer in Asia, in Africa or in North America will daily face the reality of poverty. For these persons, the misuse of technology or the eradication of trees is not merely harmful to the environment or destructive of nature; rather, it practically and profoundly affects the very survival of their families. Terminology such as “ecology,” “deforestation” or “over-fishing” is entirely absent from their daily conversation or concern. The “developed” world cannot demand from the “developing” poor an intellectual understanding with regard to the protection of the few earthly paradises that remain, especially in light of the fact that less than 10% of the world’s population consumes over 90% of the earth’s natural resources.
Closely related to the problem of poverty is the problem of unemployment, which plagues societies throughout the world. It is abundantly clear that neither the moral counsel of religious leaders nor fragmented measures by socio-economic strategists or political policymakers could be sufficient to curb this growing tragedy. The problem of unemployment compels us to re-examine the priorities of affluent societies in the West, and especially the unrestricted advance of development, which is considered only in positive in economic terms. We appear to be trapped in the tyrannical cycle created by a need for constant productivity which rises and increases in the supply of consumer goods. Thus, the economy assumes a life of its own, a vicious cycle that becomes independent of human need or human concern. What is needed is a radical change in politics and economics, one underlining the unique and primary value of the human person, thereby placing a human face on the concepts of employment and productivity. People in Western societies – as well as those which proclaim “Western” principles – ought to assume greater personal responsibility. They should contribute to the solution of the environmental crisis in accordance with their capacity in order not simply to assist the poor but to help wipe out poverty itself.
In our efforts, then, for the preservation of the natural environment, how prepared are we to sacrifice some of our greedy lifestyles? When will we learn to say: “Enough!”? When will we learn that treating all people, including the poor, in a just manner is more beneficial than charitable acts of good will? Will we direct our focus away from what we want to what the world needs? We may offer bread to the hungry – indeed, we may feel a sense of self-gratification in so doing – but when will we work toward a world that has no hunger?
Today, there are no excuses for our lack of involvement. We have detailed information; the alarming statistics are readily available. We must choose to care. And it is with great personal satisfaction that we applaud the efforts of this Summit to do precisely that.
God bless you all.