A new crop of elementary students made the transition to secondary school a few weeks ago. These 13-year-olds will be in their late 30s when 2040 rolls around. If we today cannot effectively deal with the implications of climate change, resource depletion and global poverty they, by then, will have to face possibly the most dramatic challenges ever faced by humanity. The future of our species, indeed all of creation, could depend on the choices they will make.
We have a pretty good idea now what they will see before them — the outlines of their issues lay before us now. One major warning sign is the gross inequality that permeates and distorts the relationships among our global family. Did you know that the Democratic Republic of Congo has a per capita GDP of only $770 while Canada’s was $45,553, according to the IMF in 2015. Twenty-one countries have even higher per capita GDPs than Canada. The average global income, though heading toward $10,000, hides a growing inequality both within Canada and globally among nations. This wealth gap, this unequal distribution of the bounty of the earth, lays at the heart of many of the conflicts and conundrums we now face. If this trend continues unchecked, how grave will its consequences be in 2040?
In the first reading the prophet Amos, writing during the reign of the Kingdom of Israel’s Jeroboam II in the eighth century BC, railed against the social corruption and the oppression of the poor and helpless then afflicting his land. King Jeroboam had nearly restored the whole of the former northern realm of Solomon by conquering Syria, Moab, and Ammon. An artistic revival followed the economic development triggered by the kingdom’s expansion. Peace and prosperity did not guarantee justice. Amos calls out the rich and content. By their neglect of the needs of the poor, he sees them precipitating their own descendant’s downfall.
Pope Francis in his social encyclical Laudato Si’ shares this perspective. “We here in the Global North need to grow in the conviction that a decrease in the pace of production and consumption can at times give rise to another form of progress and development. Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term. . . . We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity.”
Paul writing to Timothy, whom he mentored and travelled with, urges him to “fight the good fight of the faith.” The logic of our consumer society tempts all of us to place our wants before others’ needs. The pursuit of “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” will keep us on the right tract and allow us to hear the cry of the poor.
Can we hear the litany of social concerns arising in our own communities and country? Did you know that more than one in seven Canadians live in poverty? That 62 per cent of children living in the North are food insecure? Precarious employment has increased nearly 50 per cent over the past two decades. Three million Canadian households are precariously housed, that is, living in unaffordable, below standards, or overcrowded housing conditions. In 2014, 64.1 per cent of food bank users were from Canada’s First Nations communities. Twenty-one per cent of single mothers in Canada raise their children while living in poverty. What are the global facts? These and many other cares call out to us. (http://www.cwp-csp.ca/poverty/just-the-facts/)
Luke in the gospel shares the cautionary parable Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. Dives, as the rich man has come to be known, obviously knew Lazarus during his lifetime. If he did, Dives also surely knew of his crying needs. Ignoring those needs resulted in the unbreachable chasm opening between Lazarus and Dives after their deaths. The parable prods us to consider what can we do to address the problems of poverty and injustice around us now.
How can we respond to the challenges laid before us by Amos and Luke? At the local level every community I know of offers anti-poverty initiatives we can support. What about globally? Did you know that the world spends over $1.7 trillion dollars a year on arms? How much would it cost to solve the world hunger crisis? The price has been estimated by the United Nations to be $30 billion a year. What would be the cost of providing clean water for all? According to the WHO to improved water and sanitation services for everyone would cost around US$22.6 billion per year.
Cardinal Basil Hume once said, “Either we invest in arms and death or we invest in life and the future development of the peoples of the world.” The choices we make individually and those we make collectively through our governments mark the path we have chosen for our descendants.
“Like our responses to the global environmental crisis, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to social challenges have proven ineffective. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity” (Laudato Si’).
Dougherty is co-chair of the Social Justice Committee at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Whitehorse, Yukon.