Fighting Global Poverty, Caring for Creation

As the summer was drawing to a close, we heard of the death of Norman Borlaug, the father of the Green Revolution, which lifted millions of people, mostly in Asia, out of hunger through the production of high-yield varieties of wheat.

Despite Dr. Borlaug’s achievements, we commemorate this year’s World Food Day on October 16 facing the fact that more than a billion people around the world suffer each day without enough to eat. The fight against global hunger continues.

And to add to the complexity of our task, we are facing some new challenges in increasing agricultural production and preventing famine. For example, over the last several weeks, we’ve received some confounding news about disasters in Africa.

In East Africa, the nearly complete failure of seasonal rains has resulted in drought that is causing suffering and hardship for almost 4 million people in Kenya. At the same time, a storm last month in Burkina Faso poured more than 10 inches of rain on the capital city of Ouagadougou in a 12-hour period, breaking a record that had stood since 1919 and causing floods that drove more than 100,000 people from their homes.

There is no conclusive link among these two weather aberrations and global climate change. But the fact is we are witnessing shifts in climatic conditions around the world.

Our overseas staff and partners report that climate change is accelerating disasters and altering rainfall patterns and traditional agriculture. And those shifts are causing those who contributed the least to global climate change, the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, to suffer the most from its effects.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, under Vatican leadership, have accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus that global climate change is real and is caused by human activity, and that it is disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. The United States bears a special responsibility in our stewardship of God’s creation to shape responses that serve the entire human family. As Pope Benedict XVI said in his message about last month’s U.N. summit on climate change: “The economic and social costs of using up shared resources must be recognized with transparency and borne by those who incur them, and not by other peoples or future generations. The protection of the environment, and the safeguarding of resources and of the climate, oblige all international leaders to act jointly, respecting the law and promoting solidarity with the weakest regions of the world.”

And let me add Pope Benedict’s words from his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, in addressing the topic of development, the rights of peoples and the environment: “The environment is God’s gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole.”

Catholic Relief Services’ overseas programs have already developed more than $60 million in adaptation-related projects. And in partnership with the U.S. bishops, CRS is contributing our experience and observations to the U.S. administration and congress as they develop our nation’s response to climate change. A new initiative of leading national Catholic organizations, including CRS, is calling on Catholics throughout the United States to reflect and act on our obligations to care for creation and for “the least of these” as a distinctive Catholic contribution to the climate change debate.

As we mark this year’s World Food Day, let us reaffirm our commitment and redouble our efforts to do all we can to end global hunger.

Thank you for your continued support and your prayers.

Ken Hackett

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  • Joe DeVet

    Let us avoid first and foremost what this article fails to avoid. That is, getting caught up in environmental sensationalism, while forgetting that the world is far more capable than ever before to produce enough food for its population (see the article on Borlaug and his accomplishments in Catholic Exchange.)

    We should in particular avoid citing a few occurrences, unhappy as they may be, to infer a “global warming” cause-and-effect. Regional weather events and disasters did not just start happening in the past 35 years (the time from the reported threat of a new ice age, to today’s reported threat of excess warming). If the recent rainfall in Burkina Faso was the worst since 1919, that means that a bigger downpour occurred in 1919, before the global warming scare.

    We should also be very wary of scare propaganda which urges us to take immediate action, under a cloud of great unknowing, to avert presumed disasters 100 and more years from now. If the actions prescribed (such as the Kyoto Protocols) were not draconian, but instead were affordable, then they would not be objectionable. But to take that kind of drastic action, which we know for sure would be economically devastating, to possibly (not surely) fix a problem (which may not be a problem) in the distant future (when there’s still time to fix it with greater knowledge and more developed technology) is surely the epitome of bad public policy.

    And when we realize the murderous effect such drastic policies would have on the poor, then taking such actions at this time would not just be bad policy, it would be sinful.

    God surely gave us a duty to exercise stewardship over the environment when He commanded us to “exercise dominion over the earth.” But it would be a malfeasance of duty if we followed every environmentalist enthusiasm in so doing, to the detriment of humanity. In this area, Prudence is a true virtue.

  • RoodAwakening

    “The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, under Vatican leadership, have accepted the overwhelming scientific consensus that global climate change is real and is caused by human activity, and that it is disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.”

    The scientific consensus is NOT “overwhelming.”

    Global climate change IS real, and has been since creation first began. It may be influenced by human activity, but is NOT “caused” by it.

    It may, indeed, be “disproportionately affecting the world’s poorest and most vulnerable,” so we who are in a position to do so should help them ADAPT to it, not waste valuable time, energy, and resources whining about it. Human beings have proven throughout their existence to be really ingenious at adaptation.

    For the most part, bishops are not scientists, and thus, are as susceptible to badly-directed science as most other folks are. Their concern for the poor is certainly right and proper, however.