28 January 2009

The churches are on to something

I have always been something less than a fan of organized religion. Observing the hostility and violence the world suffers because of faith-based thinking -- the recent terror in Gaza being a good example -- I wonder where the morality is to be found in these ostensibly moral institutions. Somewhere, I suspect, buried under their self-righteousness. And yet sometimes it emerges, and when it does it would be churlish not to acknowledge it. Such an emergence was in evidence recently when Kairos, a coalition of eleven Canadian churches and church organizations, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Harper and other first ministers that examines how global markets focused solely on profit led to the current economic crisis while ignoring poverty and environmental destruction.

As for the stimulus efforts, the coalition perceptively observes, "Governments seem prepared to spend trillions of dollars to recreate the old destructive model, while refusing to deal directly with the causes of the devastation," and suggest that, "We must change course and invest meaningfully in a new economic framework that will combat poverty, ill health and climate change." In other words, instead of simply rebuilding the same old capitalist system, we should be challenging the very ethos of the system and seeking a new model that allows us to live harmoniously with our environment while enjoying a reasonable and equitable degree of economic prosperity.

The emphasis on growth for growth's sake at a time when we are devouring our planet is not a solution. Yet that's exactly what we hear from our politicians, the press and the business community. And that is certainly what we will hear from the panel of corporate executives appointed to advise the federal government. We will not likely hear ideas from outside the corporate box from a panel, bright as they may be, who are dedicated to selling stuff.

Kairos points out that many Canadians other than banks and investors were suffering well before the current crisis hit. In 1989, our federal politicians promised to end child poverty in Canada by 2000. In fact, they only managed to reduce it from 11.7 % in 1989 to 11.3 % in 2006, an almost total failure despite a decade of prosperity. Furthermore, social assistance benefits have dropped 21% and food bank use has nearly doubled. The current system fails the ethical principle of equity. The rising tide raises fewer and fewer boats.

This economic failure is compounded by environmental failure. Kairos claims, "Recent research by the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change shows that if we are to give ourselves a real chance to stop an increase of more than two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels (a measure of dangerous climate change), global emissions must peak no later than 2015." The growth-based economy won't allow us to get even close to that. This brings Kairos to talk about "God’s economy of Creation, within the limits of which all other economies function." I would attribute the "economy of Creation" to nature rather than God, but I love the phrase so I won't quibble. The point is economies must fit nature, not nature fit economies which is the assumption of the growth-based approach.

The Kairos letter goes on to discuss the principles of Ecojustice, naming four: solidarity, sustainability, sufficiency and equity. Solidarity refers to an ethical commitment to all people and creatures; sustainability to adopting "environmentally fitting habits of living and working that enable life to flourish"; sufficiency to "a standard of organized sharing, which requires basic floors and definite ceilings for equitable or 'fair' consumption"; and equity to fairness in both decision-making and outcomes. Here are four fitting goals for a new economy.

Kairos concludes their letter with an appeal for "the creation of a just and sustainable international financial order – not minor reforms that will shore up an unjust system." Unfortunately, in Canada the emphasis, including the emphasis in the new federal budget, is on the latter rather than the former. I urge our politicians to read and absorb this letter. It is superbly written, full of inspiring and creative phrasing, worth a read for the pleasure of the writing alone. But more importantly, it sends the message that the current crisis is an opportunity to think beyond growth, GDP and other yardsticks of an economy unfit for the modern age. We need a paradigm shift.

No comments:

Post a Comment