Individualism, Free Market Myths, and the American Response to Climate Change

Cardinal Peter Turkson spoke at a conference on climate change at Boston College last week. Here are some of the passages in his remarks that relate to the United States and its responsibility to address climate change and protect creation:

Pope Francis is critical of the “bondage of individualism” and a culture of instant gratification that gives the immediate individual wants higher priority than the longer-term needs of many. He is critical of the “technocratic paradigm” which sacrifices morality on the altar of economic efficiency, and which places profit as the exclusive economic goal. He is critical of the myth of “infinite or unlimited economic growth”, based on the false belief that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s resources.

In some circles in the U.S., we can see traces of this excessive individualism, this belief in the liberating power of the market, this exaltation of technology and progress. We see evidence of short-term-ism—the politician subject to the electoral cycle, the business executive or investor putting short-term financial return over long-term sustainability. We see some public figures creating a dichotomy between economic issues and moral issues, forgetting that—as Pope Benedict XVI said—“every economic decision has a moral consequence”….

Yet I am confident that America can tap into the very best of its moral foundations and traditions, and play a strong leadership role in overcoming this crisis. I know there is a lot of good work going on already. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the Clean Power Plan that will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants—and Pope Francis explicitly praised President Obama for his efforts to reduce air pollution.[18] Additionally, the U.S. has pledged $3 billion to the international Green Climate Fund that will enable lesser-developed nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change….

Ultimately, I believe that America can marshal its best resources to solve the climate challenge and protect our common home—its creativity, its ingenuity, its willingness to tackle practical problems, its spirit of hard work. But also its core values like compassion, human rights, sense of solidarity, and commitment to the global common good. America has risen to such occasions before; it can do so again.

You can read his full remarks here.