Our common home—this is how Pope Francis, in his latest encyclical called Laudato Si released last month, characterized the earth and the environment.
Laudato Si talked about climate change but also about other related issues that pertained to the relationship and accountability of nations to each other.
What an apt comparison. Homes are where we live, where our things are kept, where our private spaces are, and where we are supposed to derive joy and peace and the energy to do more and do better.
It is where we relish togetherness with the people who matter to us.
It is a refuge after a long and tiring day at work or school. A place where we are truly ourselves—no pretensions or affectations.
When we share our common home with others, whether they are family members, friends, significant others or mere roommates, we try to put on our best behavior.
For example, we are not only concerned with our personal space. We make sure that our efforts to keep our spaces clean and presentable do not infringe on the spaces of our housemates.
What sense would there be in maintaining my room garbage-free if I simply dump my trash on my sister’s space?
We try to be considerate. The fact that I like listening to loud, moving post-rock music, for instance, does not mean I can play music at any time of day or night, oblivious of whether my housemates, or neighbors, are trying to get some sleep, or some work done.
If I like watching action or suspense movies using my home theater system, I still have to consider that next door, my housemate may actually hate the sound of firing guns and loud explosions.
And if I invite friends over to a party, I have to make sure that I clean up. I will not leave discarded plates and food leftovers in our common area. I have to make sure I segregate my garbage and gather the trash and wash the dishes and wipe the tables, sink and floors.
Imagine a housemate coming from his rough day at work to a home in disarray. How would he feel?
Roommates aren’t too common here, but there is a reason they say that your roommate can either be your best friend or your worst enemy. Indeed, there is something intimate about sharing your space with another person.
In this home setting, if you don’t shape up, you run the risk of quarrels and bickering, and perhaps a reputation of being that housemate nobody wishes to have.
On a global scale, failure to clean up after ourselves has far greater, more fatal damage to others.
Indeed, while climate change is a global issue, its causes and its effects are not evenly distributed. There are countries that emit big amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and have been doing so for centuries.
Greenhouse gases, of course, get trapped up there and cause the warming of the globe.
Some countries, especially the smaller or poorer ones, do not give off as much—not because they have been using clean energy for a long time but because they just don’t have as much economic activity. When you don’t have much activity, you don’t have much income. Which means you’re poor.
And yet, the effects of the warming—extreme weather conditions, more frequent and powerful typhoons -- are felt more profoundly by these vulnerable countries who have little means to cope with the drought or rain and subsequent flooding.
We know all too well that the Philippines—our own home -- is one such vulnerable country. If we don’t believe the science, maybe we can be convinced by experience: the likes of Ondoy, Yolanda, Milenyo, Pepeng, and Glenda have left us a lot to think about.
In the meantime, high-level negotiations take place every year among diplomats and heads of state. Last year, the Conference of Parties took place in Lima, Peru. This year, in December, it will be in the fashionable city of Paris.
These negotiators will add to their carbon footprints and jet into Paris to try and work out an agreement—they have been doing so for two decades, to no avail—that would arrest the level of greenhouse gas emissions and bind the countries that sign that agreement. To bind means to have more weight than a strong suggestion, or merit a frown from the international community.
Pope Francis tells us that richer nations have that responsibility toward their poorer counterparts because they have already milked their share of the resources anyway, for ages. It in now time to make that sacrifice.
Laudato Si is a powerful document because no other pope has highlighted the great divide between the rich and the poor and has connected it to our common home, the earth.
The question is, will the Pope’s exhortations, expressed in beautiful, plain language, be met with inaction, paralysis and self-centeredness?