Having followed the debate and so many statements about environmental and development issues – including from churchmen – may I be permitted to address your Holiness directly?
I believe it is important to avoid all ambiguity and to say clearly that the real responsibility for the socio-economic imbalances that have led to widespread poverty and the full-blown environmental crisis lies with so-called Neo-Malthusian and similar thinking. Such ideas are even proposed today as offering moral guidelines for dealing with environmental and economic problems. But as we know, if a diagnosis is wrong or distorted then the prognosis that follows will be wrong as well.
The current economic crisis and the environmental disturbances of recent decades have their origins in the application of Neo-Malthusian theories (spread initially in the 1970s throughout numerous American universities). These both inspired and forced a collapse in birth rates across the Western world.
How can the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grow in real, sustainable terms if the population does not grow? The only genuine, realistic way is to increase individual consumption. So, in order to balance out the risks resulting from the collapse in the growth of the GDP, the “consumption-based model” was adopted as a benchmark.
In such an advanced and relativistic environment, it was not very difficult to present consumerism to Western man as the real and principal source of satisfaction.
But in order to fulfil the demands of widespread consumerism, the necessary conditions have been created of poverty and environmental exploitation. In fact, in order to cut production costs, Western nations have been de-industrialised, and have transferred production to countries with cheap labour forces: countries not yet equipped with eco-friendly technologies.
In order to increase consumption rates, the focus has turned from saving to expenditure by removing from the banking system a monetary basis for credit and, above all, depriving families of the ability to protect themselves. Zero-growth population (that is, two children per couple), as desired by the Neo-Malthusians, has resulted in the progressive ageing of populations, followed by increases in fixed costs (healthcare and pensions) compensated for by an equivalent growth in taxation, thereby reducing income and investments, and increasing national debt.
In order to avoid a collapse in economic growth, the model of growth in consumption leveraged by debt has come into force. But this model has led to increased out-sourcing of production to other countries, with less concern about the environmental exploitation. The current economic crisis, looming poverty and environmental imbalances are all consequences of the spread of neo-Malthusian doctrine.
How is it possible, then, that the very same doctrine that created these problems could now solve them? The risk is rather that this doctrine will achieve the removal of support for true economic growth, namely, support for the family and for a balanced, conscious growth in the number of children per couple. Thus we will continue to lose the resources needed for re-balancing global production strategies and for investing in eco-friendly technologies. We will find ourselves ever more deprived of the resources needed for sustaining the elderly, for creating jobs for young people and for protecting the weakest.
How could we possibly think that such a Neo-Malthusian and pro-abortion culture – which denies the sacredness of human life and considers the human being an intelligent animal, an evolved bacillus, but at the same time a “cancer” of nature oriented solely towards consumption – is capable of producing plans for the environment and for human beings?
How could we possibly look to solutions for the environment proposed by those who offer a false environmental-economic solution, as opposed to the real solution of moral self-awareness achieved through spiritual and intellectual growth?
By tolerating these Malthusian environmentalist solutions, the greatest risk we run is that of allowing such environmentalism to turn into a universal world religion, where diverse religious cultures co-exist. This Malthusian environmentalism will risk the creation of more poverty, more socio-economic imbalance and less real protection of the environment.
St Francis loved both living things and the environment as works of his beloved Creator, in accordance with the purpose He envisaged.
Therefore, I place my trust in You,
Holy Father, with filial devotion,
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi
Ettore Gotti Tedeschi is an Italian economist and banker. He was chairman of the Vatican bank from 2009 to 2012
This article first appeared in the latest edition of the Catholic Herald magazine (12/6/15).