Rio+20: A Sustainable Life Of Dignity

by Fr. Shay Cullen

My faith is greatly challenged when I look upon the earth and the ongoing destruction of the beautiful valleys, hills, rivers and forests. Does the Lord of the Universe allow the ravages of mining, river pollution, reckless forest destruction, the depletion of marine life and destructive greed?

No! Humans with free choice decide and cause it all. The run-a-way over-consumption that drives economic growth is unsustainable and the UN Earth Summit in Rio De Janeiro this June is one of the most important this century as it attempts to persuade the world leaders and industry to turn to more sustainable energy, clean the planet and provide a decent life for all their people.

The first summit in Rio twenty years ago called world attention to the polluted planet and global warming and its impact on all life on earth. Future generations will be greatly affected by the environmental destruction around us today. Coal and oil burning power stations are pumping out deadly gasses that not only cause many diseases arising from the dangerous chemicals CO2, mercury, uranium that they spew out, they also create the greenhouse effect. The drastic changes due to human activity and unhealthy life styles will soon become irreversible.

The greenhouse gases, accumulated over a hundred years in the upper atmosphere as a result of burning fossil fuels are acting like a blanket around the globe, increasing temperatures will threaten life as we know it. When the planet’s temperature reaches a tipping point, there is no turning back, we can’t cool it. That point is fast approaching. Climate change will be irreversible.

The warming will get worse and melt more of the arctic permafrost and release billion more methane into the atmosphere. The ice caps are melting already and ocean levels rising as a result. Low-lying coastal areas will be devastated. The ocean currents will be affected too and will have a catastrophic impact on climate.

Hunger is spreading due to devastating floods in some places and droughts in others. West Africa is experiencing a great food shortage due to lack of rain, Australia had years of drought then devastating flooding. If this sounds like doom and gloom it is. Is this the future that we want? This is the question poised by the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. Can humankind work together to turn to a more sustainable form of energy production like solar, wind power, small scale hydropower and geothermal and reduce over dependence on burning fossil fuels? Can we correct the unjust gap between the rich few and the billions of poor?

For the past two hundred years it has been believed that economic growth and non-stop production and consumption are good for mankind. But what a fallacy that is. The drive to increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and call it the measure of success and prosperity is vastly over rated. It is a false unjust, exploitative and destructive economic model. There has to be a limit to wild uncontrolled economic growth based on greed, consumerism and selfish prosperity. It has led to unrestrained desires and wants and excessive borrowing has plunged much of the developed world into recession and stagnant growth.

That may not be entirely a bad thing. Millions are unhealthy from eating junk food, two-thirds of the United States population is overweight, even obese. The US armed forces will not have enough recruits that can march and fight wars. National security is at stake as a result of the hamburger and sugared drink. There must be more to life and happiness than possessions and money. People obsessed with getting rich have forgotten how to love, have families and help their neighbor. In Japan, couples are having more pets than children. National survival will be at stake there too.

Now that the borrowed dream has turned into a nightmare there are street riots demanding free handouts and an end to austerity. The days of unending state and welfare benefits are great reduced. They have to live on less but are still way better off than the billions of poor people that barely survive on a dollar-a-day without jobs, water, food, fuel, homes and security.

What needs to be developed is reverence and respect for every other human being, the earth and all living creatures. This is what the summit in Rio will try to promote. The earth cannot endure unrestrained growth and environmental destruction that it brings. The only economic growth that is good, right and just is when the environment is protected and all humans can have a life of dignity where in the their basic needs are met and happiness is a spiritual experience. What we need is a spiritual revolution, a global change of mind and heart that will establish the inalienable rights of all to a life of justice free from basic needs in a clean planet. 

Fr. Shay Cullen is President/CEO of Preda Foundation, Inc., a Philippine human rights social development organization working for 34 years through fair trade practices to help the poorest and most vulnerable people in society and overcome injustice and poverty.  There are 88 professional Filipino staff implementing the 12 projects of Preda (see


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