24 January 2012

CAFOD and Boris Island

Father Ray Blake raises an interesting question on his blog about why CAFOD has objected to the prospect of a new London airport in the Thames Estuary; whatever is the Catholic Agency For Overseas Development doing commenting on a development in Britain, regardless of the ecological damage such a development might cause? CAFOD's mandate, after all, concerns overseas development.

All told, he feels this objection goes beyond CAFOD's mandate, and raises the question of whether this is simply another instance of CAFOD alligning itself with left-wing politics in general.

On the face of it, this seems a reasonable question, but I'm not sure it's a fair one. Leaving aside how I can't see that opposition to this development could in any way detract from any of CAFOD's more obvious and immediate projects, such that it surely does CAFOD's objectives no harm, it's striking that in objecting to the 'Boris Island' project, CAFOD, Christian Aid, and others specifically said:
'A new hub airport in the Thames Estuary would be a disaster for the environment, and, as a result, for people and wildlife in this country and globally. [...] Aviation is already responsible for more than a fifth of the UK transport sector's greenhouse gas emissions, and an airport accommodating 180 million passengers each year, as proposed by Boris Johnson, would be much larger than any airport in operation in the world today. Such a scheme would effectively be the death knell for the Government's promise to be the greenest ever, and would undermine its ability to show international climate leadership. That's why we will be opposing it every step of the way'
In other words, CAFOD is adamant that isn't merely a local or national issue; it seems to be taking the view that the planned development would be detrimental to the environment in a global sense, in that traffic through the airport would itself contribute in no small way to greenhouse gas emissions, and perhaps more importantly in that it would undermine Britain's credibility as a leading voice in international campaigns to care for the world we live in.

And is this a Catholic concern? I'd think so, yes. After all, if we look at the Pope's 'State of the World' address to the Vatican's Diplomatic Corps, as discussed here a couple of weeks back, you'll see how he drew his speech to a close by speaking of our need to care for our world, stressing a fundamental link between our duty to care for our world and our duty to care for each other.
'Finally I would stress that education, correctly understood, cannot fail to foster respect for creation. We cannot disregard the grave natural calamities which in 2011 affected various regions of South-East Asia, or ecological disasters like that of the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development. For this reason, I hope that, pursuant to the XVII session of the Conference of States Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change recently concluded in Durban, the international community will prepare for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio + 20”) as an authentic “family of nations” and thus with a great sense of solidarity and responsibility towards present and future generations.'
That seems pretty clear: 'environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development.' If the proposed 'Boris Island' development would indeed harm the environment and Britain's ability to show real leadership on climate change, then it would undermine the Church's intrinsically connected campaigns to fight against climate change and poverty.

I don't think this is just about left-wing sympathies. It looks to me that it's about loyalty to the teachings of the Church.


Ben Trovato said...

That's a fair argument, and yet...

Perhaps I'll buy it when I see CAFOD...

a) conform the rest of its approach to the Church's teaching, and

b) campaign against abortion, artificial contraception, particularly as they impact on developing countries, but also domestically, as clearly our abortion culture impedes our ability as a nation to give a moral lead (and so on....)

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Thanks, Ben. I don't know enough about CAFOD on a deep level to comment on its approach in general. Comes of not being from here, I suppose. I know some people have misgivings about CAFOD, but others have high praise for it; it seems that both camps are filled with people both good and bright.

On the latter point, though, I think that'd be stretching things. The UK doesn't claim to give a moral lead on abortion or artificial contraception; indeed, as far as I can see this is an area with the Church and the UK government are at odds.

In this specific instance, however, the Church and the UK government are supposedly as one. I think it's coherent of CAFOD to argue that the UK is undermining its own case on this one, and that by doing so it threatens its own supposed objectives, these being objectives that CAFOD shares.

You might be right, though. I just think there's a very plausible counter-argument. It might be the case that we all hear what we want to hear, and that CAFOD heard just the bits of the Pope's recent speech that it liked. Even so, though, they're still acting in accord with his words on this issue, whatever about others.

Albert Pond said...

Here's the thing Ben:

If we're being morally consistent, we ought to support actions that we agree with. Truth is truth wherever you find it. Like Gargoyle, I don't know all that much about CAFOD, but even assuming that they're bad on some issues, does that really mean we should refrain from supporting them when they're doing something right?

@The Thirsty Gargoyle Good point, well argued, and good to see you blogging again.

JamesP said...

"I don't think this is just about left-wing sympathies. It looks to me that it's about loyalty to the teachings of the Church."

I think it's about left-wing sympathies that happen to coincide with the teachings of the Church on this occasion...

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Ah. Both/and. Very Catholic. I like it ;)

John Graffey said...

And wasn't there that Cafod chap who actually shared a house with a Nu-Labour minister?

I need convincing that Cafod is concerned about Catholicism and not just left-wing policies.

The hard fact is we have to balance environmental concerns with concern for unemployment and poverty especially amongst the young.
Cafod seems to have allied itself with one side of the argument only.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I've seen that from following Ben Trovato's blog posts on the topic, yes, but whatever was the situation with the CAFOD top brass then that doesn't mean it's the case now.

I certainly don't see that we're to be balancing environmental concerns on one side of the scale with unemployment and poverty on the other. What the Pope said a fortnight back was that poverty and environmental concerns are on the same side of the scales. They're inextricably linked, and need to be fought together.

As for unemployment, if you're talking about domestic unemployment, that's certainly outside CAFOD's remit.

Frederick Oakeley said...

This is the kind of thoughtful comment that ought to be commonplace in Catholic blogs. Climate change will affect all of us but it will hurt the most vulnerable first and worst. Is not the defence of the most vulnerable a basic Catholic duty? Isn't that why we are pro-life? Cafod is being faithful to Catholic teaching and we should not hesitate in saying so. Funny how those who are so keen on every jot and tittle of the Vatican's comments on sexual matters are so dismissive of the Holy Father's clear injunction on Climate Change. It is time someone pointed this inconsistency out to Cardinal Pell.

Fr Ray Blake said...

Gargoyle, Concern for the environment is of course important but even in the speech you quote the Holy Father links such concern to "Human Ecology".

I think you do him a very serious disservice by underplaying this.

My concern over Cafod's green agenda is what appears to be an attachment to party politics rather than Catholic teaching.

For Catholics "Ecology" (from Greek: οἶκος, "house"; -λογία, "study of") has to be about the whole "house" not merely a particular room. My concern over the Telegraph letter, and your arguement here in its favour, is the narrowing, editing even, of the Pope's teaching.

Courtney said...

Could we similarly argue that CAFOD needs to get more involved with supporting the British nuclear power industry because of its positive impact on climate change?

And would it equally support airport expansion in third world countries because on balance its contribution to economic growth and poverty reduction would outweigh the impact of climate change?

pattif said...

That cuts both ways, Frederick. It has been both amusing and frustrating to see people who have been utterly dismissive of the Church's teaching on contraception forensically parsing the Holy Father's pronouncements on environmental matters for quotations to support their arguments.

Personally, I would be a great deal more impressed with CAFOD's stance on the environment and climate change if it were not for the kilos of CAFOD printed material I throw away every year. Their latest wheeze was to deliver 250 copies of their Christmas catalogue to my church (in addition to the copies inserted in the Catholic papers), most of which went straight into the recycling bin after Christmas. Multiply that by a whole diocese, and you have a pretty considerable carbon footprint, even before you consider the cost of printing, paid for by donors.

But the thing that annoys me most is the CAFOD Fast Day envelopes, that have the date printed on them, so they cannot be re-used. When they start husbanding their resources a bit more carefully, I'll start taking lessons on stewardship of the environment from them. I might even give them some money....

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I don't know, Courtney, perhaps we could, though I think you'd have to make a more contentious argument for those. I would say too that the argument for more nuclear power plants could be decidedly hard to make in light of the Pope's comments, quoted above, on the problems of Japan's Fukushima nuclear plant.

In this case it merely struck me that this was a position that CAFOD would have found easy and cost-free to take. I doubt that CAFOD took the initiative on this, but on being approached by others, felt this harmonised naturally with their clear objectives.

Pattif, I'm a bit confused; I hope you're not accusing me of being dismissive of the Church's teaching on contraception. If you think I have been so, I'd be grateful if you'd show me where, when, and how I've been so dismissive.

On CAFOD printed material, I do sympathise with you; there's a deep irony there, as there so often is in these matters. Have you tried contacting CAFOD itself about these things?

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

Father, I'm utterly committed to the holistic nature of the Church's teaching, and I don't think I've done the Holy Father any disservice in quoting the passage I've done. I don't believe I've narrowed or edited his argument in any sense, and I don't accept that I've underplayed his comments on human ecology; indeed, in my previous post on his speech to the diplomats I talked at some length on the Church's understanding of sexuality and marriage as an institutional reflection of our biological reality.

In the speech he makes no particular link between our duty to care for our world and our human ecology; he's done so in the past, of course, when he's used the word 'ecology' to describe what he spoke of and been widely misrepresented for so doing, but I don't see that he did so a fortnight back.

On the contrary, the section on the environment follows on immediately after a section on Africa's plight, in such a way that we're reminded that our duty to care for our most beleaguered neighbours is inextricably linked with our duty to care for our world. It harks back, too, to an earlier section of the speech which says that:
'The [global financial] crisis can and must be an incentive to reflect on human existence and on the importance of its ethical dimension, even before we consider the mechanisms governing economic life: not only in an effort to stem private losses or to shore up national economies, but to give ourselves new rules which ensure that all can lead a dignified life and develop their abilities for the benefit of the community as a whole.'
There's a lot to unpack there, but among it is the warning that we shouldn't be placing the narrow interests of our national economies ahead of the needs of others to live dignified lives. I'd think this ties in very neatly with CAFOD thinking that even if building the biggest airport in the world might help Britain's economy, this isn't something we should cheer if doing so would in any sense be detrimental to our most vulnerable neighbours.

I fully accept that people have issues with CAFOD, and based on the little reading I've done, I don't think those concerns are unfounded, but that doesn't change the fact that as far as I can see CAFOD is completely right on this particular point.

It may just be that I'm not English, but I've difficulty understanding how concern for the world in which we live in could ever be seen as a mere matter of party politics. I'd have thought it would transcend such things.

Clearly I've a lot to learn.

Fr Ray Blake said...

If you are so committed to the "holistic nature of the Church's teaching", then why did you not place his remarks about environmental ecology into their proper context?
The Pope is saying something radical about the theology of ecology which touches the natural Law and a whole raft of other issues and you have reduced it to "green politics", proposing him as an ally for something narrow and party political. I am disappointed, I have always thought much better of you.

I was not complaining about Cafod expressing concern for the environment but choosing this particular environmental issue, rather than a whole range of issues that could have been addressed.

The Thirsty Gargoyle said...

I'm sorry to disappoint you, Father, but I don't see why you think I've taken the Pope's comments out of context; I refer in my piece, after all, to my previous discussion of the Pope's address

What's more, I honestly don't see that this is narrow or party political at all; indeed, I can't understand why you see it as such.

Granted, that may have more than a bit to do with my not having a party political bone in my body. In my time in the UK, and in different contexts, I've voted Conservative, Labour, and Lib Dem, whereas at home I've expressed preferences over the years for Fine Gael, Fianna Fail, Labour, Green, and even Progressive Democrat. I've twice joined political parties, and in neither case felt comfortable enough to stay; I don't do tribal politics, and am not built to see things through narrow party political lenses.

I've been reading Jim Wallis's Rediscovering Values lately, and he opens one chapter with a statement that I think has real value in this case: 'America is a global leader, and for better or worse, countries across the world follow our lead and emulate our behaviour.' Likewise, I don't think the UK can can be calling others to responsible stewardship of their resources whilst being outrageously irresponsible with her own. I think CAFOD's right to challenge the government to walk the walk as well as talking the talk.

I'm not convinced, fwiw, that CAFOD have made a big effort on this. I think it rather more likely that somebody else came up with the letter, asked CAFOD would they support it, and was told they would. And without trawling the CAFOD site in detail, a cursory search for the word 'environment' on the CAFOD site throws up 92 results and suggests that their range of environmental concerns are rather more broad that this.

Whether they do anything productive in connection with these concerns, however, I don't know. I understand fully that there are people with serious concerns about CAFOD, and I'm starting to see why, but I don't think that means CAFOD's wrong on this one. It looks pretty clear to me.

Frederick Oakeley said...

It doesn't reduce the Holy Father's comments to "green politics" if you simply seek ways of carrying his concern for God's creation into action. Climate change hits the poorest who have least resource to combat its effects. Rich countries have the biggest responsibility to remedy the damage, not least because our wealth is based on the very pollution that now threatens our planet. It is therefore perfectly right for those committed to helping the poor to question yet further extension of air travel, since aviation is already the fastest growing source of greenhouse gases. CAFOD is certainly not perfect but we ought to encourage when it gets it right.

pattif said...

I'm sorry, TG, if my comment was capable of interpretation as impugning your own commitment to the Church's teaching on contraception. I ought to have made it clearer that it is CAFOD's commitment to that teaching that has been far from unequivocal over many years.

Courtney said...


The way I read the Pope’s comments is that he is reminding us how the environment and poverty affect an integral human development and that nations should be showing solidarity with both other nations and future generations. This is particularly pertinent to environmental concerns.

But the Pope is not making a statement as to how these issues should be addressed. These are often quite complex and political and so he is wise to keep the church somewhat removed from specific issues. He is, however, trying to remind decision makers, of whichever political persuasion, as to what their responsibilities are when making those decisions.

With regard to Fukishima, he is certainly not making a comment on the pros and cons of nuclear power – he is just using a high profile event to illustrate how environmental issues might reach beyond borders and even generations (which may in the end be relatively minor in this specific case).

In this sense, neither the church, (and, by implication, CAFOD) should be judging on detailed cases unless the arguments really are uncontentious.

But is the Boris airport really in this category? I’m not sure we can say that it clearly does “undermine the Church's intrinsically connected campaigns to fight against climate change and poverty”.

Firstly, all nations generate carbon emissions and the church is not saying they shouldn’t. It is saying that they should act responsibly. And its perfectly possible for Britian to be regarded as acting responsibly in the context of a national strategy to reduce carbon emissions within which a new airport is one of various factors considered.

So by opposing the airport decision, CAFOD is not challenging the question of overall behaviour but rather a detail of policy. It might be justified to question how the new airport would fit into the national carbon emissions strategy but CAFOD is going much further and questioning the strategy itself.

Secondly, the church and its associates have to avoid assuming that carbon emissions and poverty go hand in hand. It is not so simple. Does CAFOD really know if the new airport will not, on balance, have a positive impact on poverty? Sure, it may be a net carbon emitter, but not only will it provide jobs locally, many of which (if similar to Heathrow) will be taken by people sending remittances abroad to poor relations and family, but it will add extra connectivity to the whole world and so not only benefit the UK. And we know how important air transport is to globalization and frankly speaking, global trade has arguably contributed far more towards alleviating poverty than CAFOD ever has (and that is not to denigrate CAFODs achievments). This is why I mentioned that they might positively welcome an airport in a poor region.

This doesn’t mean that they are not trying to be loyal to church teaching. It just means that they could be accused of being wrong in identifying the airport as going against church teaching.