As I intend to reflect on Pope Francis’s letter Laudate Deum in the context of my own experience with the environment, I must first provide background for my observations.
As an engineer, scientist, and teacher who has worked on hundreds of environmental and infrastructure projects—and who has applied technology on almost every one of those projects, from basic valves and pumps to million gallon tanks filled with gazillions of microorganisms purifying wastes to membranes that produce drinking water and other ultra-pure waters—I find Laudate Deum to be a necessary and important word about our natural world and humanity’s stewardship of this world.
Pope Francis devotes much of this letter to climate change “weeds” (I say this respectfully) where he certainly had to rely on other authorities for much of the content, the nitty gritty of which is outside my competence. But regarding debates and disputes about the degree of climate change the world is undergoing, and the extent to which humanity is contributing to this phenomenon, I offer an insight I read years ago, in which the author suggested that even if an outcome might have a lower probability of occurring (as many still believe about climate change), if the impact of such an outcome would be devastating, then anticipatory or remediating measures are warranted.
Not necessarily every remediating measure imaginable, but meaningful measures. I find this experiment in logic, which complements Pope Francis’s perspective, to be compelling.
Pope Francis criticizes the “technocratic paradigm”:
In Laudata Si, I offered a brief resumé of the technocratic paradigm underlying the current process of environmental decay. It is “a certain way of understanding human life and activity [that] has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us”. Deep down, it consists in thinking “as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.
For context, I offer a perspective, based on experience, that technology—along with economic incentives to invent and innovate—has markedly contributed to projects that have given us healthy drinking water, cleaner waterways, cleaner air, and healthier habitats. Not to mention infrastructure that can prevent, or at least alleviate, the effects of storms, flooding, droughts, wildfires, and the like—think about the multi-measure Dutch tactics to control flooding in an extremely vulnerable country. In this context, economic means and technology can be good servants when properly applied.