“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.  At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.” (LS, 23)

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Laudato Si’ is an encyclical which embraces the contribution of science, but without ever falling into a false empiricism nor into the epistemological limits of technocracy.  For example, it incorporates the notion of climate as a common good, articulated by Elinor Ostrom, Nobel Laureate in Economics in 2009, who was renowned for her focus on the governance of common property such as water and other natural resources.

By stating that the climate is a “common good of humanity” Pope Francis acknowledges that the traditional notion of property, based on the absolute right of an individual owner of a passive and finite object, is an out-dated concept and a dangerous one when applied to the climate system.  Anyone who attempts to take ownership of climate, or its factors and effects, will enter a ludicrous process which will eventually impact him or herself.

There is no better example to understand this than the drought processes that are affecting Chile.  The concentration of water rights, which was a result of the implementation of the 1981 Water Code, primarily generated a direct benefit to their appropriators, who benefit from privatization.  But in the long term, it is not only the inhabitants of the dispossessed communities who are affected.  The change of water ownership transforms the entire ecosystem, the groundwater system, the biological equilibrium of the surroundings, and the overall living conditions of the entire area.  This is because water is an essential element in a complex climate system that neither distinguishes between property boundaries nor recognizes property ownership.

In Cabildo, La Ligua or Petorca water privatization initially increased the capital gains of agricultural and mining employers at the expense of water access for local people. But over the years, the drought in the surrounding land has also begun to affect the “winners” in the form of a serious deterioration in the living conditions in these valleys.  Likewise, the overcrowding of monoculture tree plantations in the south of Chile has resulted in huge profits for forestry companies. But by radically altering environmental variables such as water, soil quality or biodiversity, these companies are digging their own graves in the long term because the deterioration of the land augurs an irreversible downturn in its own timber production within a couple of decades.

Laudato Si’ reminds us that we live in a common and shared home, one that we have not inherited from our parents, but rather that we have borrowed from our children.  To think that all elements of this home can be administered under the philosophy of possessive individualism condemns us to destroy our own habitat.  In the long run it’s like cutting the tree branch upon which we are sitting. But there is still time for us to avoid the fall.

Collaboration: Álvaro Ramis Olivos, Doctor in ethics and democracy. University of Santiago, Chile.

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