Big events, pollution and the need for pragmatic coherence.
Rome, 13th of August. The Circus Maximus, an ancient Roman chariot-racing stadium, is riddled with rubbish, with envelopes of food and drinks, cans, paper, plastic, flyers, stubs, organic waste and wipes thrown in the grass.
But this is not the umpteenth concert, this is not bad administration by the Municipality.
This is the trace of the unsuspecting “Papaboys”, the 70000 young Catholics who converged from all over Italy to meet the Pope on the 11th of August. And it is so consistent that two days later AMA, the municipal environmental agency, is still working to remove the 10 tons of trash, although there were 30 garbage cans and 45 porta-potties at disposal of the participants.
The same happened in Tor Vergata on the 5th of May for the 50 years of the Neocatechumenal Way, but unfortunately because of the location it almost went ignored and did not cause scandal. This time instead, many news agencies and media mildly denounced the environmental impact of the event on such a beautiful archaeological site, while the religious press only celebrated the number of people who took part and the importance of the Pope’s message.
But if we consider Bergoglio’s words, it must also be remembered that in 2015 he clearly wrote in the encyclical “Laudato si’” (Praise be to you, my Lord) that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.” And he insisted on the need “to protect those common areas, visual landmarks and urban landscapes which increase our sense of belonging, of rootedness, of “feeling at home” within a city which includes us and brings us together.”
So how is it possible with such a strong theoretical conviction that he allowed his herd to leave all that trash on the ground of the Circus?
Considering his role and his charismatic figure, able to attract thousands of people, to encourage the pilgrimage to Rome and to make them remain under the sun for hours, it seems absurd that he is not capable of asking them to collect what they have used and recycle or throw the waste in the right bin. There is a substantial difference between preaching and providing a concrete example of good behavior and a lack of the latter makes everything less credible.
But let’s assume that he is not responsible for the environmental impact of the manifestation. How is it possible that the organisation did not foresee the eventual negative effects and did not provide biodegradable or reusable containers for the food and gadget given?
What is startling, in fact, is that these simple solutions have been promoted by the Church itself when the Pope criticised the limits of the technocratic and scientific paradigms in the protection of the environment. In his opinion, to fight against the pervasive throwaway culture it is necessary to foster spirituality and Christian virtuous values which thanks to “education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper […]. Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.”
These are beautiful words, but, again, the immense discrepancy between what is said and what is done either discourages to put effort into an ecological lifestyle or encourages to look for solutions rooted in pragmatism. Bergoglio candidly discredited materialism and arid scientism as not enough to face the environmental challenges, but in this way the concrete efforts are somehow discredited, although often working and efficacious in their coherence between the scope and the practical realisation.
An example is represented by the decision of the British Embassy in Rome to use Novamont’s products (plates, glasses, placemats, cutlery, trays and clingfilm) made of MATER-BI compostable bioplastics for the 2000 guests of the Queen’s Birthday Party of June 14, respecting May’s Government initiatives on plastic pollution.
Thus, avoiding risky hypocrisy and descending from the transcendent dimension, there are thousands of very feasible alternatives or ways to cooperate for the same goal even with different perspectives. That is why it is fundamental to talk about what happened and to foster dialogue among religious and secular counterparts so that those problems are not sunk into oblivion, the mistakes are analysed and next time a sustainable approach can be developed for an effective ecology embracing one ideology or the other or positive elements from both of them.