From perverse resignation to re-signing to action, a message from Pope Francis to COP 23 leaders and delegates

By Xavier Jeyaraj SJ

(This article first appeared at http://www.ecojesuit.com)

On 16 November, Pope Francis sent an official message to the delegates of COP23 gathered in Bonn,  Germany.  He warned world leaders of destructive climate change, reiterating what he powerfully stated in his encyclical Laudato Si’, not to fall victims of “four perverse attitudes” that can easily cause irreversible damage to the future of our planet: “denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in inadequate solutions.” (LS 14)

The four perverse attitudes about which the Pope reminded the leaders as well as each one of us are very important and timely reminders, especially when some of the leaders have decided to withdraw from the Paris climate accord while others keep speaking loudly although doing very little.

Of these four perverse attitudes, I would like to reflect on the question of “resignation.”  The Pope in his encyclical speaks of “nonchalant resignation.”  In other words, this means unconcerned resignation to which most of us can often fall victims.  We say, “I cannot do anything,” “What can I do as an individual to change?” “My actions are just a drop in the ocean,” etc.  Probably many of us may rationalise and justify our inaction by resignation to what we claim powerlessness to do anything.

I think there are two other pernicious forms of resignation, namely sophisticated resignation and uncomfortable resignation.

Sophisticated resignation is what some of the learned and the well-informed political leaders often resort to, knowing very well that they hold the power and responsibility to transform the situation for the better.  Yet they claim inability to do so, citing various vague reasons.  This is a deliberate ploy to keep others in ignorance while favouring their personal and ulterior economic and political interests.  In their position as leaders who make policies, they even use every means to deny the facts and instead spread false information even when calamities happen.  Their concern is not to change policies for the better but to accumulate more personal wealth for themselves and their resource-plundering cronies and protect the activities which produce enormous wealth.  They think only of becoming wealthy rather than the future of the world and of future generations.  This form of hypocritical resignation is something similar to the denial of truth by the Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ time.

Xavier Jeyaraj (in the middle), in an Ecojesuit table discussion with Pedro Walpole and Jose Ignacio Garcia.

The third category of resignation is what we may call uncomfortable resignation where majority of the poor and indigenous are often driven to when in fact, they are never happy to resign themselves to the situation in which they live.  But they have no option and no possibility to make the change while indigenous communities live in their cultural context.  Both groups become victims of government structure [politicians, the law, and police] and den theiiedr right to natural resources. Though bitterly opposed to and uncomfortable with the decision made by unscrupulous leaders, they have no option but to be resigned to their fate.  The indigenous are the most vulnerable and are deliberately marginalised or accused of being anti-national when they protest.

What can we do to sensitize these three groups of people?

  1. to those who are in unconcerned resignation – educate, motivate and encourage them to take simple actions, however small it may be, through change of lifestyles, inviting them to join groups that are making changes
  2. to those who resort to sophisticated resignation – raise questions, challenge and disturb their conscience, just as Jesus did to the sophisticated Pharisees and the religious and political leaders
  3. to those who are left to uncomfortable resignation – accompany, educate, offer hope and encourage them to demand their rights and support them in every possible way, in their struggle to prevent environmental damage.

As Pope Francis shared with the COP23 leaders, if the transition to a zero-carbon model of economic development is to be made, then “it is increasingly necessary to pay attention to education and lifestyles based on an integral ecology, capable of taking on a vision of honest research and open dialogue,” “encouraging solidarity and leveraging the strong links between combating climate change and poverty…bearing in mind the needs of the most vulnerable populations.”

Any form of resignation can only lead us to deeper frustration and depression.  We must only re-sign (follow or affirm once again) to act collectively to build a better universe for everyone, including “our brother sun and sister moon.”

Xavier Jeyaraj SJ is the Secretary for Social Justice and Ecology in the General Curia of the Society of Jesus in Rome, Italy.  He can be reached through his email: sjesdir(at)sjcuria.org.

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