Pope Francis pens a preface to an Italian book by Gaël Giraud and Carlo Petrini entitled “The taste to change. The ecological transition as the path to happiness” (Slow Food Editore and Libreria Editrice Vaticana), which was published this week.
The good that appears as beautiful carries with it the reason why it must be done. This is the first thought that arose for me after reading this beautiful dialogue between Carlo Petrini, whom I have known and esteemed for years, a gastronome and activist known all over the world, and Gaël Giraud, a Jesuit economist whose contributions I have recently appreciated in La Civiltà Cattolica, where he writes qualified articles on economics, finance and climate change.
Why this connection? Because reading this text generated in me a real ‘taste’ of the beautiful and the good, that is, a taste of hope, of authenticity, of the future. What the two authors bring forward in this exchange is a sort of ‘critical narration’ with respect to the global situation: on the one hand, they elaborate a reasoned and compelling analysis of the economic-food model in which we are immersed, which, to borrow a writer’s famous definition, ‘knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’; on the other hand, they propose several constructive examples, established experiences, singular stories of care for the common good and the commons that open the reader to a look of goodness and trust on our time. Criticism of what is wrong, stories of positive situations: one with the other, not one without the other.
I would like to highlight a significant fact: the fact that in these pages Petrini and Giraud, one a 70-year-old activist, the other a 50-year-old economics professor, i.e. two adults, find in the new generations established reasons for trust and hope. Usually we adults complain about young people, indeed we repeat that the ‘past’ times were certainly better than this troubled present, and that those who come after us are squandering our achievements. Instead, we must admit with sincerity that it is the young people who embody the change we all objectively need. It is they who are asking us, in various parts of the world, to change. Change our lifestyle, so predatory towards the environment. Change our relationship with the Earth’s resources, which are not infinite. Change our attitude towards them, the new generations, from whom we are stealing the future. And they are not only asking us, they are doing it: taking to the streets, demonstrating their dissent from an economic system that is unfair to the poor and an enemy of the environment, seeking new ways forward. And they are doing it starting from the everyday: making responsible choices about food, transport, consumption.
Young people are educating us on this! They are choosing to consume less and experience interpersonal relationships more; they are careful to buy objects produced following strict rules of environmental and social respect; they are imaginative in using collective or less polluting means of transport. For me, seeing that these behaviours are spreading to become common practice is cause for consolation and confidence. Petrini and Giraud often refer to youth movements that, in different parts of the world, advance the demands of climate justice and social justice: the two aspects must be kept together, always.
The two authors point to operational paths for sustainable economic development and criticise the concept of prosperity that is in vogue today. The one according to which GDP is an idol to which every aspect of living together is sacrificed: respect for the environment, respect for rights, respect for human dignity. I was very impressed that Gaël Giraud reconstructed the way in which historically GDP has established itself as the only parameter to judge the health of a nation’s economy. He states that this happened during the Nazi era and that the reference point was the arms industry: GDP has a ‘war’ origin, we could say. So much so that this is why the work of women housewives has never been counted: because their efforts do not serve the war. Another proof of how urgent it is to get rid of this economistic perspective, which seems to despise the human side of the economy, sacrificing it on the altar of profit as the absolute yardstick.
The nature of this book is also doubly interesting. First, because it takes place in the form of a dialogue. This is something I think it is important to emphasise. It is the confrontation that enriches us, not the standing firm on our positions. It is conversation that becomes an opportunity for growth, not fundamentalism that bars the way to novelty. It is debate that matures us, not the hermetic certainty that we are always ‘in the right’. Even and especially when we talk about the search for truth. Blessed Pierre Claverie, Bishop of Oran, martyr, said: ‘You do not possess the truth, and I need the truth of others’. Let me add: the Christian knows that he does not conquer the truth, but rather it is he who is ‘conquered’ by the Truth, which is Christ himself. This is why I strongly believe that the practice of dialogue, confrontation and encounter is today what is most urgently needed to be taught to the new generations, starting from children, so as not to foster the construction of personalities locked in the narrowness of their own convictions.
Secondly, the two interlocutors – wisely stimulated by the editor – represent different points of view and cultural origins: Carlin Petrini, who defines himself as an agnostic and with whom I have already had the joy of dialoguing for another text; Gaël Giraud, a Jesuit. But this objective fact does not prevent them from carrying on an intense and constructive conversation that becomes the manifesto of a plausible future for our society and our planet itself, so threatened by the nefarious consequences of a destructive, colonialist and domineering approach to creation.
A believer and an agnostic speak and meet, albeit from different positions, on different aspects that our society must take on board in order for the world’s tomorrow to be still possible: it seems to me something beautiful! And it is even more so because, in the unfolding of the discussion between the two interlocutors, there emerges clearly the conviction of the decisive importance of the one word of Jesus, recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, not found in the Gospels: ‘There is more joy in giving than in receiving’. Yes, because when the two interlocutors find in consumption driven to excess and in waste elevated to a system the evil of contemporary life, and identify in altruism and fraternity the true conditions for living together to be lasting and peaceful, they prove that the perspective of Jesus is fruitful and a place of life for all men and women. For those who have a horizon of faith and for those who do not. Human fraternity and social friendship, anthropological dimensions to which I dedicated my last encyclical, Fratelli Tutti, must increasingly become the concrete and operational basis of our relationships, on a personal, community and political level.
The horizon of concern on which Petrini and Giraud focus their attention is the truly critical environmental situation in which we find ourselves, the child of that ‘economy that kills’ and which has caused the suffering cry of the Earth and the distressing and anguished cry of the world’s poor. In the face of the news that reaches us daily – droughts, environmental disasters, forced migrations because of the climate – we cannot remain indifferent: we would be accomplices in the destruction of the beauty that God wanted to give us in the creation that surrounds us. All the more so because in this way that ‘very good’ gift that the Creator forged from water and dust, man and woman, will perish. Let us face it: the reckless economic development to which we have given in is causing climatic imbalances that are weighing on the shoulders of the poorest, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. How can we close the doors to those who are fleeing, and will flee, unsustainable environmental situations, the direct consequences of our immoderate consumerism?
I believe that this book is a precious gift, because it shows us a road and the concrete possibility of following it, at an individual, community and institutional level: the ecological transition can represent an area in which we all, as brothers and sisters, take care of the common house, betting on the fact that by consuming fewer things and living more personal relationships we will enter the door of our happiness.
Vatican City, 11 April 2023
With thanks to Vatican News and Pope Francis, where this article originally appeared.