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Life Arts    H4'ed 9/1/15

The Pope's Eco-Encyclical and Mario Vargas Llosa's New Book (REVIEW ESSAY)

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Paragraph 57: "What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?"

Paragraph 60: "[T]here is no one path to a solution. . . . [But] the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view."

No doubt Pope Francis has mastered the intricacies of climate change.

No doubt the pope's call to action is reasonable and urgent.

On page xiii, Professor Oreskes correctly notes that Pope Francis does not use the term "capitalism" in his eco-encyclical. No doubt the pope was wise not to use the term "capitalism" in his eco-encyclical, because he is not advancing an alternative economic system to replace capitalism. Instead, he is expressing a wide range of criticisms of various problems that he sees as somehow connected with capitalism.

Instead of using the term "capitalism," Pope Francis refers to markets and the ideology of the marketplace.

Professor Oreskes says, "The pope is not asking us to reject markets or technology. He is asking us to reject the (il)logic that insists that only markets can decide our future and that technology is politically and morally neutral. He is asking us to reject the creed of market fundamentalism" (page xxiv).

As Professor Oreskes explains, Pope Francis is asking us "to recognize that the [economic] system has levers [and that] individuals, institutions, and governments . . . have the capacity to make different [choices regarding those levers]" (page xxiv).

During Pope Francis' visit to the United States in late September, he will most likely reiterate his call for action on climate change, and he will probably amplify certain points from his eco-encyclical.

However, in light of Vargas Llosa's grim characterizations of the frivolity and superficiality of American culture (but of course not just American culture), it is hard for me to imagine that the parts of the pope's eco-encyclical about the throwaway culture of consumerism will strike a responsive chord with very many Americans. But I may be wrong about that.

The Pope Francis' eco-encyclical contains a sweeping critique of many different things, as does Vargas Llosa's new book.

In the pope's upcoming address to the Congress and in his upcoming address to the United Nations, I hope that he sharpens his focus on his call for action on climate change. At approximately 38,000 words in length, his eco-encyclical is far too long and far too wide-ranging to galvanize action, even though it is clearly intended to be a call to action.

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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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