The Pope’s visit to the U.S., which begins today, has garnered much publicity, but the main event for which he is coming, the Sustainable Development Summit 2015, has not received much attention here. The purpose of what’s billed as the largest-ever gathering of heads of state is to extend the Millennium Development Goals, adopted in 1990, which were an important factor in substantially reducing worldwide hunger and poverty over the last 25 years by adopting new Sustainable Development Goals.
The environment takes a much more prominent position in the new goals. The 1990 goals included only one goal directly bearing on the environment: “Ensure Environmental Sustainability.” The new goals include several that are primarily environmental:
- Affordable and Clean Energy: Clean energy is the main solution to the global-warming problem.
- Sustainable Cities and Communities: Cities are part of the environment, too, especially since half the world’s population lives in cities, causing an enormous environmental impact.
- Sustainable Consumption and Production: Consumption multiplied by population is the root environmental problem, causing humanity to consume Earth’s resources at an unsustainably high rate.
- Climate Action: A call for “urgent action” on the highest-profile environmental issue.
- Life Below Water: Environmental issues in the oceans.
- Life On Land: Forests, desertification, and species loss.
The elephant in the room is population. For the last decade or two it’s been non-PC in environmental circles to target population, but the Earth can’t sustain the current population of 7, let alone the approximately 11 million souls the U.N. estimates the Earth will harbor in 2100.
We need to get together and manage the Earth as our home, the way a homeowner maintains a house. This is Practical Ecology. Right now, our common home is very badly maintained. It’s falling apart, the roof is leaking, too many people live there, it’s in danger of flooding and collapse. The Sustainable Development Goals seek to reverse this. The Pope’s recent call to action in Laudato Si’ is remarkably consistent with the Sustainable Development Goals, a point I expect him to make when he speaks at the U.N. on Friday.