Magazine article Commonweal

Think Papally, Act Locally: Of Encyclicals & Recyclables

Magazine article Commonweal

Think Papally, Act Locally: Of Encyclicals & Recyclables

Article excerpt

When Pope Francis says, "compulsive consumerism," I hear, "enough is enough." But what's enough? Francis admits he's no bean counter, so I turned to The Economics of Enough by the economist Diane Coyle. Francis and Coyle don't speak the same language, but they address the same problem. The "haves" need to recalibrate our over-use of the world's resources. Coyle, considering the long-term consequences of our rate of consumption, examines how to reduce the use of water, trees, soil, air, minerals, etc., so that future generations will have enough. Coyle's proposals are economic and statistical: change the way we measure, regulate, and allocate. In Laudato si', Francis looks at the big picture too, but his response is moral and pastoral: examine our consciences, rethink our needs, learn to share. Coyle's solutions are macroeconomic: systemic change by governments and institutions. Francis wouldn't disagree, but his words tend toward the microeconomic: systematic change by individuals and families in how we use our resources, for example, buying, eating, and disposing of our garbage.

Consider the garbage.

Other places in the United States are far better at recycling than New York City (where I live), but over the past decade, I've seen a modest merger of macro and micro in "separating refuse"--as Francis puts it. In a city as large as New York, recycling is not uncomplicated. Some measures are mandatory, others voluntary; some people do it, some don't. But laws have been passed, regulations issued, and garbage trucks have been reallocated. The macros in place, the system is expanding. Once only newspapers were recycled. Gradually magazines, junk mail, and cardboard were added; now pizza boxes can go into the bin shared by five apartments in our back hall. Directly next to it is another container for plastic and glass, milk cartons, juice containers, and bottles (but corks? …

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