Obscene waste

According to Pope Francis' Evangelii gaudium, in today's predominant culture the front line is occupied with exterior things, the visible, the speedy, the superficial, the provisional.

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According to Evangelii gaudium — the apostolic exhortation of Pope Francis, — in today's predominant culture the front line is occupied with exterior things, the visible, the speedy, the superficial, the provisional. And he explains that one of the causes of this is the relationship that we have established with money, since we have accepted as natural its prevalence over the person, over society. Having recognized this, we can say that one of its main consequences is irresponsible waste in distinct areas of life.  There is a waste of food, of water, of energy. There is waste in military expenses, in the assignment of public funds, in the dynamic drive of capitalism that gambles on production and consumption without limit. Waste in the world of sport and technology and in the lifestyle of the richer social groups and countries. Let's look at some data.


The United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO) calculates that the worldwide volume of wasted food is around 1,600 million tons and that only a small percentage of this waste is composted. A great part ends up in city dumps and represents a high percentage of solid urban waste. At the same time they report that the total volume of water employed to produce food that is lost or wasted is equivalent to the annual volume of the Volga River in Russia or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. In the production of this food, 1,400 million hectares are employed, equivalent to 28% of agricultural land in the world. The financial cost of this wasted food (excluding fish and shellfish) amounts to 750 million dollars annually.


With respect to the waste in military expenses, the data is scandalous. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, in 2014 military expenditure in the world amounted to 1,747 billion dollars.  The five major investors in defence were the United States, with 581,000 million dollars, China, 129,000 million, Saudi Arabia, 81,000 million, Russia, 70,000 million and the United Kingdom, 63,000 million dollars. On average, it is estimated that in the world two billion dollars per minute are spent on arms. This is an obscene figure if one considers the deprivation in which millions of human beings live, and the need for world peace demanded by peoples.


Meanwhile, the Spanish academic Adela Cortina has called the present epoch the "age of consumerism". And she explains that a consumerist society is not a society in which everyone consumes, because it is logical and evident that all people must consume in order to live. A consumerist society is one in which essentially superfluous goods are consumed. If this be true, the consumerist mentality leads to the useless and pernicious waste of resources. Hence the need to promote life styles oriented toward a reduction of consumption. The wasteful model is based on the constant generation of new needs, and therefore a reduction of the consumption of superfluous goods is essential for the road towards a sustainable society in which one can live better with fewer belongings. That is to say, simplicity as the alternative for the future. Or, as Mahatma Gandhi said, "we need to live simply so that others can simply live".


Another offensive waste is that of the field of Soccer among teams with millionaire budgets. According to World Soccer, in 2014, the annual salary of the ten best-paid players was more than 300 million dollars.  With this money one could finance, for example, two budgets for the payment of pensions in El Salvador (the present annual amount is 128 million dollars). In addition, the waste of public funds on infrastructure or social investment programmes that are badly planned and administered and end up as sources of corruption.  Another offensive waste is that shown by the very rich who spend part of their fortunes on extravaganzas.


Now, the inevitable question is how to counter the culture of waste and promote processes of a new culture of solidarity and austerity? That is to say, how to change individualist competitiveness for competent and cordial cooperation; the exclusive accumulation of wealth for the equitable access to goods that guarantee the satisfaction of basic needs; unlimited consumption for the rational use of resources. In a word, how to move from selfishness to a spirit of concord. We shall cite two texts that in their moment were critical and propositional in this sense and which are still pertinent with respect to values that represent a new lifestyle.


The first is from Robert Kennedy, brother of former President John F. Kennedy, who in a well-known discourse in the University of Kansas, in 1968, spoke of the difference between the GDP and interior happiness.


"Too much and for too long, we seemed to have surrendered personal excellence and community values in the mere accumulation of material things.  Our Gross National Product (…) counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage.  It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them.  (…)  It counts napalm and counts nuclear warheads and armored cars for the police to fight the riots in our cities. (…) Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education or the joy of their play.  It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages (…)  It measures neither our wit nor our courage, neither our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country, it measures everything in short, except that which makes life worthwhile.”


The second text is from Ignacio Ellacuria, who in proposing a radical change in civilization that goes to the root of the problems and in a direction contrary to the dominant order, speaks of a civilization:


"...where poverty will not be a privation of necessary and fundamental things due to the historical action of groups, social classes or nations, but a universal state of things in which the satisfaction of basic needs, the freedom of personal options and a field of personal and community creativity is guaranteed, allowing for the emergence of new forms of life and culture, new relations with nature, with the rest of humanity, with one's self and with God. [A civilization] that truly allows space for the spirit, that will not be smothered by the longing to have more than others, by the concupiscent longing to have all kinds of superfluous junk, while the greater part of humanity lacks basic needs.  Then the spirit can flower, with the immense spiritual and human wealth of the poor and the peoples of the Third World, today suffocated by extreme poverty and by the imposition of cultural modes that are more developed in some ways, but not more human for all of that".


(Translated by Jordan Bishop for ALAI)


- Carlos Ayala Ramírez is director of radio YSUCA, El Salvador


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