ROME – Famously, Elvis Presley once sang of his desire for “a little less conversation, a little more action, please.” On Monday, speaking not of romance but urgent global problems such as hunger, war and climate change, Pope Francis issued more or less the same plea.
Among other things, he urged nations to uphold the Paris Agreement on climate change, which he helped inspire with his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’.
“Unfortunately, some are moving away from it,” he said in an adress to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome.
Though the pope gave no names, the reference includes the United States, as President Donald Trump announced June 1 that the country would not be upholding commitments made in 2015 to reduce man-made climate change.
(There have been some rumors that under the right conditions, the U.S. might reengage in the global effort to reduce greenhouse gases. Yet Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted on Sept. 16: “Our position on the Paris agreement has not changed. @POTUS has been clear, US withdrawing unless we get pro-America terms.”)
On Monday, Francis also said that contrary to what many believe, population control measures, or “reducing the number of mouths to feed,” won’t resolve the problem. Instead of this “fake solution,” he said, the world needs to share, which “implies a conversion.”
According to FAO estimates, a third of the food produced in the world is wasted annually, meaning close to 1.3 billion tons. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons).
“For this reason, I ask myself, and also you: Would it be exaggerated to introduce in the language of international cooperation the category of love, conjugated as gratitude, equality of treatment, solidarity, the culture of gift, fraternity, mercy?” he said, adding that these words express the practical meaning of the word “humanitarian,” often used in the international community.
Loving your neighbor, the pope said, is an evangelical principle, but one that is also expressed in many cultures and religions, becoming a principle of humanity in the language of international relations.
Diplomacy and multilateral institutions, Francis told FAO, need to “nurture and organize this capacity to love,” because it’s the path that guarantees not only food security but also human security.
“We cannot act only if others do, nor limit ourselves to pity, because pity is limited to emergency aid, while love inspires justice,” the Argentine pontiff said.
“To love means to contribute so that each country can increase production and reach a food self-sufficiency,” he said. “To love translates into thinking about new models of development and consumption, and to adopt policies that do not worsen the situation of the least developed populations or their external dependence. To love means not to continue dividing the human family among those who enjoy the superfluous and those who lack what is necessary.”
The management of human mobility, Francis said, requires a coordinated and systematic intergovernmental action in accordance with existing international standards, and “impregnated with love and intelligence.”
Diplomatic commitment, he explained, has shown that it’s possible to stop the access to weapons of mass destruction, because the world has acknowledged the damage they can do. Francis then posed a question to those gathered, including the Secretaries of Agriculture of the G7, “Are we equally conscious of the effects of poverty and exclusion?”
No barrier, either physical, economic, legislative or ideologic can stop those who desperately seek survival, because they lack access to food or are victims of violence and climate change, Francis said.
The pope also said “the yoke of misery” generated by migrants’ displacement can be eliminated through consistent prevention. This, he said, “costs a lot less than the effects caused by land degradation or water pollution, which flagellate the neuralgic zones of the planet, where poverty is the only law, the diseases increase and life expectancy decreases.”
To overcome conflict, one of the roots of migration, according to Francis, international law offers keys to prevent them or resolve them quickly. But “Good will and dialogue” are needed, as well as a “total commitment in favor of a gradual and systematic disarmament.
“What is the point of denouncing that, because of conflict, millions of people are victims of hunger and malnutrition, if we do not act effectively in the interests of peace and disarmament?” he said.
Regarding climate change, Francis said that scientific knowledge has given us tools to solve the problems, and the international community has come together in Paris to try to address it. However, “negligence towards the delicate equilibrium of the ecosystems, the presumption of manipulating and controlling the planet’s limited resources, the greed of profit, reappear.”
Fighting conflict and climate change, the pope said, are two given issues in any speech on food security related to the phenomenon of migration: “It is clear that wars and climate change lead to hunger, so let’s avoid presenting it as an incurable disease.”
Food resources, Francis said, are often exposed to speculation, related to the economic profit of the large producers and tied to consumption estimates, and not the real needs of the population. “In this way, conflicts and wastefulness are favored, and the number of the last ones of the earth that seek a future far from their territories of origin increases.”
Towards the end of his remarks, Francis said that the Church, knowing the situation on the ground, wants to participate in this global effort to fight hunger, “in virtue of her mission.”
At the end of his remarks, Francis received a standing ovation. During his visit to FAO, Francis also gave the organization a marble statute commemorating Aylan Kurdi, a 3-year old refugee boy drowned on Sept. 2015 while crossing the Mediterranean Sea.
Later on Monday, the Vatican released the inscription Francis left in the guestbook at FAO. It read: “‘For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat.’ On this, we will be judged. I thank FAO for the enormous efforts it’s made.”