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Panelists investigate relationship between poverty and sustainability

| Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Keough School of Global Affairs held an opening keynote panel for the Schools’s first conference, “For the Planet and the Poor,” on Monday.

The keynote included remarks from University President Fr. John Jenkins, followed by a panel of four speakers.

“No issues are more challenging, perhaps, or pressing than those we will discuss in coming days — care for the Earth’s environment, alleviating extreme poverty and achieving sustainable development,” Jenkins said. “In a world where differences in faith often lead to conflict and destruction, this dialogue draws us together as one human family in conversation about our common home. Let us make this conference a shinning example about how this dialogue about our world can draw us together in solidarity and common commitment.”

While the conference focuses on the complex issues, it is important to remember that all these problems are solvable, Jenkins said.

“An adequate response to the challenges before us will demand the very best science and technological innovation available,” Jenkins said. “It must call on experts to develop sophisticated and effective policies at the national and global level. It must influence governments and institutions around the world, yet it also must address the deeper moral, spiritual and theological questions about who we are individually and collectively — and who we want to be together.”

Scott Appleby, Marilyn Keough Dean of the Keough School of Global Affairs, said the inaugural conference was created to underscore the convergence of three current events.

“The first [event] is the promulgation of ‘Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home,’ Pope Frances’s bracing, widely discussed and debated encyclical, calling for nothing less than ethological and ecological convergence of all peoples and nations in response to a global crisis precipitated, the pope argues, by the intertwined dilemmas of rapid environmental degradation and unjust global economic practices, both of which take their largest toll on the poor,” he said.

The United Nation’s adaption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is the second event the conference emphasizes, Appleby said.

“[This goal] has an ambitious and comprehensive agenda to end poverty in all its forms, everywhere, eliminate hunger, ensure healthy lives, promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, build peaceful and inclusive societies, provide access for justice to all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels,” Appleby said. “And here, I mention only seven of the sixteen SDGs. And for the sake of brevity, I include the Paris Climate Agreements within this category of remarkable steps forward.”

The third event is the founding of the Keough School, Appleby said.

“The first new school or college established at Notre Dame in nearly a century, the Keough School aspires to become a recognized world leader in globally oriented research, teaching and the education of professionals dedicated to advancing sustainable development, the alleviation of poverty, good governance and the peaceful transformation of violent conflict,” Appleby said. “Notre Dame has never been shy in endeavoring to do great things with the dedicated people and plentiful resources that God has blessed this place with.”

Rev. Marcelo Sánchez Sorondo, chancellor of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences in the Vatican, also spoke at the conference. He highlighted the importance of science to the modern world.

“It is impossible to understand the modern world if we don’t understand science,” Sorondo said.

This merge of Catholic tradition with modern science is new and is breeding a special culture of philosophical and moral reflection within the Catholic faith, Sorondo said. One tangible example Catholics can look to when understanding this new doctrine is the pope’s acceptance of evolution, he said.

The pope agrees with the scientific community regarding climate change and is folding the scientific community’s unique respect and development of natural things into church teachings, according to Sorondo. The pope’s motivation lies in the beatitudes and the Gospel, he said.

In his address, Jeffery Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, said he wanted to focus on the economic implications of these programs.

“The economy needs to be surrounded by science and scientific realities, by ethics and faith, and then by learning,” Sachs said.“Because if you let the economy roam free … it can make a terrible mess. The economic part of this may be the smallest part of the story. That is because the result of 250 years of technological progress and economic development means that the economic parts of our story are probably the most solvable problems.”

A. Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, said it is economically feasible to implement programs that would alleviate the suffering of those living in abject poverty.

“We cannot have a home where one-third of our family is in poverty,” Rahman said. “No house would function if one-third of its members were in abject poverty.”

Sara Sievers, associate dean for policy and practice for the Keough School, said it is urgent to implement the programs described above.

“So if we have the opportunity because of this historic moment, and we have an urgency because, like it or not, this world is going to change, and it’s either going to change in a direction where we try to do something about it and succeed or where we let things run amuck and deal with problems in some sort of dystopian consequence,” she said. “But it is possible to get all these things done.”

Working together, Sachs said, is the only possible way to create solutions to these problems.

“We have an accurate view of what needs to be done. It gives us a spirt and a direction. So, we have our work cut out for us,” Sachs said. “The Keough School will make a profound difference — you are coming at exactly the right moment. The idea of a school of global affairs that takes on the challenges not only analytically but morally and spirituality, to turn to the learning and results is exactly what we need.”

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