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Laudato Si’ and the Papal View of Ecological Debt: An Empirical Exploration



In 2015, Pope Francis released his second papal encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home (Francis, 2015), the central idea of which is the Holy Father’s concern for the future of our planet, our common home, and to seek sustainable and integral development. The purpose of this article is to examine critically and empirically the specific notion of ecological debt as described in the encyclical (Francis, 2015: 51 and 52), beginning with a historical background on the origins and use of the term. We then touch upon the Pope’s discussion of ecological debt and his indictment of multinational corporations (MNCs) in Laudato Si’, which resonate with the so-called pollution haven hypothesis (PHH) which states that pollutionintensive industries in developed countries relocate their “dirty” industries to developing countries with relatively lax environmental regulations. In a similar vein, we propose that a rise in total greenhouse gases is associated with the resource extraction and commodity export-based activities of MNCs in developing countries where such activities and their resultant pollution are subject to less stringent regulations due to imperatives for economic growth. This creates an ecological debt when commodity exports from developing countries to more developed ones come at the cost of the environment in the former. Our article thus connects Laudato Si’ with PHH, enabling us to examine empirically the Pope’s statement that the “export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized North has caused harm locally” (Francis, 2015: 51).


ecological debt; developing country commodity exports; pollution havens

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.13185/JM2017.05114