The missing part in the European Green Deal


Editorial June 2021


A circular economy will require a transformation of everyday life. Few will argue with this statement but this particular truism needs closer attention. The European Green Deal singles out four industries – textiles, construction, electronic equipment and plastics. It also speaks of a ‘farm to fork’ policy for food. If the circular economy is to become a reality virtually everything in our daily lives will become the object of detailed regulation – the clothes we wear, the buildings in which we work and live, the equipment we use in both work and play, the containers and bags, the food. This will involve an intrusive supervision which goes beyond anything imagined in the darkest science fiction. 


It does, of course, have one crucial redeeming feature. We need to do this if we are to care for our planet and the future generations but this will only happen if something is awakened in us – a sense of adult generosity. Solidarity is first and foremost a human experience in which we recognise in one another a common willingness to contribute to a worthwhile project.

The European Green Deal talks of the citizen as one who must be protected and that is certainly a basic task of government. It speaks of the need for dialogue with citizens in analysing the challenges and designing the solutions by which they can be overcome. Yet it fails to address citizens as responsible adults with a sense of generous goodwill. Both everyday life and political structures depend on this human reality which we admire, when we see it in others. Without this positive and likeable aspect of human nature the transformation to a circular economy will be a hell of conflicting interests.

In recent decades political leaders have become used to dealing with citizens as people with interests and nothing more – a bit like customers. Public life has come to be seen as a kind of market place where competing groups pursue their interests. This has left political leaders disabled. They have no way of appealing to that sense of generous goodwill on which public life itself depends. The philosopher Hannah Arendt speaks of pathos as a factor in political leadership. It is founded on an appeal to a shared vulnerability which, in its turn, makes people aware of the need for solidarity. 

Given the nature of the crisis we face, politicians will need to look beyond the self-interest of citizens. It is patronising and depressing to be given the message that it is in our interest to save the planet, as if that is all we are capable of in response to the greatest threat ever to the future of humanity.


Edmond Grace

Edmond Grace SJ
Secretary for Ecology