For Cardinal Peter Turkson of Rome, the chance to visit Silicon Valley during his recent short U.S. visit was too good to pass up.
Turkson is the Vatican’s President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and a top authority on the contents of Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical Laudato Si. He recently reworked his travel itinerary to accept an invitation to serve as the keynote speaker for Santa Clara University’s November 3-4 conference on climate change, the Pope’s encyclical and Silicon Valley. The event was also attended by San Jose Bishop Patrick McGrath and Stockton Bishop Stephen Blaire.
Cardinal Turkson’s comments during his keynote and several small gatherings throughout the day made it clear that he views Silicon Valley as a beacon of hope for progress for the poor, and for solving the environmental crisis. But he also sees it as a region in need of reflection on its own role in creating the crisis.
“The world is expecting you, in this unique place of the Planet, here in Silicon Valley, to ask bold and avant-garde questions about the future,” said Turkson.
The Cardinal noted that Pope Francis, in his June encyclical, raised vital questions about whether technology is proliferating to serve the common good or for the self-interest of the few. He also asked how much consideration is given to the detrimental impact of technology – such as destructive mining for tech minerals in countries like China; technology as a tool of remote-control warfare, or the environmental impact from rampant consumer consumption that technology enables.
“How will the Internet get beyond rampant consumerism and become a space of discussion, production and solidarity?” Turkson challenged a packed audience for his speech in the Mission Church. “Moreover, how will Silicon Valley spearhead the right cultural, technological and economic environment for a carbon-free civilization?”
“The Pope’s approach is a balanced one,” said Turkson. “He does not call for a nostalgic reversal of history. He does not bemoan technological advance. He does decry the enormous but largely hidden power which technology bestows on those who control it along with the economy and finance.”
He would however, Turkson said, probably agree that in Silicon Valley “in the midst of so much creative technological thinking, there is far too little critical thinking about technology.”
Cardinal Turkson concluded with the entreaty “Having received nature from God the Creator as a gift and as a garden, let us bequeath it to those who come after us, not as a wilderness, but as a garden.”
His full prepared text is available for download at http://bit.ly/VRTurkson.