Pope Francis and The Environment

In his second Encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis makes the case in over 38,000 words, six chapters, and 245 paragraphs that we need to do something about the environmental crisis. The full text in a number of languages can be found here and I would urge anyone interested in either Pope Francis, or the environment, to take a look.

Maciej Grabowski, Polish Minister for the Environment
Maciej Grabowski, Polish Minister for the Environment

I heard about the Encyclical last week while in Warsaw where I was making a speech on the link between biodiversity and business and was eager to read the whole text. While it is impossible to condense such a work in under 700 words, I will make the attempt in the hope that people will download the full text and then make up their own mind about it.

Praise Be To You

After citing every Pope since John XXIII and referencing Patriarch Bartholomew and Saint Francis, The Pope appeals to “all people of good will” to open a new dialog and to build on the work done by the worldwide ecological movement. In the introduction to the Encyclical (14) he says:

“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”

While I neither have the necessary training nor place to comment on the theological aspects of the Encyclical, from an environmental perspective it is well structured and researched. Chapter One, for example, What Is Happening To Our Common Home touches on the same themes that this blog has been talking about about including:

  • Pollution and Climate Change
  • The Issue of Water
  • Loss of Biodiversity
  • Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society
  • Global Inequality
  • Weak Responses
  • Variety of Opinions

In the second Chapter of the Encyclical, The Gospel of Creation, Pope Francis explores the theological basis for bringing the church into the environmental debate and maintains that science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both” (62).

Chapter three, The Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis, is unambiguous in highlighting our role in creating the present situation. In this Chapter, the Encyclical calls out the tremendous progress that humanity has made in science and technology and highlights the power that such progress bestows on those who wield those technologies. What concerns Pope Francis, however, is that “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience“(105). The Chapter calls for a responsible use of science and technology and finds unacceptable an anthropocentrism which prizes technical thought and economic goals over real­ity.

In Chapter four, the Encyclical calls for an Integral Ecology which which clearly respects its human and social dimensions” (137). For Pope Francis, such an approach includes a number of different viewpoints including:

  • Environmental, Economic and Social Ecology
  • Cultural Ecology
  • Ecology of Daily Life
  • The Principal of the Common Good
  • Justice Between Generations

In chapter five, Lines of Approach and Action, Pope Francis spells out his call for a new dialogue which needs to include a discussion about the environment in the international community, include new national and local policies, introduce transparency in decision making, re-connect science to human development, and build an economy around the idea of human fulfillment.

Throughout the Encyclical, Pope Francis makes the point that the poor bear the brunt of the negative effects of pollution and climate change and many commentators have stressed the connection between his concern and commitment to the world’s poor as part of his motivation for writing the Encyclical in the first place.

The Encyclical ends with chapter 6, Ecological Education and Spirituality, which  amongst many ideas, signals out the Earth Charter which was developed at the end of the 1990s as a call to action for a “new beginning” (207).

Jeb Bush’s View

Jeb Bush
Jeb Bush

The former Governor of Florida was asked last week about the Encyclical before it was formerly published and reportedly responded “I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, less about things [that] end up getting into the political realm”.

What Governor Bush does not seem to get is that the planet’s ecological situation transcends politics as usual and requires real leadership.

While I am convinced that there is a compelling business case for increased environmental responsibility on the part of the business community, my guess is that the Pope’s message will help move things forward from a morale perspective for the world’s Catholics and people of good will  of all faiths.

3 thoughts on “Pope Francis and The Environment

  1. Pope Francis has not only made an impact in the Catholic world but appears to have inspired more than 380 American Rabbi’s to publish a much shorter letter on the environment calling for a new sense of “eco-social justice” to bring about “the healing of our planet”. While I do not agree with all of the points in the letter (such as its categoric opposition to shale gas) It is another step in creating a morale climate in which politicians and civil society can work to move things forward. You can find the full text and the list of Rabbis at (https://theshalomcenter.org/torah-pope-crisis-inspire-300-rabbis-call-vigorous-climate-action).

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