Environment: Twelve key ideas from Pope Francis

The encyclical Laudato Si (2015) Pope Francis, addressed to “every person” who lives on Earth (3), covers many known issues related to environmental ethics, but also discusses innovative aspects with respect to conventional literature. Instead of preparing a comprehensive analysis, I have synthesized some ideas that I feel are significant, while also keeping the enterprise in mind (with encyclical reference numbers in parentheses).

Pope Francis Environment Laudato Si. Pope Francis visits the Typhoon Yolanda victims in one of the areas in Palo, Leyte earlier today, January 17, 2015. Source: Malacanang Photo Bureau. Author: Benhur Arcayan
Pope Francis visits the Typhoon Yolanda victims in one of the areas in Palo, Leyte earlier today, January 17, 2015. Source: Malacanang Photo Bureau. Author: Benhur Arcayan

The first five are conceptual. They explain how the Pope interprets the ecology and philosophy underlying his proposals.

1. The Earth is our common home, inhabited by the human family (1, 52). Therefore it is not merely a large ecosystem that we are immersed in and whose safeguarding is of interest to all. The concept of home indicates a beloved and shared space, where the family lives and feels a sense of belonging, with the responsibility of caring for and keeping it in good condition. In this “common home” the inhabitants are the people that the Pope describes as the “human family.”

2. Environmental issues include human beings. Ecological problems include the growing pollution of air, water and soil, the accumulation of garbage and the throwaway culture, climate change, water scarcity, and loss of biodiversity, as well as the destruction of the human environment, causing problems such as deteriorating quality of human life, social degradation, global inequality and the weakening of human relations (5, 16, 20-59, 152). A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. (91)

3. Nature has to be seen as a creation and a book where God speaks to us; a magnificent book that grants us a glimpse of the beauty and goodness of God (12, 117, 138). A product of the love of God where every creature has a value and a meaning and where all beings are interconnected (76, 240).

4. With the ecological problems lies human responsibility: There are sins against creation (6, 8). Culture and socioeconomic structures also have their influence, but ultimately ecological problems depend on the behavior of human beings (6). The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life (2).

5. There is a close relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet (16). It is the poor who are most affected by pollution, water shortages, the overconsumption of natural resources and uncontrolled landfills (20, 25, 29, 48, 51).

The next three are ethical criteria:

6. There is a natural order in the environment and in human life that must be respected (20). The Earth precedes us and has been given to us; human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world (68). The Pope suggests that the time has come to pay renewed attention to reality and the limits it imposes; this in turn is the condition for a more sound and fruitful development of individuals and society (116).

7. The earth is essentially a shared inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. (93). With a proper understanding of the Bible, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship of Mother Earth , not as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will (2, 116). Concern for future generations, and the resulting intergenerational solidarity must coexist alongside an intragenerational solidarity with today’s poor (159, 162).

8. We must recognize an “ecological debt,” particularly between the North and the South, generated over time with local ecological damage related to exports of raw materials, commercial imbalances and global pollution created by developed countries.

Lastly, four ideas framed as criteria for action:

9. It is essential to promote an “integral ecology”: environmental, economic and social (5, 16, 124, 138ff). Situations cannot be analyzed by isolating only one aspect, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible.” Integral ecology, which must be lived out joyfully and authentically, includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, etc. (6) and, in particular, the value of labor (124).

10. It is necessary to restore a deeper vision of nature and recognize the value of every creature (14, 16, 60, 113, 144), transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human (11). Uniform regulations and technical interventions are not enough (144).

11. Ecological solutions must include dialogue, institutional and individual actions, and a return to culture and spirituality (14, 142, 163). Social ecology gradually extends to the whole of society, from the primary social group, the family, to the wider local, national and international communities. Individual actions include small everyday actions, education, creativity and pressure on those who hold political, economic and social power (211, 181, 206). Respect must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their interior life and spirituality (63).

12. We need an authentic “ecological conversion” and to “develop a different lifestyle” (203-208; 216ff), free from the obsession with consumption (222). Ecological conversion should inspire us to greater creativity and enthusiasm in resolving the world’s problems, not to understand our superiority as a reason for personal glory or irresponsible dominion, but rather as a different capacity which, in its turn, entails a serious responsibility stemming from our faith (220). It includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, contemplating the Creator, who lives among us and surrounds us (225).

While this is obviously a very condensed synthesis and many points call for elaboration and further analysis, my hope is that it will serve as a worthy introduction.

2 thoughts on “Environment: Twelve key ideas from Pope Francis

  1. Congrats for the summary. Pope’s messages give us a complete vision of the situation, without forgetting how is the mankind role in the Earth.

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