The full title of Pope Francis’s encyclical is Encyclical Letter Laudati Si’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for our Common Home. In the first of 246 paragraphs he quotes a beautiful canticle, from Saint Francis of Assisi:
- “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.
Then in paragraph two:
- This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. 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. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).
Pope Francis is addressing the whole of humanity, not just the faithful, about care for our total physical environment.
Pope Francis urges the rich to change their lifestyles to avert the destruction of the ecosystem.
- He criticises what he calls a “collective selfishness”, but says that there is still time to stop the damage, calling for an end to consumerism and greed.
Austen Ivereigh, who has written a biography of the pope, says:
- “Francis has made it not just safe to be Catholic and green; he’s made it obligatory.”
- “It captures his deep disquiet about the direction of the modern world, the way technology and the myth of progress are leading us to commodify human beings and exploit nature. This comes right out of his soul.”
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the document, saying climate change was a “moral issue requiring respectful dialogue with all parts of society”. Two Republican presidential candidates have rejected it. More are sure to follow.
- Cardinal Peter Turkson, the pope’s top official on social and justice issues, flatly rejected arguments by some conservative politicians in the US that the pope ought to stay out of science.
Francis, who was elected in 2013 and has put social justice and reform of the church at the heart of his papacy, said on Thursday that his text should not be read as a green manifesto, but instead as a social teaching.
The Pope will shortly travel to the US to speak before the UN and address a joint sitting of Congress.
At RealClimate Brigitte Knopf, as a non-Catholic and non-believer, finds the encyclical highly relevant. She says the Pope “has presented a pioneering political analysis with great explosive power, which will probably determine the public debate on climate change, poverty and inequality for years to come.”
She finds three aspects particularly noteworthy:
1. it is based unequivocally on the scientific consensus that global warming is taking place and that climate change is man-made; it rejects the denial of anthropogenic warming;
- 2. it unmasks the political and economic structures of power behind the climate change debate and stresses the importance of non-state actors in achieving change; and
- 3. it defines the atmosphere and the environment as a common good rather than a “no man’s land”, available for anyone to pollute. This underlines that climate change is strongly related to the issues of justice and property rights.
The fair management of the global commons is one of the most important tasks of the 21st century, and can only be successful if a large number of actors across different levels of governance, ranging from global, to regional and local, link up together.
Hans Joachim (John) Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, Germany, emphasises individual responsibility as well as forming alliances to find common ground in his speech at the Vatican press conference to launch the encyclical. Inter alia he tells us that the consumption of the rich rather than the mass of the poor is destroying the planet.
- As has been pointed out in the Encyclical, it is not possible to address climate change and poverty consecutively, in either order. It is indispensable to confront them simultaneously, as human development is deeply intertwined with the services the Earth provides.
Schellnhuber goes on to point out in concrete detail what is happening to the planet and what we need to do.
Sophie Yeo at Carbon Brief rounds up reaction to the encyclical and its premature leaking.
See also her In-depth: the science behind the papal encyclical, which includes a history of the document, including initial moves made by Pope Benedict.
At The Conversation:
- Massimo Faggioli: It’s the ecology, stupid: pope’s encyclical shakes up US politics