A 9-Minute Guide to Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change

Pope-FrancisCurious about the blockbuster out of the Vatican, but short on time to read all 42,000 words? Our 9-Minute Guide will help.

“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay…If we want to bring about deep change, we need to realize that certain mindsets really do influence our behaviour.”

On Thursday evening, Pope Francis issued Laudato si’ (Praise Be to You) On the care for our common home, his second encyclical, concerning Catholic doctrine with respect to climate change, consumerism, and development.

In calling Catholics and Catholic Church to renewed action on climate change and discussing its roots in and relation to human behavior and moral attitude, Pope Francis writes:

This sister [Earth] 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.”

In his letter, he takes on climate change, biodiversity, biotechnology, renewable energy, sustainable development — all, flowing from themes of human dignity, “the principle of the common good”, “justic between the generations”, stewardship of the earth, compassion, turning away from what he termed “the sin of indifference” and with a charge for professing Christians to reject financial and economic considerations as the sole criteria for development and use of the earth’s resources.

He said that:

“Environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.”

He added that:

“In any discussion about a proposed venture, a number of questions need to be asked in order to discern whether or not it will contribute to genuine integral development. What will it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how?”

He quoted Pope Benedict XVI’s Homily for the Solemn Inauguration of the Petrine Ministry: 

“The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”.

On Encyclicals

Pope Pius XII wrote: “if the Supreme Pontiffs in their acts, after due consideration, express an opinion on a hitherto controversial matter, it is clear to all that this matter, according to the mind and will of the same Pontiffs, cannot any longer be considered a question of free discussion among theologians.”

9-Minute Guide

For those who have not yet been able to complete or schedule in a full reading of the 42,000 word encyclical, we offer this 9-Minute set of excerpts which, we believe, reflect the themes of the complete letter, which you can read here.

ENCYCLICAL LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER FRANCIS: LAUDATO SI’  “ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME”.

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “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”.

2. 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.

Nothing in this world is indifferent to us

4. In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity:

5. Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”.

6. My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise [said]  “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”. Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour.

United by the same concern

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage we are called to acknowledge our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of creation.”

Saint Francis of Assisi

11. Saint Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human. His response to the world around him was so much more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists.

14. 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.

15. Convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.

CHAPTER ONE: WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME

18. The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”.

I. POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE

Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture

20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience…Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.

21. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources.  Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

22. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture.

Climate as a common good

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods.

26. Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.

III. LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY

32. The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production…Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.

33. It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

IV. DECLINE IN THE QUALITY OF HUMAN LIFE AND THE BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY

43. We cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.

44. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

46. These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline, the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.

V. GLOBAL INEQUALITY

49. Many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems.

50. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution.

52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned.

VI. WEAK RESPONSES

53. These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.

54. It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

VII. A VARIETY OF OPINIONS

60. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change.

CHAPTER TWO: THE GOSPEL OF CREATION

62. Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.

I. THE LIGHT OFFERED BY FAITH

64. Although this Encyclical welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we can seek paths of liberation, I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters.

II. THE WISDOM OF THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNTS

66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.

69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31).

III. THE MYSTERY OF THE UNIVERSE

82. It would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.

V. A UNIVERSAL COMMUNION

89. “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”.

92. When our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings. .

VI. THE COMMON DESTINATION OF GOODS

93. The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.

94. Rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and markets”.

95. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill” means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.

CHAPTER THREE: THE HUMAN ROOTS OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS

I. TECHNOLOGY: CREATIVITY AND POWER

102. Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads… It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”.

104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world.

105. There is a tendency to believe that every increase in power means “an increase of ‘progress’ itself”, an advance in “security, usefulness, welfare and vigour; …an assimilation of new values into the stream of culture”, as if reality, goodness and truth automatically flow from technological and economic power as such.

II. THE GLOBALIZATION OF THE TECHNOCRATIC PARADIGM

109. The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings. Finance overwhelms the real economy.

110. The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture. The fragmentation of knowledge proves helpful for concrete applications, and yet it often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon, which then becomes irrelevant.

114. Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

III. THE CRISIS AND EFFECTS OF MODERN ANTHROPOCENTRISM

Practical relativism

123. The culture of relativism is the same disorder which drives one person to take advantage of another; It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage.

New biological technologies

133. We need but recall that scientific developments in GM cereals began with the observation of natural bacteria which spontaneously modified plant genomes. In nature, however, this process is slow and cannot be compared to the fast pace induced by contemporary technological advances, even when the latter build upon several centuries of scientific progress.

134. In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners due to “the progressive disappearance of small producers, who, as a consequence of the loss of the exploited lands, are obliged to withdraw from direct production”. The most vulnerable of these become temporary labourers, and many rural workers end up moving to poverty-stricken urban areas.

136. On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos.

CHAPTER FOUR: INTEGRAL ECOLOGY

I. ENVIRONMENTAL, ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL ECOLOGY

141. Economic growth, for its part, tends to produce predictable reactions and a certain standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs. This suggests the need for an “economic ecology” capable of appealing to a broader vision of reality. The protection of the environment is in fact “an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it”.

II. CULTURAL ECOLOGY

144. A consumerist vision of human beings, encouraged by the mechanisms of today’s globalized economy, has a levelling effect on cultures, diminishing the immense variety which is the heritage of all humanity. Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community.

IV. THE PRINCIPLE OF THE COMMON GOOD

156. Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfilment”.

V. JUSTICE BETWEEN THE GENERATIONS

159. The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity.

161. Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.

CHAPTER FIVE: LINES OF APPROACH AND ACTION

I. DIALOGUE ON THE ENVIRONMENT IN THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY

165. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.

170. As the bishops of Bolivia have stated, “the countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused”.

171. The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide.

II. DIALOGUE FOR NEW NATIONAL AND LOCAL POLICIES

177. Political and institutional frameworks do not exist simply to avoid bad practice, but also to promote best practice, to stimulate creativity in seeking new solutions and to encourage individual or group initiatives.

III. DIALOGUE AND TRANSPARENCY IN DECISION-MAKING 

185. In any discussion about a proposed venture, a number of questions need to be asked in order to discern whether or not it will contribute to genuine integral development. What will it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how?

187. This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account.

V. RELIGIONS IN DIALOGUE WITH SCIENCE

200. Any technical solution which science claims to offer will be powerless to solve the serious problems of our world if humanity loses its compass, if we lose sight of the great motivations which make it possible for us to live in harmony, to make sacrifices and to treat others well.

201. The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good, embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that “realities are greater than ideas”.

CHAPTER SIX: ECOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND SPIRITUALITY

202. Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.

I. TOWARDS A NEW LIFESTYLE

203. Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending.

III. ECOLOGICAL CONVERSION

217. “The external deserts in the world are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast”.

IV. JOY AND PEACE

222. Christian spirituality proposes a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us, to be spiritually detached from what we possess, and not to succumb to sadness for what we lack.

223. Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating.

227. One expression of this attitude is when we stop and give thanks to God before and after meals. I ask all believers to return to this beautiful and meaningful custom. That moment of blessing, however brief, reminds us of our dependence on God for life; it strengthens our feeling of gratitude for the gifts of creation; it acknowledges those who by their labours provide us with these goods; and it reaffirms our solidarity with those in greatest need.

V. CIVIC AND POLITICAL LOVE

229. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.

232. Not everyone is called to engage directly in political life. Society is also enriched by a countless array of organizations which work to promote the common good and to defend the environment…Around these community actions, relationships develop or are recovered and a new social fabric emerges. Thus, a community can break out of the indifference induced by consumerism.

* * * * *

246. A prayer for our earth

All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures….

Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one…

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