Laudato Si', On Care for Our Common Home

Pope Francis calls all of us to feel deeply our stewardship to care for the earth and the poor.  As people of faith we honor our Creator as we care for creation.  Highlights from Pope Francis' letter were shared in our first meeting of Earth Stewardship East.  We will be posting excerpts here -- please read and share.  The complete document is available in many formats online HERE

 
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Pope Francis: 

1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. 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. 

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her.... 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). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. 

 
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18. There is an acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet -- "rapidification". The speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. This rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to sustainable human development.

Pope Francis begins his encyclical by referencing past calls for Creation care: 

"Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.  In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home."

In 1971,  Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”. He stressed “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity....”

Saint John Paul II warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”.  Subsequently, he called for a global ecological conversion.  He noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. .... Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies”.

Benedict XVI proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”. He observed that “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, and social relations. It follows that “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. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.  Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone”.

The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home. Here I want to encourage and thank all those striving to protect the home we share.

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a general lack of interest. We require a new and universal solidarity: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”. All of us can cooperate to care for creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter can help us to acknowledge the immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will briefly review the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present situation--its symptoms also its deepest causes. I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines found in Christian spiritual experience.

 

Pope Francis refers to the many outside the Catholic Church who are united by the same deep concern.

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken 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”.

“For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

20.  Exposure to atmospheric pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. 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.

Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive. The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. Industrial waste and chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to essential conditions for human life. Solid scientific consensus indicates that we are witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events.

Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat global warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. There are other factors (such as volcanic activity), yet scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity. As these gases build up in the atmosphere, they hamper the escape of heat produced by sunlight at the earth’s surface. The problem is aggravated by the intensive use of fossil fuels. Another determining factor has been changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.

Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of the oceans and compromises the marine food chain.

IF PRESENT TRENDS CONTINUE, THIS CENTURY MAY WELL WITNESS EXTRAORDINARY CLIMATE CHANGE AND AN UNPRECEDENTED DESTRUCTION OF ECOSYSTEMS, WITH SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES FOR ALL OF US. 

25.  Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. Its worst impact will be felt by developing countries. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and  services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources to adapt to climate change disasters and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded.

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. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.  Good practices are still far from widespread.

FOR CURRENT, SCIENCE-BASED INFORMATION ON CLIMATE CHANGE GO TO WWW.CLIMATE.NASA.GOV.