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. Paragraph numbers match those of the original encyclical.
The complete document is available in many formats online HERE
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.
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.
28. Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance. Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts.
One serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.
As the quality of available water is diminishing, there is a growing tendency to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity subject to market laws. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water. This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services among the poor. But water continues to be wasted. The problem is partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such behavior in a context of great inequality.
Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products which depend on its use. Studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict.
Our problematic throwaway culture:
"...one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. The way natural ecosystems work is exemplary. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them.…only limited progress has been made in this regard."
Depletion of natural resources:
"It is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries and wealthier sectors of society, wasting and discarding at unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty."
46. The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. 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.
Media and the digital world become omnipresent-- their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others now tend to be replaced by internet communication. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.
Loss of Biodiversity
32. The earth’s resources are being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
Beyond being a resource, they have value in themselves. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence. We have no such right.
Rusty-patched bumble bee and frosted elfin are just two of many species at risk in our area.
It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place
Human beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise, leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will be compensated for by yet other techniques which may prove harmful.
A sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight. Frequently, when certain species are exploited commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.
Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness. Damage caused by selfish lack of concern is much greater than economic benefits obtained. Where certain species are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable.
37. Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less protected species. Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard other forms of life.
Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for the entire earth and for the future of humanity. The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or leveled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost.... We cannot overlook the huge global economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of individual nations. In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve the economic interests of transnational corporations”. We cannot fail to praise the commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each government to preserve its country’s resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.
The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted. In some coastal areas the disappearance of ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern.
Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense variety of living creatures, many of them threatened for various reasons. What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species. Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they represent a significant element in the ocean food chain.
Photo from the Great Barrier Reef posted by Paul Curtis, LDS Earth Stewardship member. Read his message, "The Great Barrier Reef and Hope" which begins: "The Great Barrier Reef is dying." https://ldsearthstewardship.org/2016/06/great-barrier-reef-hope/
In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. This phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation, agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans.
Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.
Decline in the Quality of human life
44. Many cities have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighborhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be deprived of physical contact with nature.
In some places, privatization has restricted people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighborhoods have been created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities....
The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on employment, social exclusion, aninequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. These are signs that the growth of the past two centuries has not always led to...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.
Media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. Information overload. True wisdom, as the fruit of self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution. Real relationships with others now tend to be replaced by internet communication. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain, the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences.