In a new encyclical issued this week Pope Francis calls on all people to work together to protect “our common home,” to address “the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s’ poorest,’ and to preserve our earth for future generations.In this encyclical, entitled Praise Be To You: On Care For Our Common Home, the Holy Father warns that “[t]he earth, our home, is beginning to look more like an immense pile of filth.” The pope asks this question: “What kind of world do we want to leave those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”The pope calls for bold action on global warming, such as reducing the emission of greenhouse gases, but he warns that new laws alone are not enough. He notes that some countries have strong environmental laws but people ignore them.
People need to see nature and their role in nature in a new light: “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.”
In reviewing the Judaeo-Christian understanding that man has “dominion over the earth,” the pope laments misinterpretations of scripture that are used to justify exploitation and abuse of nature. The real message of the scriptures is that we are to be responsible stewards of the earth: “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us,” the pope declares.
The Holy Father asks people to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” Wealthy nations can see the poor as the environmental problem and call for population controls. Pope Francis sees it differently:
“To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issue.” According to a report prepared for the Holy Father by elite scientists from around the world, global warming is caused primarily by the developed world and not by the poorer nations.
In this vein, the pope denounces our throw-away culture in which as much as “a third of all food is discarded, and ‘whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of the poor.'”
Much of the encyclical discusses how climate change, deforestation, lack of clean water and other environmental crises threaten the daily lives of the world’s poorest. The pope notes that poorer countries will have more difficulty adapting to climate change and adopting new policies; he calls on wealthier countries to provide assistance.
The Holy Father believes world leaders have been too timid in addressing climate change and other environmental crises:
As often occurs in periods of deep crisis which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear. Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as license to carrying on with our present lifestyle and modes of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices; trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.
In looking for models for how we should respond to our present crisis, the Holy Father recalls the life of St. Francis of Assisi who was “particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast.” In fact, the encyclical opens with words from the Canticle of St. Francis: Laudato Si’, mi Signore – “Praise be to you, my Lord.” The pope extols the joy and wonder with which St. Francis greeted all of creation. St. Francis offers a lesson to us all: