Read the full text of the Encyclical below the article.
Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, has just been published. Although there is much in it to digest, and too little time since publication to do it justice, I will try to outline its key themes. It will be controversial because it challenges everyone to take climate change and the destruction of the environment seriously. Drawing on the writings of popes from St John XXIII onwards, from Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew, from scripture and Catholic Social Thought and framed with the vision of Francis of Assisi, Francis of Rome throws down a challenge to us all. What is at stake is the future of life on earth.
Noting the “consistent scientific consensus” on climate change, the Pope calls for a global change in attitude and practice. Denialism is futile and dangerous. It is dangerous because it plays irresponsibly with future generations, human and nonhuman. It is futile because the counter-arguments are based on research largely sponsored by politicians and corporate interests who have a stake in denying there’s a problem. This is rightly condemned.
Proposals like ‘carbon credits’ are heavily criticised: by trading national carbon emissions between countries that already cause the most pollution and those that (for whatever reason) do not, help no-one. They merely maintain the dangerous status quo, perpetuate unequal social development and undermine the common good of the planet, putting all creation at risk.
Pope Francis also warns against water shortage through inefficient misuse, and makes a strong plea for biodiversity. He warns against the rapid extermination of plant and animal species whose ongoing disappearance threaten the planet’s ecological balance. The demise of any species, however ‘insignificant’, causes a chain reaction in nature. By eliminating one species other species proliferate, which in turn overconsume other plant or animal species. Whether or not it is true that nature abhors a vacuum, it is clear that for the earth to thrive balance between species is essential.
Significantly, the encyclical integrates scientific evidence with a profound development in the theology of creation. In a chapter exploring this, Francis rejects as false a crude human ‘dominion theology’ in favour of one that sees all creation giving glory to God. Theologians may see in it echoes of ecological theologians like Leonardo Boff, who was it is rumoured consulted during its drafting. Like his medieval namesake Francis sees God embracing all life on earth, not just humans. It is thus not surprising that the whole text can be seen as framed by the saint’s beautiful Canticle of Creation.
Highly critical of the technocratic mentality, the Pope calls for a more balanced approach that takes environmental impact seriously. He also sees the importance of global politics in this regard, noting that it shows a crisis in international relations, and calls for a new approach based on global common good.
Laudato Si is one of the most important statements so far from the pontificate of Francis. It demands ongoing reflection and action, not just by the Church but by the whole human species.
Fr Anthony Egan S.J.
For those who wish to read the document, here is a link to the Vatican’s website: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html