There was much anticipation about the recent encyclical from Pope Francis on climate change. You can see and read the document at this link. No doubt you have seen and heard the news about it with some analysis of what is contained in it. I offer my impressions of the broad picture described in the 184 page document.
I’ve written a lot about climate change. It is one of the most important challenges faced by mankind. It will force us to deal with issues we already know about and some that we have yet to encounter. It will not go away if we ignore it.
Whether the encyclical is accepted by the world of Catholic leaders and followers will only be known by our actions in the future. There was a flurry of attention for a few days. Like many stories today, the attention has faded. I hope its messages are not forgotten.
Each chapter of the encyclical addresses aspects of the climate change problem I feel are very important. The document does not lay out a prescription for what humanity should do. It does serve as a reminder of our responsibilities to the Earth and to those less fortunate who do not have the means to help themselves easily. We all need reminders and guidance in those areas.
Chapter One – What Is Happening To Our Common Home?
This 30 page chapter covers a lot of ground. It assesses the questions that humanity faces which cannot, should not, be ignored. The chapter serves to increase our awareness of the problems we face now and will need to address in the future.
I. Our throw-away culture and its impact on the climate needs to be examined. Climate belongs to everyone. Climate change has impact on a disproportionate many who have little or no recourse because of where they live. We are responsible for our fellow citizens of Earth.
II. “Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. 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.”
III. Loss of habitat and the corresponding loss of biodiversity endangers us all. The species we lose may represent valuable food sources. Other species may contain genetic material which can meet human needs and help solve coming environmental problems.
IV. “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…Furthermore, when 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.”
V. We are one human family. Degradation of the environment is matched by deterioration of the human condition, especially the poor and powerless. Greater attention needs to be paid to the needs of the vulnerable.
VI. Strong financial and economic interests must not be allowed to control maintenance of the status quo. It is wrong to argue that the Earth is going to be fine if we just give it time. Our trust in technology to solve our problems is closing our eyes to the need for changes in attitudes and life styles.
VII. All sides must join together to try to reach viable solutions to the problems presented now and in the future by climate change. Earth is nearing a breaking point and needs immediate attention for the sake of all people and for the sake of the planet. The present ways are not sustainable.
Chapter Two – The Gospel Of Creation
There are those who believe in a Creator. There are those who do not. This chapter issues a challenge to both sides to come together in order to seek solutions to common challenges. Each side is capable of rejecting the other.
“Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.”
I. Solutions to our ecological crisis must be advised by both those with religious convictions and those with scientific expertise. No parts of those realms should be excluded.
II. We are responsible for God’s Earth. Human beings are given intelligence and must respect the laws of nature and the sensitive balances between the creatures of this world.
III. We humans must reject the idea of our dominion over all other creatures. Instead, we are to use our love and intelligence to bring ourselves and all creatures to salvation.
IV. All creatures, great and small, have important roles in creation. It is our duty to recognize their inter-relationships and value those roles each play.
V. “Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.”
VI. The natural environment belongs to us all. It is not to be dominated and controlled for the benefit of a few ignoring the many. Those who possess wealth and power consume Earth resources and deprive others of their rightful future.
VII. Jesus reminds us that all creatures are important in the eyes of God.
Chapter Three – The Human Roots Of The Ecological Crisis
“It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this?”
I. Knowledge and technology are powerful forces for both good and evil. Progress cannot be assumed to always be for good. We must also grow in our recognition of human value and conscience.
II. Because technology gives us so much power, we assume there are infinite quantities of resources available and they will last forever or we will find another way. We expect to profit financially. We need to slow down and develop attitudes that value sustainability and conservation.
III. “We were created with a vocation to work. The goal should not be that technological progress increasingly replace human work, for this would be detrimental to humanity. Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth and human development.”
Chapter Four – Integral Ecology
Considerations of different aspects of ecology that include the closely integrated human and social parts.
I. We urgently need a more integrated vision of the different fields of knowledge and economics. Environmental problems are entwined with human, family, work, and urban contexts. This interrelationship demonstrates that “the whole is greater than the parts”.
II. Ecology must protect the cultural treasures of humanity with greater attention to local and indigenous groups. Strong dialogue must include scientific-technical language and that of the local people.
III. Quality of life and the freedom to have a ‘home’ are critical. “Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families. This is a major issue for human ecology. In some places, where makeshift shanty towns have sprung up, this will mean developing those neighbourhoods rather than razing or displacing them.”
IV. There must be focus on the ‘common good’ addressing social peace, security, and social justice for all parties.
V. We must ask ourselves what kind of world are we leaving to the future generations. It is up to us to leave a habitable planet to them.
Chapter Five – Lines Of Approach And Action
After taking stock of the current situation faced by our planet, Pope Francis next offers paths of dialogue to help us escape the spiral of self-destruction we face.
I. Global consensus could lead to sustainable and diversified agriculture, renewable energy, more efficiency, improved management of marine and forest resources, and access to drinking water. Technology can lead us away from fossil fuels and toward sources of renewable energy.
II. “A healthy politics is sorely needed, capable of reforming and coordinating institutions, promoting best practices and overcoming undue pressure and bureaucratic inertia.”
III. Consensus should be reached by the various parties involved offering alternatives and solutions. Honest and truthful discussions are necessary from the scientific and political interests.
IV. “While some are concerned only with financial gain, and others with holding on to or increasing their power, what we are left with are conflicts or spurious agreements where the last thing either party is concerned about is caring for the environment and protecting those who are most vulnerable.”
V. The majority of people are believers. Religions should discuss ways of protecting nature and the poor. This should be done in concert with dialogue among the various sciences which can become mired in isolation from others because of their language and concepts.
Chapter Six – Ecological Education And Spirituality
Cultural, educational, and spiritual challenges face us. We humans need to change in order to set out on the long path to recovery.
I. We must change from our high levels of consumerist behavior. Earth cannot sustain us if we continue.
II. Ecological education of the young is most important as a seed of help for the future. It must take place in schools, families, media, the church, and elsewhere. Political institution must also play a role in this education.
III. We must recognize that God created this world with all creatures and things having value. We are all dependent upon one another. Our spiritual conversion to these beliefs is essential.
IV. Consumerism will not bring us joy and peace in the future. Instead, we are called to the phrase ‘less is more’. Adherence to that guiding principle will allow us to enjoy a future in harmony with each other and the Earth.
V. “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.”
VI. We must discover God in ourselves and in all other creations.
VII. All things are interconnected. For Catholics, this is embodied in the Trinity.
VIII. Let the lives of Mary and Joseph instruct us all in being just, hard-working, and strong.
IX. Let us come together to more carefully manage our home. May we have a generous commitment and strength to carry out our stewardship of Earth. Our Lord will be with us on our journey.