Friday, June 19, 2015

The Poor and the Earth Are Crying:  The Pope's Encyclical on Climate Change - by Jeff Masters and Bob Henson

"Earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she groans in travail."

Pope Francis holds an olive tree at the Vatican on September 1, 2014. (Image credit: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP/Getty Images) Click to Enlarge.
One of the largest and oldest institutions on Earth--the Catholic Church--weighed in with these words Thursday on the need to address the threat climate change poses to our common home. Pope Francis officially released his third papal encyclical, “Laudato Sii” (Be Praised), from the Vatican on Thursday.  The 180-page encyclical is an enormous milestone in climate change awareness, and is sure to influence the critical December 2015 meeting in Paris to negotiate a new global binding treaty to limit emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

Papal encyclicals are among the highest-level documents produced by the Catholic Church.  Each one focuses on a topic of keen importance to the Church itself or to society at large, and this time around the Pope specifically addresses “every person who inhabits this planet.”  It is the seventh encyclical of the 21st century and the first one ever devoted to an environmental issue.  In it, the Pope frequently invokes the life of his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of all those who study ecology and a champion for the poor and abandoned.  The emphasis is not on climate science itself:  the Pope agrees that rising global temperatures are primarily due to fossil fuel use, which is consistent with the conclusions of numerous national science societies and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  The Pope’s main concern is with the ethical and moral facets of the problem, and our responsibility as stewards of Earth to deal with it.  Here are some of the main themes put forth:

-- The book of Genesis tells us to "have dominion over the earth", which would seem to favor savage exploitation of nature by domineering and destructive humans.  This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible, as Genesis also tells us to "till and keep" the garden of the world.

-- What we are facing is primarily a spiritual crisis:  "The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves. 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."  He argues strongly that we can work together to solve this spiritual crisis through right action, and urges us to "replace consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing."
-- The rich, highly industrialized countries that have contributed the greatest emissions of greenhouse gases have the greatest responsibility to contribute to solution of the problems that they have caused.  The poor countries, who have contributed little to the build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, will suffer the greatest harm, since they do not have the resources to adapt.

-- "Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction."  People should change their lifestyles to consume less, and use the power of their purchases to positively affect the world: "purchasing is always a moral--and not simply economic act."

Read more at The Poor and the Earth Are Crying: The Pope's Encyclical on Climate Change

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