Those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms …
Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures …
The church must introduce in its teaching the sin against the environment. The ecological sin.
Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he 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 would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. 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”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”.
7. These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular 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”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to acknowledge our sins against 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”.
22. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. 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 byproducts. 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 nonrenewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
And in the next segment, the Pope conveys the basic message of climate change, stripped of distracting complexity. His science is very solid.
Climate as a common good
23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently 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, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
24. 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. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.
25. Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades. 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 ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children. 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, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. 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.
26. 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. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far from widespread.
(Emphasis again added.)
There’s a lot more, and a bunch which is well worth reading, especially on biodiversity.
So, what is an atheist, physical materialist, and member of a Unitarian Universalist meetinghouse (who recently voted to divest their portfolio of fossil fuel companies, by the way) doing doing highlighting a teaching on faith from the head of the Roman Catholic Church? Especially a teaching which includes the phrase
… [T]o see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be human …
It is simply that, in the words of the Tibetan Buddhists, this is a climate emergency, and no one serious about the problem can turn away help and support and common cause from any source. We’ve seen multifaith communities come together on on this point. I wish some of my progressive environmentalist friends could see this: That climate disruption trumps all other issues, that we need to triage, that we need to form bonds on this cause with conservatives and members of the Tea Party. That means putting aside differences on other issues, and seeing that unbridled development, central energy production and distribution, utilities commissions, and public utilities, as well as energy companies like natural gas and pipeline providers are those who are the roadblocks to rapid progress. If this means trading reduction in income taxes for carbon taxes, so be it. There’s plenty for a conservative to like in a decentralized energy economy.
Beyond that, I entirely embrace the values the Pope advances, such as cessation of a ridiculous economic model of unbridled growth and expansion, in houses, shopping malls, and subdevelopments. It is unsustainable, and if jobs cannot be had by any other means then, sooner or later, those jobs will be lost because it will stop, whether by choice, or by Nature.
Update, lunchtime, 18the June 2015
It was a beautiful day for a run. Did 10 miles, and thought of three additional things regarding Laudato Si. Below.
First, Jeb Bush, convert to Catholicism, and self-professed practitioner. Ahead of the release of the Encyclical, he said:
I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope. The climate is changing, whether men are doing it or not.
This is arrogant and insulting. Arrogant because Bush dismisses the leadership of religious people in economic and political matters. Insulting because Bush assumes his supporters won’t read the Encyclical, and so, if Catholic, are ignore, or appreciate its context and structure, and won’t listen to the teachings from the pulpit that are planned to follow it. (See the second point below why reading the Encyclical would rapidly tell people otherwise.) It is also an example of limiting religion to the Sabbath, as Bible scholar John Bertram Phillips observed in his Your God Is Too Small, the “God in a box” practice: Take out religion and morals on the Sabbath, along with the rest of your finery, wear it, and then put it back in the box for the rest of the week. In this case, many politicians (iii), including some I know personally, would rather religious and moral teaching remain on the Sabbath, and in the church, mosque, meetinghouse, temple, or synagogue, especially if it is inconvenient. When it is convenient to use or cite it, politicians forget that it comes with strings, that it is improper to pick and choose. It is also reminiscent of “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” and of loathsome interpretations of
or, in a glossed Liberal Reform Jewish translation,
Blessed are you LORD, Creator of the Universe, who [teaches us to] distinguish between the sacred and the profane
such as simplistic understandings of “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”.
A corollary to “God in a box”, by the way, is if the preacher does what Jeb Bush wants, and keeps politics and economics out of the pulpit. For if politics and economics are kept out, as fundamental they are to consciousness and human life as has been known since Aristotle, why should those listening bring the values and perspectives from the Sabbath to the rest of the week? I don’t know how to answer that (ii).
Second, a striking thing about Laudato Si is its structure. It opens with an appeal to and quotations from Pope Francis’ predecessors (one canonized and one beatified) as well as colleagues, showing that the present teaching is a repetition of theirs, if possibly an extension with more practical application, informed by science. In other words, the structure itself says (paraphrasing, of course) This isn’t some wacko priest or pope speaking, this is a continuation of teachings of faith and morals which have been promulgated for 40+ years. Whether this advances to the criteria for Ex cathedra I have no idea (and don’t really care), but the point is it is very much a pope teaching in consort with his bishops and the body of Christ. That might not mean much to random people, but those are important code words in Catholicism, and it means the teachings carry special gravity.
Third, the final striking thing about the Encyclical is its title which, in English, is “Praised Be”. It leaves open “Praised be what?” or “Praised be who?” or “Praised be Who?” Sure, it refers to the Canticle of the Sun by Saint Francis of Assisi, but it also refers, obliquely, to another canticle, the Song of Songs, which is another paen to Nature, the . Accordingly, it just may be that by stopping short of naming the target of “Praised Be“, as in “Be praised, my Lord”, from the Canticle of the Sun, in fact it is inviting the whole community of peoplekind to revere Earth, for, as Pope Francis writes near the very beginning “I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home”.
We go forth into the world in peace
To act with works of love
To affirm each person's dignity
And to cherish the living Earth.
Update, 19th June 2015
There is a commentary by fellow secularist Dr Brigitte Knopf at the online periodical, RealClimate. It references a paper by climate scientist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber titled “Common Ground: The Papal Encyclical, Science and the Protection of Planet Earth”. Of special note in the latter is the assertion, backed by data presented there, that “Contrary to what some have claimed, it is not the mass of poor
people that destroys the planet, but the consumption of the rich.”
John Baez also offers interesting analysis of Laudato Si at the Azimuth Project where, among other things, he teases out appeals to network models.
15th July 2015
Akamai Technologies, inc, is my employer, but is in no way responsible for any of the content above. It may or may not represent their opinion. The above is my own personal opinion.
Religion isn’t my thing. As I said, I’m an atheist and physical materialist. However, it surely is impossible to understand Western and other civilizations without understanding something about religion and particularly its texts, and it probably is very difficult to understand humanity without doing so. See, for instance, Carl Sagan’s The Demon-Haunted Word: Science as a Candle in the Dark and The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God.
Including, of course, the ever hoaxy Senator Inhofe (R-Oklahoma): The Pope ought to stay with his job and we’ll stay with ours. Quoting from the Financial Times, “US Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic and climate change sceptic, has said the Church would be ‘better off leaving science to the scientists’.” Naturally, Inhofe and Santorum ignore the scientists.
There are varying lengths attributed to Laudato Si. This is primarily a function of the formatting of the document.