The climate may have just found its most effective advocate in the Pope. Will climate deniers succeed in diminishing his message, or will his unflinching stance inspire swift and unified global action?
Pope Francis has rocked the world with a sweeping 184-page encyclical (teaching letter) officially released today that wages war on climate change. His message is brave and direct: climate change has been caused primarily by human activity; humans have been irresponsible stewards of the planet; citizens of developed nations must change their lifestyles in order to eliminate an abhorrent “culture of waste;” and every one of us must step immediately for an all-inclusive crusade to avert the “unprecedented destruction of the ecosystem” before the end of this century.
The Pope’s core narrative focuses on stewardship and “integral ecology,” connecting care for the environment with morality, loving kindness and faith. He particularly emphasizes the need to care for poor, vulnerable communities and traditionally marginalized people who have already been impacted by nature-based catastrophes.
The encyclical is not a detailed scientific study. Rather, it’s one holy man’s thoughtful reflection upon “humanity’s God-given responsibility as custodians of the Earth.” It’s the Pope’s way of fusing humanity and ecology.
Through his letter, the Pope isn’t trying to prove anything to anyone. Instead, he turns climate action into a moral imperative, attempting to unify and inspire people from all walks of life with the suggestion that the planet, and existence itself, is a precious gift, and that each one of us has the responsibility to care for it joyfully, vigilantly and tenderly.
He certainly doesn’t hold back his admonishment for our relentless exploitation of the environment—he begins the letter by claiming that the planet “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorized to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things.”
He continues by rebuking our apathy, reckless pursuit of profits, blind faith in technology, and political shortsightedness. He states that “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values, and conscience.” He rejects the idea that technology and our current economic and political systems will effectively address the increasingly urgent issues of environmental degradation, widespread global hunger and daunting poverty.