Pope to call for global moral solidarity to address ecological crisis

Intro

This Thursday, Pope Francis, spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, will unveil his long-awaited Encyclical on the environment. A leaked draft of the document suggests what most anticipated: that this will be a historic faith-lead call to action for millions, asking them to stand together against environmental degradation, global warming, and the resulting impacts on the world’s vulnerable people. The leak shows the Holy See’s respect for the unassailable scientific case for taking climate action, and demonstrates themes of environmental stewardship, clean development, and care for humanity. Focusing on the moral obligation to safeguard the earth and mankind’s common good, the Pope speaks of “the urgent challenge to protect our common home” and calls for sustainable development. Thursday’s official unveiling of the Encyclical on the Environment will be heralded by faith leaders and will build on the growing business, social, and political momentum behind clean economic development and environmental protection. Pope Francis has spoken many times on the need to respect and protect the environment, saying that there is a “clear, definitive and ineluctable ethical imperative to act” on climate change. He has said he wants the Encyclical document, called “Laudato Si (Be Praised), On the Care of Our Common Home“, to be part of the debate at a major UN summit on climate change, taking place in Paris this December.

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Key Points

  • With his much anticipated encyclical, Pope Francis is expected to offer moral guidance for care for the earth and the common good. His perspectives on the need for a new, better approach to ecology, reflected in news coverage of a leaked version of the encyclical, draws from the deep well of Church teachings. The final encyclical – due for release on Thursday – is said to lay out the moral imperative to “care for our common home” and end inequalities, such as over consumption by rich nations, which are driving interlinked problems like climate change and poverty.
  • The Pope is expected to call on people around the world to help the poor and vulnerable. He is the latest and most high profile voice – which includes scientists, doctors, emergency workers, economists, investors, citizens, activists, and many more – to call for action on climate change and the empowerment of poorer countries to develop sustainably, saying it is both morally and economically right. The fossil fuel industry is increasingly the sole and isolated voice opposing the groundswell of momentum for action to accelerate the ongoing transition from dirty energy to 100 per cent renewables.
  • The science of climate change is as unassailably robust as the link between cigarettes and cancer, and so is the moral case for action. The Pope has recognised the strength of the scientific case, and has put the weight of the Catholic Church’s long history of moral teaching on caring for the ecology and the world’s poor. A leaked early draft of Pope Francis’s Encyclical notes that there is an “urgent and compelling” need for policies that reduce carbon emissions, among other ways, by “replacing fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” If published like this on Thursday, his encyclical would send a strong signal to government leaders ahead of a Paris meeting in December where a strong global climate agreement is due.

Background

What is an Encyclical?

An encyclical is a letter from the Pope to Catholic bishops. Modern encyclicals are most commonly directed to all bishops, but historically they have also been directed at bishops in specific geographic regions. They are typically theological dissertations on matter of faith, occurring only once every few years.

While this encyclical is very high-profile, there is a long tradition of Catholic stewardship of the environment. In recent years, both Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II have spoken about climate change, and caring for creation has a strong tradition, built upon the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Bonaventure.

However, this encyclical will be different to earlier ones, and earlier Papal comments on the environment, as it will to emphasise humanity’s role within creation (as opposed to separate from it), and how climate change will affect all of creation.

An encyclical is a letter from the Pope to Catholic bishops. Modern encyclicals are most commonly directed to all bishops, but historically they have also been directed at bishops in specific geographic regions. They are typically theological dissertations on matter of faith, occurring only once every few years.

While this encyclical is very high-profile, there is a long tradition of Catholic stewardship of the environment. In recent years, both Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II have spoken about climate change, and caring for creation has a strong tradition, built upon the teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Bonaventure.

However, this encyclical will be different to earlier ones, and earlier Papal comments on the environment, as it will to emphasise humanity’s role within creation (as opposed to separate from it), and how climate change will affect all of creation.

 

Valuing Creation a Long-Held Catholic Tradition

A shortened guest post from our friends at the Global Catholic Climate Movement

Catholics have a history of valuing creation. Its care — along with maintaining the dignity of all people, the common good, and peace and reconciliation — is one of the strands of Catholic social teachings that are omnipresent throughout history.

St. Francis of Assisi, an inspiration to the current Pope, and many around the world said, “If you have people who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have people who will deal likewise with their fellow humanity.”

Prior to Francis, Both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI – the current Pope’s predecessors – spoke eloquently of the need for “ecological conversion”. John Paul II noted in his 1990 World Day of Peace message that “there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened not only by the arms race, regional conflicts and continued injustices among peoples and nations, but also by a lack of due respect for nature, by the plundering of natural resources and by a progressive decline in the quality of life… Faced with the widespread destruction of the environment, people everywhere are coming to understand that we cannot continue to use the goods of the earth as we have in the past.”

He continued: “The gradual depletion of the ozone layer and the related ‘greenhouse effect’ has now reached crisis proportions as a consequence of industrial growth, massive urban concentrations and vastly increased energy needs… The ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity.”

In his World Day of Peace message in 2010, Benedict XVI said that preservation of creation has become essential for the peaceful coexistence of mankind. “Can we remain indifferent,” he asked, “before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?

Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees,’ people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it — and often their possessions as well — in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement?” he said.

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Key quotes

  • “This encyclical is aimed at everyone. Let us pray that everyone can receive its message and grow in responsibility toward the common home that God has entrusted to us.” Pope Francis.
  • “Pope Francis’s encyclical has added a moral imperative to the financial case for preventing catastrophic climate change. Carbon Tracker’s financial analysis has shown that plans to invest trillions of dollars in high-cost fossil fuel projects does not make economic sense. Pope Francis makes it clear it doesn’t make moral or ethical sense either. These fossil fuel assets that may never be burned anyway pose significant risks for investors and will impact the pension pots of millions of ordinary people. We need to look at climate risk through both an economic and moral lens. As financial analysts, we believe that an ‘orderly’ energy transition should start now to avoid a panic-driven ‘disorderly’ one. The latter will likely lead to financial dislocation, stranded assets and the destruction of shareholder value that will impact all of us but hit the poor hardest” CEO of the Carbon Tracker Initiative, Anthony Hobley.
  • “In an action both simple and bold, Pope Francis will pierce humanity’s blindness to the realities of modern life. At a vital moment in world history, he is calling on us to halt our wanton destruction of people and planet and move decisively to a global economy that is just, compassionate, and sustainable.” Episcopal priest Robert Massie.
  • “The Pope’s encyclical will be a powerful game-changer. It will make clear that the fossil fuel industry is a devastation. It will be clear that climate change is a crime against life. It will be eloquent about the fact that if our leaders have a shred of humanity in them, they need to reach a strong deal in Paris. And it will affirm that profiting from an industry that’s destroying the planet is flat out wrong.” Executive Director of GreenFaith, Rev. Fletcher Harper.
  • “The coming encyclical will send a strong message about the Catholic Church’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis. We hope this will inspire Catholic communities around the world to look at how their own investments might be financing climate change, and to commit to disinvesting from fossil fuels as a matter of faith. This is essential for building the political will we need for governments to produce a strong climate deal in Paris at the end of this year.” UK church divestment campaigner at Christian charity Operation Noah, Ellie Roberts.
  • “As a scientist, I can say that it is possible for us to prevent truly catastrophic, potentially irreversible climate change. But I cannot say as a scientist whether or not we will find the will to do what’s necessary. There are a lot of people out there who thus far have been either skeptical or indifferent. I think this (encyclical) will make a difference for them.” US Penn State University climate scientist Michael Mann.
  • “Environmental protection and the connection between fighting poverty and fighting climate change are important areas for the promotion of integral human development.” Pope Benedict XVI in 2012.
  • “In our day, there is a growing awareness that world peace is threatened … by a lack of due respect for nature. The ecological crisis reveals the urgent moral need for a new solidarity.” Pope John Paul II in 1990.

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