Pope urges revo­lu­tion to save the Earth


In a sweep­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal man­i­festo aimed at spurring con­crete ac­tion, Pope Fran­cis called Thurs­day for a bold cul­tural revo­lu­tion to cor­rect what he de­scribed as a “struc­turally per­verse” eco­nomic sys­tem where the rich ex­ploit the poor, turn­ing Earth into an “im­mense pile of filth.”

Fran­cis framed cli­mate change as an ur­gent moral is­sue to ad­dress in his ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated en­cycli­cal, blam­ing global warm­ing on an un­fair, fos­sil fuel-based in­dus­trial model that harms the poor most.

Cit­ing Scrip­ture, his pre­de­ces­sors and bish­ops from around the world, the pope urged peo­ple of ev­ery faith and even no faith to un­dergo an awak­en­ing to save God’s cre­ation for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

The doc­u­ment re­leased Thurs­day was a sting­ing in­dict­ment of big busi­ness and cli­mate doubters alike, aimed at spurring coura­geous changes at U.N. cli­mate ne­go­ti­a­tions later this year, in do­mes­tic pol­i­tics and in ev­ery­day life.

“It is not enough to bal­ance, in the medium term, the pro­tec­tion of na­ture with fi­nan­cial gain, or the preser­va­tion of the en­vi­ron­ment with progress,” he writes. “Half­way mea­sures sim­ply de­lay the in­evitable dis­as­ter. Put sim­ply, it is a mat­ter of re­defin­ing our no­tion of progress.”

En­vi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tists said the first-ever en­cycli­cal, or teach­ing doc­u­ment, on the en­vi­ron­ment could have a dra­matic ef­fect on the cli­mate de­bate, lend­ing the moral au­thor­ity of the im­mensely pop­u­lar Fran­cis to an is­sue that has long been cast in purely po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic or sci­en­tific terms.

“This clar­ion call should guide the world to­ward a strong and durable uni­ver­sal cli­mate agree­ment in Paris at the end of this year,” said Chris­tiana Figueres, the U.N.’s top cli­mate of­fi­cial. “Cou­pled with the eco­nomic im­per­a­tive, the moral im­per­a­tive leaves no doubt that we must act on cli­mate change now.”

Veer­ab­had­ran Ra­manathan, a Scripps In­sti­tu­tion of Oceanog­ra­phy sci­en­tist, said the en­cycli­cal is a “game-changer in mak­ing peo­ple think about this.”

“It’s not pol­i­tics any­more,” he said, adding that science is of­ten dif­fi­cult to un­der­stand but that peo­ple re­spond to ar­gu­ments framed by moral­ity and ethics.

Fight­back against Fran­cis

The energy lobby was quick to crit­i­cize the en­cycli­cal’s anti-fos­sil fuel mes­sage.

“The sim­ple re­al­ity is that energy is the es­sen­tial build­ing block of the mod­ern world,” said Thomas Pyle of the In­sti­tute of Energy Re­search, a con­ser­va­tive free-mar­ket group. “The ap­pli­ca­tion of af­ford­able energy makes ev­ery­thing we do — food pro­duc­tion, man­u­fac­tur­ing, health care, trans­porta­tion, heat­ing and air con­di­tion­ing — bet­ter.”

Fran­cis said he hoped his ef­fort would lead or­di­nary peo­ple in their daily lives and de­ci­sion-mak­ers at the Paris U.N. cli­mate meet­ings to a whole­sale change of mind and heart, say­ing “both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor” must now be heard.

“This vi­sion of `might is right’ has en­gen­dered im­mense in­equal­ity, in­jus­tice and acts of vi­o­lence against the ma­jor­ity of hu­man­ity, since re­sources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most pow­er­ful: the win­ner takes all,” he writes. “Com­pletely at odds with this model are the ideals of har­mony, jus­tice, fra­ter­nity and peace as pro­posed by Je­sus.”

The en­cycli­cal “Laudato Si,” (Praise Be) is 191 pages of pure Fran­cis.

It’s a blunt, read­able book­let full of zingers that will make many con­ser­va­tives and cli­mate doubters squirm, in­clud­ing in the U.S. Congress, where Fran­cis will de­liver the first-ever pa­pal ad­dress in Septem­ber. It has al­ready put sev­eral U.S. pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on the hot seat since some Repub­li­cans, Catholics among them, doubt the science be­hind global warm­ing and have said the pope should stay out of the de­bate.

“I don’t think we should politi­cize our faith,” U.S. Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Jeb Bush, a Catholic con­vert, said on the eve of the en­cycli­cal’s re­lease. “I think re­li­gion ought to be about mak­ing us bet­ter as peo­ple and less about things that end up get­ting into the po­lit­i­cal realm.”

‘Ev­ery­thing is re­lated ... wo­ven to­gether by the love God has’

Yet one of Fran­cis’ core points is that there re­ally is no dis­tinc­tion be­tween hu­man be­ings, their faith and the en­vi­ron­ment.

“Ev­ery­thing is re­lated, and we hu­man be­ings are united as broth­ers and sis­ters on a won­der­ful pil­grim­age, wo­ven to­gether by the love God has for each of his crea­tures and which also unites us in fond af­fec­tion with brother sun, sis­ter moon, brother river and mother earth,” he writes.

Car­di­nal Peter Turk­son, whose of­fice wrote the first draft of the en­cycli­cal, ac­knowl­edged that the pope was no ex­pert in science — although he did work as a chemist be­fore en­ter­ing the sem­i­nary. But he said Fran­cis was fully jus­ti­fied in speak­ing out about an im­por­tant is­sue and had con­sulted widely — and asked if politi­cians would re­frain from talk­ing about science just be­cause they’re not sci­en­tific ex­perts.

Fran­cis ac­cepts as fact that the world is get­ting warmer and that hu­man ac­tiv­ity is mostly to blame.

‘Im­mense pile of filth’

“The earth, our home, is be­gin­ning to look more and more like an im­mense pile of filth,” he writes.

Cit­ing the de­for­esta­tion of the Ama­zon, the melt­ing of Arc­tic glaciers and the deaths of coral reefs, he re­bukes “ob­struc­tion­ist” cli­mate doubters who “seem mostly to be con­cerned with mask­ing the prob­lems or con­ceal­ing their symp­toms.” And he blames politi­cians for lis­ten­ing more to oil in­dus­try in­ter­ests than Scrip­ture or com­mon sense.

He praises a “less is more” lifestyle, one that shuns air con­di­tion­ers and gated com­mu­ni­ties in fa­vor of car pools, re­cy­cling and be­ing in close touch with the poor and marginal­ized. He calls for coura­geous, rad­i­cal and farsighted poli­cies to tran­si­tion the world’s energy sup- ply from fos­sil fu­els to re­new­able sources, say­ing mit­i­ga­tion schemes like the buy­ing and selling of car­bon cred­its won’t solve the prob­lem and are just a “ploy which per­mits main­tain­ing the ex­ces­sive con­sump­tion of some coun­tries and sec­tors.”

What is needed, he says, is a “bold cul­tural revo­lu­tion.”

“No­body is sug­gest­ing a re­turn to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at re­al­ity in a dif­fer­ent way, to ap­pro­pri­ate the pos­i­tive and sus­tain­able progress which has been made, but also to re­cover the val­ues and the great goals swept away by our un­re­strained delu­sions of grandeur,” Fran­cis writes.


Copies of Pope Fran­cis’ en­cycli­cal “Laudato Si,” (Praise Be) are dis­played prior to the start of a press con­fer­ence, in Vat­i­can City State on Thurs­day, June 18.

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