In this series of articles, Adrian Statham summarizes Pope Francis’ papal encyclical Laudato Si’
Introduction & Chapter 1
Note: numbers in brackets refer to the paragraph numbers of the papal encyclical “Laudato Si”
Pope Paul VI wrote about mother earth back in 1971 that: “due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it…” (4). Like St. Francis of Assisi, we should feel awe and wonder for the natural world rather than seek to be its master and exploiter. Nature gives us a glimpse of God’s “infinite beauty and goodness”. Pope Francis wants to bring the whole human family together to seek “sustainable and integral development.” (13) “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.” (13) There is still much opposition, indifference and lack of interest in solutions to the environmental crisis. (14)
Chapter One: What is happening to our common home
We need to “dare to turn what is happening to the world into our personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.” (19) “A very solid scientific consensus” thinks that global warming is mainly caused by the burning of fossil fuels and that this warming is producing increases in sea levels and extreme weather events. (23) This is serious because a quarter of the world’s population and the majority of our megacities are on or near the coast. (24) Climate change particularly affects the poorest countries, often causing people to migrate. Many are indifferent to these refugees but this shows a lack of that feeling of responsibility for fellow humans on which all civil society is based. (25) We need policies, particularly from the most powerful countries, to reduce CO2 production, develop renewable energy, improve the energy efficiency of buildings and develop energy storage technologies. (26)
“Access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right.” (30) We must provide the poor with clean water to prevent diseases like cholera and dysentery. Global water shortage could affect billions in a few decades time and “the control of water by large multi-national businesses may become a major source of conflict in the century.” (31)
Loss of biodiversity: We have no right to cause the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species each year as we do.(33) We make “our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey.” (34) We need to look after ecosystems when developing areas e.g., biological corridors to allow migration. Some places need special protection because of their high number of species or of rare species e.g., the Amazon and Congo basins, “those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet” which can be cleared for farming and then become wasteland. (38) At sea, coral reefs and certain types of plankton are in decline, and there is over-fishing. “Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analysing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.” (42)
Quality of life: Many cities are unhealthy to live in, being “huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.” “We are not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal” with few green spaces. (44) Unequal consumption of energy and other services, increased violence, increasing drug use by young people are “the social dimensions of global change.” (46) Use of digital media speeds up communication but “can stop people from learning to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously” and can be detrimental to interpersonal relations or bring “a harmful sense of isolation.” (47)
Global inequality “We cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.” (48) We must “hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (49) A minority of the earth’s population believes that it can consume in a way that, if we all did it, the planet could not support. (50) The most influential people often live in well-off urban areas with little contacts with the billions of poor people or awareness of their problems. (40) High consumption in developed countries, mainly in the northern hemisphere, has particularly exacerbated problems in areas of Africa affected by drought. (51)
Multinationals often operate in poorer countries in ways they would not be allowed to in the countries where they raise their capital. (51) “…the foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them.” Developing countries which have the most important reserves on earth “continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their present and future.” The richer countries need to do more to help the poorer but the debate is dominated by powerful interests. “We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalisation of indifference.” (52)
Weak responses “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.” God wants us to be his instruments “so that our planet might … correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations.” (53) International political response has been weak and “economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” (54) Although more economically aware, we continue to consume more e.g., increasing use of air conditioning. Many “will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is.” (56) Future wars may be over obtaining scarce resources. (57) Some countries have improved their environments e.g., cleaning polluted rivers, improving public transport, introducing clean sources of energy. “For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.” (58) We must, however, beware of the false ecology which suggests that the situation is unclear and that no urgent action is required.
Between the extremes of do nothing and ban all human inventions is a via media we should follow.
Go to the Chapter 2 summary.
The full Laudato Si’ Encyclical is available here.