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Today in Rome, Pope Francis released his long-anticipated encyclical on climate change, fueling precisely the international conversation the Pope hoped to drive. The widespread media coverage of the 180-plus page document, Laudato Si, or Praised Be to You, has undoubtedly increased public awareness of environmental issues dramatically.

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

There were no big surprises in the encyclical, given its leak to the media earlier this week and the Pope’s ongoing speeches and remarks about the climate. But the encyclical, a letter from the Pope to the church bishops, give the official endorsement of the Catholic Church to his concern for the climate.

Writing that “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth,” the Pope emphasized the outsized impact failure to care for the environment has on the poor. He wrote:

The deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources and in any number of other problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas.

It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated merely as collateral damage.

He attributed this to the fact that “many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power” have little contact with the poor and their problems. But he made it clear that the burden is on the wealthy—both nations and individuals—to act on behalf of the poor and to stop exploiting them to the detriment of people and the planet.

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned,” wrote the Pope. “In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”

While he said that other factors play a role in global warming, “a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity.”

“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,” he wrote.

Our failure to care for the planet, he wrote, is connected to a throwaway culture of “compulsive consumerism” that “quickly reduces things to rubbish.”

“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,” he wrote. “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 by-products.”

As expected, he called out those who will not act, whether by denying the problem or simply ignoring it.

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