Thursday, June 18, 2015
Pope Francis warns the West on fossil fuels and mindless consumerism
(CNN)Pope Francis warned Thursday that a broad sweep of human activities -- from a blind worship of technology to an addiction to fossil fuels and mindless consumerism -- has brought the planet to the "breaking point."
"Doomsday predictions," the Pope said in a sharply worded manifesto, "can no longer be met with irony or disdain."
Citing scientific consensus that we are witnessing a "disturbing warming" of the Earth, Francis embraced the view that humans are largely to blame for a dramatic change in the climate.
Nothing short of a "bold cultural revolution" can halt humanity's spiral into self-destruction, the Pope warned.
"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth," Francis said. "In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish."
The popular pontiff castigated big businesses, energy companies, short-sighted politicians, scurrilous scientists, laissez faire economists, callous Christians and myopic media professionals. Scarcely any area of society escapes his probing pen.
Though it ends with a prayer, it is a deeply pessimistic statement, at least in parts, particularly from a spiritual leader known for his hopeful messages of mercy and openness. People no longer seem to believe in a happy future, the Pope lamented.
Francis' challenging manifesto came Thursday in the form of an encyclical, a letter traditionally addressed from St. Peter's Square to the more than 1 billion Catholics across the globe. Derived from the Greek word for "circle," an encyclical is among the church's most authoritative teaching documents.
But Francis has set his sights far beyond the circle of his church. With an eye toward several key climate change summits scheduled for later this year, the Pope said his letter is addressed to "every person living on this planet."
"I would like to enter a dialogue with all people about our common home," Francis said.
The humble invitation belies the damning analysis of modern life contained in the 184-page encyclical, entitled "Laudato Si." The archaic Italian phrase, which means "Praised Be To You," appears in the "Canticle of the Sun," a song penned by St. Francis, the patron saint of ecology.
Subtitled, "On Care for Our Common Home," the encyclical was published Thursday in at least five languages during a news conference at the Vatican. The document was more than a year in the making, church officials say, and draws on the work of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars from various fields and previous popes.
"We have a situation here," said Janos Pasztor, the U.N.'s assistant secretary-general for climate change, "in which science and religion are totally aligned." Pasztor was part of a team that convened with church officials at the Vatican this April.
The Pope's eagerly awaited encyclical recycles some of the now-familiar themes of Francis' papacy: an abiding concern for the poor, a scorching critique of the idolatry of money and a facility for using evocative and earthy language to describe complex conundrums.
As the first Pope from the developing world, Francis brings a moral vision shaped not in the seminaries of Europe but the slums of Buenos Aires, Argentina.
With language ranging from the majestic (lyrical poetry in praise of nature) to the mundane (take the bus!), the Pope put his signature stamp on a controversial topic and moral clout on the line.
"Laudato si" is long on laments and short on specific solutions, though the Pope repeatedly urges deep thinking and dialogue to address the complex symptoms now plaguing the earth. In broad strokes, Francis calls for a drastic change in "lifestyle, production and consumption" from superficial and unsustainable habits to more mature means of caring for "our common home."
"What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" Francis asks. "The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal."
And while the Pope calls for practical steps like recycling and improving public transportation, he said structural injustices require more political will and sacrifices than most societies seem willing to bear.
In short, our care for the environment is intimately connected to our care for each other, he argues, and we are failing miserably at both.
"We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social," Francis writes, "but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental."
The rich and powerful shut themselves up within self-enclosed enclaves, Francis argues, compulsively consuming the latest goods to feed the emptiness within their hearts, while ignoring the plight of the poor.
The poor, meanwhile, find themselves on the run from natural disasters and degraded habitats, shunted to the bottom of the world's pile of problems with decreasing access to its natural resources.
Francis saves his most challenging questions for modern consumers, arguing that humanity has become enamored of another apple -- and this time no Eve or serpent are around to take the fall. The temptation may have shifted from a forbidden fruit to cutting edge technology, but the sin remains the same: hubris.
"We are not God," the Pope warns, "The Earth was here before us and has been given to us."
Though Popes since Paul VI in 1971 have addressed environmental degradation, "Laudato Si" is the first encyclical to focus primarily on creation care, the Christian idea that God gave humans the earth to cultivate, not conquer.
Even months before its publication, the encyclical drew criticism from conservatives and climate change skeptics, who urged the Pope not to put his moral weight behind the controversial issue of global warming.
Many Catholics and environmentalists, meanwhile, eagerly awaited the encyclical. The Washington-based Catholic Climate Covenant, for example, plans to send homily hints to the 17,000 Catholic parishes in the United States for priests to use during sermons this summer. The group is also planning media events with bishops in Iowa, California, New Mexico and elsewhere.
In the weeks before the encyclical's release, Protestant pastors and at least 300 rabbis in the United States also said they were willing and eager to embrace Pope's call for environmental justice.
A Brazilian group made even made a tongue-in-cheek trailer ahead of Francis' encyclical, portraying the pontiff of a spiritual superhero gearing for battle against the forces of evil -- energy executives.
In another sign of the anticipation awaiting the encyclical, the news that an Italian magazine had published a leaked draft of the document online on Monday made the front pages of several American newspapers.
From the first days of his papacy, Francis has preached about the importance of the environment, not only as a scientific concern but also a moral one. In his first homily as pontiff, Francis called six times during the short sermon for humans to protect creation.
The encyclical published on Thursday goes well beyond any sermons, delving into fields familiar to any Catholic, such as Scripture and theology, but also wandering into sociology, politics, urban planning, economics, globalization, biology and other areas of scientific research.
Broken into six chapters, "Laudato Si" begins by cataloguing a host of ills wracking the planet: dirty air, polluted water, industrial fumes, toxic waste, rising sea levels and extreme weather.
The problem is "aggravated," the Pope said, "by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels."
If present trends continue, Francis argued, the changing climate will have grave implications for poor communities who lack the resources to adapt or protect themselves from natural disasters.
Many will be forced to leave their homes, while the economically and politically powerful "mask" the problems or respond with indifference, the Pope said.
The poor may get a passing mention at global economic conferences, Francis says, but their problems seem to be merely added to agendas as an afterthought.
"Indeed, when all is said and done," the Pope said of the poor, "they frequently remain on the bottom of the pile."