“…an immense pile of filth.”

“…an immense pile of filth.”

I hope that got your attention.  It’s a line from our Holy Father’s new encyclical on the environment.  In it he says, “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” – and offers a challenge to us all to do something about that.  I encourage you to read the whole thing.[1]

Here’s a borrowed ten-point summary of the encyclical that I don’t think I could improve on.[2]

  1. The encyclical strongly affirms the climate science and the gravity of the environmental challenge. The pope states clearly that the recent global warming is due to greenhouse gas emissions, caused mainly by human activity.
  2. In the face of this crisis, the pope lambasts those who fail to act. Noting that failure to find solutions to the environmental crisis, Pope Francis pins the blame on obstruction of vested interests, general indifference, and blind confidence in technical solutions. He is particularly critical of people who possess more resources or more political economic power, who seem concerned with “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms”.
  3. The encyclical calls for a dramatic reduction in the emission of greenhouse gases, and for rich countries to help poorer countries on this path. It notes that fossil fuels need to be “progressively and quickly replaced” with renewable. This requires action at the global, national, and local levels.
  4. The pope offers a beautiful meditation on the profound interconnectedness of all creation.
  5. Drawing on this interconnectedness, the pope affirms an integral ecology of humanity and all creation. Pope Francis grounds human life in three intertwined relationships—with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself. If one of these relationships is ruptured, then the others are ruptured too. The implication is that there are not separate social and economic crises, but one socio-economic crisis, and that we need to hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor”. When the environment is degraded, including through climate change, it is the poor who suffer most.
  6. The encyclical issues a jeremiad against the human behavior at the heart of the ecological crisis, especially the individualistic mindset. It lays the blame for environmental degradation on the ideology of power and profit, the theology domination and dominion.
  7. The encyclical calls on the global economy to prioritize people and the planet over profits. Over and over, the pope rails against the idea that the market alone can protect the environment and ensure social inclusion and integral human development.
  8. The encyclical has a strong ecumenical flavor. In light of the global nature of environmental degradation, Pope Francis addresses the encyclical to “every living person on the planet”.
  9. The encyclical shows a pope with practical experience of the lives of the poor. Francis devotes a whole section to the “ecology of daily life”, where he paints a vivid portrait of urban life in the developing world—poverty, crime, shanty towns, derelict buildings, congestion, pollution, a feeling of uprootedness, lack of public transportation, the sense of asphyxiation from dense population.
  10. The pope calls for an ecological conversion. Policy is not enough, we also need a profound interior conversion. This calls for the cultivation of new virtues that emphasize “ecological citizenship”—interior motivation and personal transformation rather than just external laws and regulations.

Again, read the whole thing. Attempts to politicize the Holy Father’s concern – to make what he says fit into Republican/Democrat, conservative/liberal mental boxes – are already widespread.  We owe it to ourselves and especially to the poor and to young people not to be misled by people trying to use the Holy Father’s words to self-serving ends.  Read him for yourself, and take what he has to say to heart.  Have a great summer; my next column will be on September 13.  Until then, peace.

[1] You can find it here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html

[2] I’m summarizing this from Anthony Annett, an advisor at the Earth Institute at Columbia University.  It appeared in the blog for Commonweal Magazine June 18, 2015.  You can read the whole thing at https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/blog/ten-quick-takeaways-laudato-si.