In an encyclical released today, Pope Francis called for action addressing environmental problems and climate change. The letter will be delivered to all of the bishops of the Catholic Church, and is meant to be a teaching for Catholics worldwide. He emphasized the need to address environmental issues not on only the physical level, but also at their moral and spiritual causes.
“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he writes, pointing not only to problems associated with trash, but also air and water pollution. The Pope identifies “throwaway culture” as a major source of these problems:
“These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled. 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. 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. We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.”
The Pope also describes the climate as a “common good, belonging to all and meant for all.” He speaks out against anyone denying climate change, particularly taking aim at those who do so to protect their own political power and economic interests. Furthermore, the message is one of social equality, as climate change and pollution disproportionately disadvantage the poor.
Environmentalists around the world are praising the Pope’s strong message. “We share Pope Francis' view that our response to environmental degradation and climate change cannot only be defined by science, technology or economics, but is also a moral imperative,” said Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme Achim Steiner in a statement.
“I had the honor of meeting Pope Francis on Earth Day, and I was struck by how deeply he cares about protecting the poor from the devastation of climate change,” said Kathleen Rogers, President of the Earth Day Network. “The Pope’s message calls on all of us to stop abusing the Earth’s resources and make the sacrifices necessary to combat climate change – before it’s too late.” The organization has created a petition to world leaders, calling them to stand with Pope Francis.