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The Green Pope: A Closer Look at Pope Francis’s Historic Climate Change Encyclical

Gan Golan Jun 23, 2015

Pope Francis has released his long-awaited encyclical on climate change, entitled "Laudato Sii: On The Care For Our Common Home". The 183-page "teaching letter" is vast in it's scope, declares climate change a moral issue, and covers a broad range of global crisis from the destruction of biodiversity to the unacceptable treatment of the poor, immigrants and climate refugees.  

Most scathingly, the paper offers an uncompromising indictment of free markets, accusing capitalism of plundering the planet, driving global inequality, and serving only the 'very few' that have obstructing desperately needed action on climate change.  It urges humanity to begin phasing out  fossil fuels "without delay". At moments, the unapologetic yet meticulously researched paper reads like it could have been written by a cross between St. Francis of Assisi and Naomi Klein

While many would argue that The Vatican has been on the wrong side of history for well, most of history, this Pope feels like a refreshing  departure, and as a result has become an incredibly popular figure for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike. The Pope, who studied chemistry in his younger days, is said to have spent over two years working on the encyclical in conversation with climate scientists. 

The document, which will determine religious teachings across the 1.2 billion member Catholic Church – and have impacts well beyond it – has enraged religious conservatives who form the base of the Climate Denier movement. Curiously, their usual calls to unquestionably follow religious authority seem to be suddenly absent.

At nearly 200 pages however, this thing is a doozy. So, to help you get to the heart of it, I've gone through and excerpted some of the most intriguing quotes from the Encyclical, and re-arranged them by subject. You can find them here.
The encyclical is already inspiring people to action. An interfaith march to demand action on climate change is happening in Rome on June 28 titled "One Planet. One Human Family". Pope Francis will  be visiting New York City in October, where more events are expected to occur. Meanwhile, activists are asking the Pope to have launched a campaign: Divest The Vatican.

Excerpts from The Encyclical


Laudato Sii – On The Care For Our Common Home – Pope Francis


On the subject of the Earth:

Humanity is one people living in a common home.” [164]


“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. [23]


“The earth is essentially a shared inheritance” [93]


On The Sacredness of Nature:

“All creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another. Each area is responsible for the care of this family. [42]


A prayer for our earth: All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.” [246]


“Each creature reflects something of God and has a message to convey to us.” [221]


There is “mutual responsibility between human beings and nature.” [67]


On The Destruction of Nature:

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” [21]


“These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course.” [53]


“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.” [53]


“To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”. [8]


“Sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.” [66]


“The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production.” [32]


“If we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.” [35]


“The Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.” [68]


“Instead of carrying out his role as a cooperator with God in the work of creation, man sets himself up in place of God and thus ends up provoking a rebellion on the part of nature”. [95]


On The Science of Climate Change:

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.” [23]


“A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.” [23]


On Taking Urgent action:


“Decisive action, here and now.” [161]


“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.” [161]


On Future Generations:

“Intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice, since the world we have received also belongs to those who will follow us.” [124}


“The environment…is on loan to each generation, which must then hand it on to the next.”[159]


On Climate Deniers:

“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms.” [26]


“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” [54]


“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective…because of powerful opposition… Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference.” [14]


On the Link between Climate and Social Justice:

“We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” [139]


“Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.” [91]


On The Need for Deep, Structural change:

“All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.” [114]


“The urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity.” [3]


Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies’.” [9]


“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.” [23]


“Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan.”[164]


“Ecological culture cannot be reduced to a series of urgent and partial responses to the immediate problems of pollution, environmental decay and the depletion of natural resources. There needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational programme, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm. Otherwise, even the best ecological initiatives can find themselves caught up in the same globalized logic. To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.” [111]


On The Need to End Fossil Fuels:

“The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system.” [23]


“The use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” [165]


“There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.” [26]


On the Need to Address Economic Inequality:

“Every ecological approach needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the poor and the underprivileged.” [93]


“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.” [48]


“Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor… because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.” [30]


“A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” [49]


“The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty.” [27]


“The same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of poorer countries and regions.” [175]


On The Responsibilities of the  Wealthiest Countries:

“The countries which have benefited from a high degree of industrialization, at the cost of enormous emissions of greenhouse gases, have a greater responsibility for providing a solution to the problems they have caused”. [127]


“Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries… A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time.” [51]


“Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor.” [30]


“The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world” [51]


“Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most.” [169]


“The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary processes and to cover their costs. We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change, there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated by more powerful interests”.[52]


On Immigration/Refugees

“There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded”.


“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 globalization of indifference.” [91]


On Island Nations / Coastal Communities

“If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.” [24]


On Privatization of Water:

Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. [30]


the control of water by large multinational businesses may become a major source of conflict in this century.[23]


On Capitalism & The Free Market:

“We need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals.” [190]


“Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.” [33]


“We can see signs that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation; these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation.” [61]


“When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus.” [82]


“Finance overwhelms the real economy. The lessons of the global financial crisis have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration…by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.[109]


“We fail to see the deepest roots of our present failures, which have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.” [109]


On Market-based solutions:

“Environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces.” [190]


“The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.” [171]


“Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature…the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention…with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.” [190]


On Private Property:

“The Christian tradition has never recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social purpose of all forms of private property.” [93]


“There is always a social mortgage on all private property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose… it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a way that its benefits favour only a few… This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.[76]


“The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of all.” [78]


On The Common Good:

“The common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice; whenever this is violated, violence always ensues. Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.” [157]


“Society as a whole, and the state in particular, are obliged to defend and promote the common good.” [157]


On Banks:

“Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery. The financial crisis of 2007-08 provided an opportunity to develop a new economy, more attentive to ethical principles, and new ways of regulating speculative financial practices and virtual wealth. But the response to the crisis did not include rethinking the outdated criteria which continue to rule the world.”


On The 1%:

     “We fail to see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have not the      faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.” [90]

On Multinational Corporations:

“The pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment, abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social works which are no longer sustainable”.[51]


On International Debt:

“The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the case where ecological debt is concerned. 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.” [51]


On Unlimited Growth:

“Unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology…is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.” [86]


On Climate Activism:

“in the absence of pressure from the public and from civic institutions, political authorities will always be reluctant to intervene, all the more when urgent needs must be met.” [181]


“I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest. 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.”


“Worldwide, the ecological movement has made significant advances, thanks also to the efforts of many organizations of civil society. It is impossible here to mention them all, or to review the history of their contributions. But thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches.” [166]


“Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”.[14]


On Creating New Economy

“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.”[22]


On The Loss of  Biodiversity:

“The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.”


“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity.” [33]


“Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” [33]


“We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.” [34]


On Failed Political Leadership:

“What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” [57]


“Recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” [166]


“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”


On Local Leadership & Local Solutions:

“There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture.” [144]


On Indigenous Leadership:

“It is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions. They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.” [146]


It Takes Everyone

“Self-improvement on the part of individuals will not by itself remedy the extremely complex situation facing our world today….Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds. This task “will make such tremendous demands of man that he could never achieve it by individual initiative…The ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.” [219]


A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries.” [164]


On the possibility for Change

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning.” [205]


“ If we acknowledge the value and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our power.”


“Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.” [94]


On The Future

“Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.”

“Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.” [205]



Indypendent Climate Change Special Issue (Sept. 2014)

Mayday For The Planet (Aug. 2014)

A World Without Ice? by John Tarleton

Beach Town vs Big Energy by Alex Ellefson

Photo Essay: In Defense of Their Land & Water by Andrew Stern & Michael Premo

Our Planet in the Balance: The Warsaw Climate Talks by Renee Feltz


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