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The Green Pope in His Own Words

Gan Golan Jun 30, 2015

Pope Francis has released his long-awaited encyclical on climate change, entitled “Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.” The 183-page “teaching letter” is vast in its scope, declares climate change a moral issue and covers a broad range of global crises, 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 obstructed 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 more than 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 unquestioningly follow religious authority seem to be absent.
At nearly 200 pages however, this thing is a doozy. So, to help you get to the heart of it, here are some of the most intriguing quotes from the encyclical, re-arranged by subject.
On the subject of the Earth:
“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”
On the destruction of nature:
“Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.”
On the science of climate change:
“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.”
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.”
On climate d​eniers:
“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 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 that 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.”
On the need for deep, structural change:
“All of this shows the urgent need for us to move forward in a bold cultural revolution.”
“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 program, a lifestyle and a spirituality that 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 that comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.”
On the need to end the use of fossil fuels:
“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.”
On the responsibilities of the wealthiest countries:
“The countries that 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.”
On immigration and refugees:
“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.”
On capitalism and 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.”
“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.”
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.”
On private property:
“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 favor only a few … This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a part of humanity.”
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.”
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.”
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?”
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.”
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.”

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