Revisiting the Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change

Published by Dave Brooks on

March 24th, 2016

As many Christians celebrate Holy Week this week, we revisit the influential publication and the powerful environmental message that it brings. With language and concepts more likely to be associated with revolutionary leaders, The Pope’s 2015 Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ (‘Praise be to you’) took the environmental movement by storm on its publication last June.

“..Economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.”

The document, subtitled ‘On Care For Our Common Home’, extends its message of the need for radical changes in the way we treat our environment to people of other faiths, referencing ecological writings of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople and the 9th Century Muslim Sufi poet Ali al-Khawas. This acknowledgement of the need for unity in tackling the challenges such as biodiversity loss, soil degradation and particularly climate change is just one of a number of visionary statements in the encyclical.

Pollution, Waste and Throwaway Culture

On the subject of the failure of our economic systems to adequately account for environmental damage resulting from economic activity, Pope Francis urges a move away from a narrow-minded cost-benefit framing of the natural world, instead suggesting that its protection is a moral issue.

“Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained.”

In reference to the amount of waste that is generated by our consumer societies, the Pope proposes the development of a circular economy, that makes better use of natural resources.

“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”.

Need for ‘Integral Ecology’

The paper holds little hope for government-based negotiating processes, due to the segmentation of responsibility inherent in such systems. In its place an ‘Integral Ecology’ that recognises the interconnectedness of all systems on the planet is called for, allowing for greater appreciation of unquantifiable elements of natural systems such as biodiversity, which have immeasurable intrinsic worth.

“Since everything is closely interrelated, and today’s problems call for a vision capable of taking into account every aspect of the global crisis, I suggest that we now consider some elements of an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions”

‘Common but Differentiated Responsibility’

Acknowledgement of the Western world’s privileged development pathway, marked by untethered consumption of natural resources and historically high carbon emissions in contrast to the restricted pathways remaining for developing nations, is at the heart of this work. Where developed nations in the global north have prospered at the expense of poorer nations in the global south, ironically those also most at risk from the effects of climate change, the debt must now be repaid by those most responsible for the climate crisis. This recognition of the role to be played by climate justice, in redressing the inequalities that will only be made wider by climate change, highlights the level of compassion that will be needed in confronting climate change in a fair way.

“The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”


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Dave Brooks

Dave works as Communication Assistant with the Environmental Pillar. His background is in psychology and he has a masters in Environmental Psychology from the University of Surrey.