June 29, 2015

People have a growing ecological awareness, but that awareness "has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption," Pope Francis said in the opening chapter of his encyclical Laudato Si', On Care For Our Common Home.

Rather than decreasing, those "harmful habits" appear to be all the more on the increase, the pope said.

"Many people will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how limited and finite our world really is," he said in the chapter entitled What is Happening to Our Common Home.

"False or superficial ecology" is on the rise, but so far it has only bolstered "complacency and a cheerful recklessness," the pope said.

"This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen," he said in a section on what he called "weak responses" to the ecological crisis.

In the chapter, the pope outlined problems such as climate change, lack of drinkable water, decreasing biodiversity and a declining quality of life.

"The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth," he wrote.

Changes are needed in lifestyles as well as production and consumption, he said. Urgently needed is "a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet."

Environmental degradation is experienced most by the poor of the world, the pope said, and solutions to environmental problems are linked with a resolution of global poverty.

Developed nations have "an ecological debt" to less developed nations, he said. "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 programs of sustainable development."

Global summits on the economy have failed because "special interests and economic interests" have trumped the common good.

"The most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment," the pope said.

"Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented."

Pope Francis, in his introduction to the encyclical, quoted Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew at length, perhaps the first time the leader of another Christian Church has been cited with such authority in a papal document.


The pope also paid tribute to his patron, St. Francis of Assisi, who is also patron saint of ecology.

St. Francis, he said, lived ecologically in a manner that "takes us to the heart of what it is to be human."

His austere lifestyle was "no mere veneer of asceticism," but something more radical – "a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled."

Economic, political power

Implicit throughout the encyclical is a papal contrast between St. Francis and those with economic and political power who "seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms."

Pope Francis said the search for solutions to environmental problems is marked by two different outlooks.

On one extreme are those who "doggedly uphold the myth of progress" and who say the problems will be solved simply by developing new technologies.

On the other extreme, he said, are those who see overpopulation as the main issue and believe human beings should not intervene in the environment at all.