Highlights of the pope's case for environmental protection

Pope urges 'bold cultural revolution' to save planet, fix 'perverse' economy that harms poor

(James Poulson/AP Photo)

(James Poulson/AP Photo)

NEW YORK — In a high-level, 190-page document released Thursday, Pope Francis lays out his theological argument on the imperative to curb climate change and protect the environment. He describes ongoing human damage to nature as “one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity.” The solution, he says, will require self-sacrifice and a “bold cultural revolution” worldwide.

Here are some key points from the document, or encyclical, entitled “Laudato Si,” (Praise Be):


The pope says “a very solid scientific consensus” indicates that global warming is real, and will limit drinking water, harm agriculture, lead to some extinctions of plant and animal life, acidify oceans and raise sea levels in a way that could flood some of the world’s biggest cities. He says some climate change is naturally occurring, but scientific studies indicate global warming “mainly” results from human activity.


The encyclical is as much an economic critique as an environmental call to arms. Francis says richer countries owe an “ecological debt” to developing countries, whose resources are being extracted to fuel production and consumption in industrialized nations. He calls this economic relationship “structurally perverse” and rejects arguments that economic growth alone can solve global hunger and poverty and restore the environment, calling such thinking a “magical conception of the market.”


Francis says government regulations are needed to curb global warming and it is “essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions” with the power to impose sanctions for noncompliance with those rules. “A global consensus is essential for confronting the deeper problems, which cannot be resolved by unilateral actions on the part of individual countries,” Francis says. However, he says regulations alone will not solve the problem. Instead, a changed ethical worldview is needed that would make care for nature and people a priority.


The pope says every activity that affects nature must “take into account the fundamental rights of the poor and underprivileged.” He says “unethical consumerism” has fueled a level of consumption that allows environmental degradation to continue. He calls on individuals to form social networks to press political leaders for change and aid those left homeless or jobless by climate change. He also urges people to make small lifestyle changes, including “using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, (and) turning off unnecessary lights.”


Francis cites core Catholic teaching on care for creation and the poor as he argues for a moral imperative to protect the environment, pointing to Genesis 2:15 on the duty to “till” and “keep” the Earth. The pope seeks prayers for the United Nations climate talks, and wrote two prayers on protecting the environment, asking God to bring “healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it” and to “touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.”


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