Pope demands radical change to save the planet

In his encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis calls on the international community to take decisive action. The Earth’s ecosystem is endangered, but there is still time to save it. However, society’s pursuit of wealth has turned the planet into waste dump. Wolf H. Wagner reports from Florence.

Pope Francis calls on the global community to take decisive action now to protect the environment. (Photo credit: Catholic Church England and Wales, flickr)

Pope Francis calls on the global community to take decisive action now to protect the environment. (Photo credit: Catholic Church England and Wales, flickr)

The message but also the manner in which the latest encyclical of the Holy See was presented was unusual: Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, founder and director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research introduced the first papal document dedicated to the environment. The press conference was chaired by the Orthodox metropolitan Ioannis Zizioulas and Cardinal Peter Kodwo Appiah Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. For climate researcher Schellnhuber, former climate advisor to the German Chancellor, the encyclical “Laudato Si (Praise Be, On the Care of Our Common Home” represents a “radical change in the Vatican’s environmental policy”.

Public pays bank bailouts

Pope Francis did not mince words: “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, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change,” he states in the encyclical. “However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.” None of the pontiff’s predecessors went after the powerful in this manner as he accused governments and the financial system of making the public pay the price for “saving banks at any cost”.

In his encyclical Francis calls for a fundamental rethinking if the Earth is to remain inhabitable for future generations. Climate change, pollution, an ever-increasing use of energy and resources – all of these are turning the Earth into an “immense pile of filth”. For Francis, environmental degradation is inextricable linked to social injustice, hunger and lack of water in many countries, crises and the related problems of refugees.

Solution requires joint action

That Francis presented his environmental encyclical with an Orthodox clergyman of all people sends a clear message: the solutions needed to avoid the impending disaster will require comprehensive action not only from representatives of the world religions – Christians of all stripes, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists – but a common pursuit from the economy, politics and science. This sends a clear signal to the global community just a few months before the climate summit from 30 November to 11 December in Paris.

Always a pope of the people, Francis called on individual consumers to take action themselves: avoid the use of plastic and paper, reduce water consumption, separate waste, cook only what can reasonably be consumed. Biological diversity must be preserved along with ecosystems and social systems. And all of these are interconnected: “In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.”

Resource depletion could lead to war

Lasting environmental damage, exploitation and resource depletion could set the scene for new wars with nuclear and biological weapons, warns Francis – proof if any was needed that we have to take action immediately to curb the excessive drive for growth.

This unprecedented appeal should be understood not only as a word of warning from the head of the Catholic church, but even more so as a policy statement from the Vatican head of state. How the international community responds will be seen in the near future, at the latest at the summit in Paris when other heads of states gather to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change.


Photo credit: Catholic Church England and Wales, flickr/Creative Commons

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