In his much-awaited encyclical on the environment, Pope Francis said that global warming could cause “unprecedented” environmental destruction, is mainly caused by human activity and presents an “urgent” need to lower carbon emissions through reduced use of fossil fuels.
The pontiff also denounced in bold and uncompromising terms what he described as the sinful plundering of the earth by powerful political and economic interests at the expense of the poor and future generations.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, had described the leaked Italian text as a draft, but the final document, published in eight languages, differed only in minor ways from the earlier version, while the pope’s main points were identical.
Pope Francis writes that a “very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climactic system,” contributing to a “constant rise in the sea level” and an “increase of extreme weather events.”
“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it,” he writes.
While acknowledging natural causes for climate change, including volcanic activity and the solar cycle, Pope Francis writes that 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.”
As a result, the pope argues, “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.”
The encyclical’s treatment of climate change had been of enormous interest in the run-up to publication, especially after Pope Francis said that he hoped the document would “make a contribution” to an international summit on the subject scheduled to take place in Paris at the end of this year.
Several oil companies offered their input to the Vatican office tasked with drafting the document.
In the encyclical, Pope Francis addresses other environmental problems, too, including the “water poverty” of Africa and other poor regions where clean drinking water is scarce, and threats to biodiversity.
“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever,” the pope writes. “Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”
The 183-page document, which Pope Francis addresses not only to Catholics but to “every person living on this planet,” includes extensive sections on the theology of creation as well as pointed critiques of globalization and consumerism, which he says lead to environmental degradation. The pope’s signature theme of economic justice runs through the entire encyclical, along with his well-known skepticism about capitalism.
“The failure of global summits on the environment makes 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,” he writes.
The Argentina-born pontiff, the first in history to hail from the southern hemisphere, writes of the “ecological debt” that the global North owes the South, since “developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.”
The document alternates between passages of almost apocalyptic moralizing and more technical language, including practical proposals for alleviating environmental problems.
Pope Francis opens the encyclical with a lament for man’s sins against “Mother Earth”: “We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life.”
In the last chapter, the pope writes about a need to promote more environmentally conscious lifestyles, featuring such practices as reduced use of plastic, paper and water; separating trash; carpooling and turning off unnecessary lights.
“We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world,” he writes.