Climate encyclical sent strong moral message to the world

Climate encyclical
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Lima, Peru

A look back on Pope Francis’ climate encyclical on ecology and climate shows that it sent a strong moral message — a message that made some readers uncomfortable, some observers said. Before the encyclical, Archbishop Pedro Barreto Jimeno of Huancayo, Peru,”The encyclical will address the issue of inequality in the distribution of resources and topics such as the wasting of food and the irresponsible exploitation of nature and the consequences for people’s life and health.” “Pope Francis has repeatedly stated that the environment is not only an economic or political issue, but is an anthropological and ethical matter,” he said. “How can you have wealth if it comes at the expense of the suffering and death of other people and the deterioration of the environment?”The encyclical, published on June 18, 2015 was titled Laudato Sii (“Praised Be”), the first words of St. Francis’ “Canticle of the Creatures.”

Adelie penguins gather at the base of a memorial at Mawson's Hut in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, Jan. 16. The pope's upcoming encyclical on climate and ecology will be published June 18. (CNS photo/Dean Lewins, EPA)

Adelie penguins gather at the base of a memorial at Mawson’s Hut in Commonwealth Bay, Antarctica, Jan. 16. The pope’s encyclical on climate and ecology was published June 18, 2015. (CNS photo/Dean Lewins, EPA)

Although Barreto was not involved in the drafting of the encyclical, he worked closely with then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio in 2007 on a document by the Latin American bishops’ council that included an unprecedented section on the environment.

The climate encyclical was not expected to be a theological treatise or a technical document about environmental issues, but a pastoral call to change the way people use the planet’s resources so they are sufficient not only for current needs, but for future generations, observers said.

The document “emphasized that the option for stewardship of the environment goes hand in hand with the option for the poor,” said Carmelite Fr. Eduardo Agosta Scarel, a climate scientist who teaches at the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina and the National University of La Plata in Buenos Aires.

“I think the pope wants us to become aware of this,” said Scarel, who was involved in preparatory consultations about the encyclical. “He was aiming at a change of heart. What will save us is not technology or science. What will save us is the ethical transformation of our society.”

The pope probably foreshadowed the climate encyclical during his first public Mass as pope on March 19, 2013, Agosta said. In his homily, he said, “Let us be ‘protectors’ of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

Although the document was published in the wake of a seminar on climate change in April 2015 at the Vatican, it was not limited to that issue and focused more on the relationship between people and their environment, Barreto said.

“What the pope brought to the debate was moral dimension,” said Anthony Annett, climate change and sustainable development adviser to the Earth Institute at Columbia University and to the nonprofit Religions for Peace. “His unique way of looking at the problem, which is deeply rooted in Catholic social teaching, resonates with people all across the world.”

Annett called the timing of the climate encyclical “extremely significant.”

A month after it was published, global representatives met at a conference on financing for development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In September 2015, the pope addressed the United Nations at a session that saw the approval of a new set of global development objectives, the Sustainable Development Goals, which included environmental criteria.

And in December 2015, negotiators and world leaders converged on Paris to finish hammering out a treaty aimed at reducing the emission of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming.

Some politicians have already questioned the pope’s credentials for wading into the issue of climate change, but that is only one of several environmental problems the pope has addressed, said David Kane, a Maryknoll lay missioner in Joao Pessoa, Brazil, who works with Maryknoll’s Faith-Economics-Ecology Program.

The pope has spoken out in the past on the “throwaway culture, both of material goods that we buy and use for a few months and then throw out, and also throwaway people,” he said.

Kane hopes the encyclical has helped people understand that overusing resources, from forests to fish to water, results in scarcity that can both increase and be exacerbated by climate change. He hopes that Pope Francis has reminded people of the responsibility of caring for God’s creation.

“Whether you think climate change is a problem or not, you cannot deny that running out of fish, oil, water and other resources is a really big problem. The solution is a radical change in our concept of what makes a person happy. We need to move away from the idea that the more things we have, the happier we’ll be,” Kane said.

Barreto expected some controversy once people read the document, because resisting the “throwaway culture” by being satisfied with less means “putting money at the service of people, instead of people serving money.”

The climate encyclical “has many critics, because they want to continue setting rules of the game in which money takes first place,” he says. “We have to be prepared for those kinds of attacks.”


Originally published by Barbara Fraser, The National Catholic Reporter