Pope Francis: The Earth, our home

This article is more than 6 years old
Pope Francis: The Earth, our home, is beginning
to look like an immense pile of filth
Pope Francis
Thu 18 Jun 2015 11.41 BST
News Opinion Sport Culture Lifestyle
This is an extract from Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si
The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now
covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and chemical products utilised in cities and
agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the organisms of the local population,
even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently no measures are taken
until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.
These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded
just as it quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we
produce is thrown away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way
natural ecosystems work is exemplary: plants synthesise nutrients which feed
herbivores; these in turn become food for carnivores, which produce significant
quantities of organic waste which give rise to new generations of plants. But our
industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not
developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We have not yet
managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for
present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of nonrenewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use,
reusing and recycling them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of
counteracting the throwaway culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be
said that only limited progress has been made in this regard.
The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it
is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very
solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing
warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied
by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme
weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each
particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognise 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. It is true that there are other factors
(such as volcanic activity, variations in the Earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet 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. Concentrated in the
atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the
Earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development
based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy
system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil,
principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
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.
However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if
we continue with current models of production and consumption. 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. Worldwide there is
minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop
adequate storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress,
although it is far from constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also
been made in means of production and transportation which consume less energy and
require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction and renovating
buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good practices are still far
from widespread.
Avery solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a
disturbing warming ofthe climatic system
‘The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.’ A landfill in Bhopal, India.
Photograph: Sanjeev Gupta/EPA
The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot
adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to
human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of
society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: both everyday experience
and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment
are suffered by the poorest. For example, the depletion of fishing reserves especially
hurts small fishing communities without the means to replace those resources; water
pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water; and rises in the
sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else to go.
The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the
poor, in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other
problems which are insufficiently represented on global agendas. It needs to be said
that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which
especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population,
billions of people.
When people become self-centred and self-enclosed,their greed increases
These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic discussions,
but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an
afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if
not treated merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they
frequently remain at the bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many
professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centres of power, being
located in affluent urban areas, are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact
with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level
of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the
world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at times
by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to
tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by
side with a “green” rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological
approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in
debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the
he same mindset which stands in the way of making radical decisions to
reverse the trend of global warming also stands in the way of achieving the
goal of eliminating poverty. A more responsible overall approach is needed to
deal with both problems: the reduction of pollution and the development of
poorer countries and regions. The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of
governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation
states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends
to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and
more efficiently organised international institutions, with functionaries who are
appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to
impose sanctions. As Benedict XVI has affirmed in continuity with the social teaching
of the Church: “To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis;
to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would
result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to
guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this,
there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John
XXIII indicated some years ago”. Diplomacy also takes on new importance in the work
of developing international strategies which can anticipate serious problems affecting
us all.
‘Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence
and mutual destruction.’ Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian
Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its
products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and
spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic
paradigm affects individuals. Romano Guardini had already foreseen this: “The
gadgets and technics forced upon him by the patterns of machine production and of
abstract planning mass man accepts quite simply; they are the forms of life itself. To
either a greater or lesser degree mass man is convinced that his conformity is both
reasonable and just”. This paradigm leads people to believe that they are free as long as
they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority
who wield economic and financial power. Amid this confusion, postmodern humanity
has not yet achieved a new self-awareness capable of offering guidance and direction,
and this lack of identity is a source of anxiety. We have too many means and only a few
insubstantial ends. The current global situation engenders a feeling of instability and
uncertainty, which in turn becomes “a seedbed for collective selfishness”. When
people become self-centred and self-enclosed, their greed increases. The emptier a
person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It
becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a
genuine sense of the common good also disappears. As these attitudes become more
widespread, social norms are respected only to the extent that they do not clash with
personal needs. So our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme
At the Guardian, we are dedicating more resources than ever to covering the most
urgent and defining issue of our lifetimes, and bringing it to readers like you in
Canada. We have a long history of producing some of the world’s best, high-impact
climate journalism, and today, it is a topic that runs as a priority through so much of
what we do.
Beyond this, we are committed to practicing what we preach, and to greening our
operations as a global news organisation. So – in addition to our journalistic
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advertising petro-dollars, and by 2030 we will have eliminated two-thirds of our
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We have now received funding from readers in more than 180 countries, helping us
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weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social
unrest. Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable
of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.
Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are
also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a
new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest
look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new
paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what
is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work
deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity
which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.
Pope Francis’s encyclical is published in full by the Vatican here
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comments (418)
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accountto join the discussion nexttime
18 Jun 2015 6:47 23
How about “caring for our home” by allowing people to prevent themselves out-breeding its
carrying capacity?
18 Jun 2015 6:59 9
We’re nowhere near full capacity – it’s a ‘distribution of resources’ issue; or greed as
18 Jun 2015 7:04 21
Er no…
Current Population is Three Times the Sustainable Level
Unless you want the worlds population to live in abject poverty, we cannot sustain the
current population levels long-term.
18 Jun 2015 7:09 5
I don’t know what the Popes view is on that subject, but one things for sure- in the very
reactionary Catholic Church he’s got to pick his fights carefully. The more radical he is,
the more he’s likely to lose his influence.
See prominent right wing Catholics reaction already. I’d guess his ultimate goal is to
change over the church to being more progressive- and a direct approach to change is
unlikely to work.
Show 29 more replies
18 Jun 2015 6:53 10
Yey (minus the God bit)!
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