Addressing “every person on the planet” in a groundbreaking encyclical, “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis speaks frankly and passionately about the “global environmental deterioration” of “our common home,” appealing “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”
Pope Francis expressed the hope that his first solo encyclical, released June 18, “can help us to acknowledge…the immensity and the urgency of the challenge we face,” because “if present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.” But it will hit the poor hardest, since many of them live in areas particularly affected by climate warming. Like the prophets of old, Francis warns that the situation “will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption.”
His encyclical leaves little doubt: climate change is happening; it is mainly the result of human activity; and it is up to all people of good will to do something about it. “We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” Francis writes.
The spirituality of the saint whose name he has taken as pope, St. Francis of Assisi, is the soul of the encyclical. It is this profound spirituality that gives the encyclical real power in generating a true conversion on the environment.
Explaining what this conversion entails, Francis says it is morally imperative that humankind take responsibility for what it is doing, act to slow down and reverse the trends and make every effort to prevent further damage. He says this requires a change of heart and lifestyles and establishing new ways of producing, distributing and consuming.
“Laudato Si’” encourages families, religious and church communities and civic organizations each to play a part in caring for “our common home.”
His experience in Latin America taught Pope Francis to view critically the underpinnings of the global economy. He observes that “economic powers continue to justify the current global system, where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment.” He underlines the fact that “environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked.”
In “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis warns that “humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads.” Never before “has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.” The first pope from the global south urges everyone “to hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” and to respond with action.
Despite the many challenges, Francis remains confident change is possible because “the Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.”
The pope takes note of the so-far “weak international political responses” to climate change and remarks that “the failure of global summits on the environment make plain…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 has positioned his encyclical to have maximum impact during upcoming world summits in New York and Paris, where “Laudato Si’” may serve as a global wake-up call before it is too late.