The Vatican has published the Pope’s long-awaited encyclical on climate change: On Care for Our Common Home.  It runs to 246 paragraphs and ends with a prayer for our earth.

Pope Francis argues for a new partnership between science and religion to address human-driven climate change, and chides those who remain sceptics on the issue.  The encyclical is necessarily spiritual, but urges practical action as well.  It specifically calls for “an ecological conversion for the faithful“, many of whom still “ridicule expressions of concern for the environment”.

This will likely not go down well with conservatives in the USA, and the BBC is already reporting that Jeb Bush, a presidential hopeful, has said as he did not get his economic policy from his bishops, cardinals or pope, why should he look to them for his policy on the environment.

The Pope has offered what many must have been waiting a long time for: a clear statement that climate change is happening, that it’s man-made, and that it should be addressed through humanity’s combined efforts.  He writes (page 19):

“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 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.” 

Much of what is written in the paper could have come from an environmental NGO for the UN Paris summit at the end of the year, and the document says again and again that it’s the duty of countries that have grown rich from fossil fuels to help poorer ones.  It also rightly acknowledges the gross inequalities that exist within such countries, and so acknowledges that the problem is more complex than a north vs. south issue.

Meanwhile, George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, says that the encyclical is a

potential turning point [as it] will argue that not only the physical survival of the poor, but also our spiritual welfare depends on the protection of the natural world; and in both respects he is right.”

Monbiot asks why the defenders of the living world (thats us, of course) are so ineffective.  His response is that, in our own ways, we are all complicit.

“We have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost.”

For an alternative perspective, you can read Mark Lynas’s, less than positive view of the encyclical here.

What’s certainly the case is that a new voice has been added to the arguments – and it’s a considerable one.  At the very least, the encyclical adds to the resources we have in our work to educate each other about the endangered world we live in, and, one way or another, which we cherish.



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