Photo by Michael Swan

A people’s revolution

  • June 25, 2015

More than a call to clean up the planet, Laudato Si’ is a plea for humankind to clean up its act. The Pope’s straight-talking encyclical implores people of all nations and faiths to unite in a bold cultural and spiritual revolution to reverse the destruction of the environment.

Pope Francis is the first to declare he is no professor of climate science, but he is summa cum laude at saving souls. He understands that our belligerent treatment of the planet is sinful and contends that we befoul “our common home” through morally indefensible lifestyle choices.

So to save the planet we must change our behaviour. In particular, we must abandon a culture of individualism and consumption that honours the acquisition of material comforts, often to the detriment of the planet’s health and the wellbeing of the world’s poor.

Laudato Si’ will make political and business leaders cringe. As usual, Francis is blunt. Political and business leaders are mostly concerned with “masking the problems or concealing their symptoms,” he wrote. That was his warmup. He continued: Government leaders are more inclined to chase votes than initiate substantive change; a weak international political response to climate change has been sadly remarkable to witness; it is plain that world leaders are puppets manipulated by the whims of technology and finance, and by the demands of special interest groups who disdain the common good for economic gain.

“Consequently, the most anyone can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment,” Francis snapped, adding “any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Language so harsh is unlikely to win Francis friends in the power corridors of politics or business. Not that he seems to care.

The Pope has obviously concluded that, left to themselves, the world’s political and financial elites would let the planet rot as a tradeoff to holding on to power and to boasting healthy balance sheets.  

His encyclical announces a more direct tact. To reverse the ethical and moral decline that feeds the environmental crisis, Francis calls for a “bold cultural revolution.” It is a revolution of the people.

Statecraft has failed, so it’s time to “bring healthy pressure” on the political and business elites, he writes. That will require a mass social and moral conversion. First people must reject the wasteful credo of the throw-away culture. Then they must embrace an ethos of ethical and spiritual behaviour that promotes purchasing and lifestyle decisions that dignify our common home.

“A change in lifestyle could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power,” the Pope wrote.

“Truly, much can be done!”

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