Photo by Michael Swan

What kind of world will we leave our children?

  • June 28, 2015

On June 18, Pope Francis released his long-anticipated encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home.

At the heart of his encyclical, Pope Francis asks the question to Christians and non-Christians alike: “What kind of world do we want to leave tothose who come after us, to children who are now growing up?”

The Pope reminds us that the Earth is our common home and calls us to an “ecological conversion,” inviting us to change direction in caring forthis planet we share. Several main themes run throughout Laudato Si’, key being the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet and the conviction that everything in the world is connected.

Here we summarize some of the key points, chapter by chapter, from Laudato Si’.

Chapter 1 — What is happening to our common home

The opening chapter examines the ecological crisis and reviews the science of climate change. In the Pope’s words:

“Climate change is a global problem with serious implications, environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods; it represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day” (25).

“The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all” (23), but “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” (26).

“Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women upon which all civil society is founded” (25).

“A complacency and a cheerful recklessness” prevail (59), but fortunately efforts are being made “to establish a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems” (53).

Chapter 2 — The Gospel of Creation

Our responsibility to care for the environment is rooted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, as is witnessed in the Bible. The Pope explains:

Humankind has a “tremendous responsibility” for creation and “the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone” (90).

In the Bible, “the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected” (73).

“These accounts suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the Earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin” (66).

“Nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the Earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures” (67). Human beings have the responsibility to “‘till and keep’ the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15)” (67), knowing that “the ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures are moving forward, with us and through us, towards a common point of arrival, which is God” (83).

All of us are “called into being by the one Father. All of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble respect” (89).

Although human beings are not the master of the universe, that “does not mean to put all living beings on the same level and to deprive human beings of their unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails” (90).

Chapter 3 — The human roots of the ecological crisis

In this chapter, the Pope examines the symptoms of climate change and addresses its “deepest causes.”

The contribution of technologies has done much to improve living conditions around the world, but it gives “those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world” (104), and this leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of the most vulnerable.

“The technocratic paradigm also tends to dominate economics and political life,” and we fail to recognize that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (109).

“Any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour” (124), because “to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society” (128).

Scientific progress is a “complex environmental issue” (135). Although it has “brought about economic growth” to solve problems “there remain a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated” starting with “productive land being concentrated in the hands of a few owners” (134).

Chapter 4 — Integral ecology

In this key chapter, the Pope argues that environmental issues are deeply connected to social and human issues. The world is intricately connected. It is wrong to consider environmental issues as a separate problem.

The world needs an ecology “which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings” (15) and “nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live” (139).

“We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental” (139).

“Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good” (156). The common good means choices should be made on “a preferential option for the poorest of our brothers and sisters” (158) and leaving a sustainable world for future generations.

The common good also regards future generations and we must strive for sustainable development without forgetting the poor “whose life on this Earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting” (162).

Chapter 5 — Lines of approach and action

This chapter urges the launch of a “frank debate” that will require political and business leaders to set aside self interests in order to advance the common good.

We need proposals “for dialogue and action which would involve each of us individually no less than international policy” (15).

They will “help us to escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us” (163).

“There are certain environmental issues where it is not easy to achieve a broad consensus... the Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I want to encourage an honest and open debate, so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good” (188).

“Recent World Summits on the environment have failed to live up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment” (166). And he asks, “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” (57).

What is needed is “an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of the so-called ‘global commons’ ” (174) as “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces” (190, citing the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church).

Those who hold political office must avoid “a mentality of ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ ” (181) that is so prevalent today: “but if they are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility” (181).

Chapter 6 — Ecological education and spirituality

The final chapter calls for an “ecological conversion” that is founded on cultural changes and broad education about the issues, as well as a reliance on the sacraments and an emphasis on prayer, including grace before meals.

“Change is impossible without motivation and a process of education” (15). The starting point is “to aim for a new lifestyle” (203‐208) and “bringing healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power” (206). This happens when consumer choices are able to “change the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production” (206).

 “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness” (230).

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it” (229).

St. Francis, cited several times, is “the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically” (10). He is the model of “the inseparable bond between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and interior peace” (10).

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