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Key messages from the Pope’s Encyclical on ecology

18 June 2015

Dr Lorna Gold, Trócaire's Head of Policy and Advocacy, writes about Pope Francis's Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’ – released today

You can't read Pope Francis’s Encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si’, and not be deeply moved. 

This is perhaps the most far reaching church document in a generation. It is certainly the most anticipated. It is both deeply political in its content and in its timing, as well as deeply contemplative and deeply practical.

Pope Francis presents a heart-breaking analysis of the various dramatic environmental situations facing the world today – from the terror of climate change, to biodiversity loss in every habitat, to the growing inequality in relation to finite resources, against a backdrop of overconsumption and waste - which results in many people being regarded as disposable.

He points to the deep ethical and spiritual roots of the current 'socio-environmental' crisis: a uni-dimensional paradigm founded on a blind faith in market-based technocratic solutions to resolve the world's problems. He warns of the folly of seeking technical fixes to complex problems, which involve matters of human consciousness. 

In fact, we know very little about the interconnectedness of life and often choose to ignore it. Overcoming this blindness requires an integral ecology, one that doesn’t try to solve problems in a piecemeal fashion, but sees the deep interconnections between the different crises and seeks to resolve them in a holistic, interdisciplinary way.

The Pope dispels the myths around the Judeo-Christian tradition as being about domination of nature. He throws this out as a false interpretation and goes to great lengths to dispel it. 

A phrase that appears several times in the document is "everything is interconnected." In terms of what we can do, the Encyclical points to some very practical pathways for action. In this respect, it really gives hope. 

First, we each need to believe that simple actions make a big difference. We need to start by re-evaluating our own understanding of our place in the environment. He reminds us that we are made from the elements of the natural world. We do not sit apart from it. We are earth and we need to rediscover that deep connection. Reconnecting with our place in nature and rediscovering that "affectionate" relationship is the starting point of an "ecological conversion." 

Pope Francis
 
The Pope places a special focus on families and the role of parents in this regard. He makes a very simple call for all families to begin practicing grace before meals again, as a sign of our appreciation of nature and our dependence on God's creation. It is a custom that has perhaps gone out of fashion. He also asks us to consider Sunday as a day of rest, a restorative day for nature and ourselves. 

In our local communities, he affirms that integral ecology is central to the Christian message. He calls for an ecological spirituality and asks us all to consider how we consume. He says that each act of consumption is a "moral and political act". He reminds us of the power of boycott campaigns and the need to create a counterculture based on 'less is more' and a new mindful, contemplation of nature. It calls for a new educational and spiritual awareness to ensure this happens. 

It calls on NGOs, in particular, to continue to work for political change and to organise people to build political pressure for change.

At a political level, the Encyclical does not pull any punches. It highlights the way in which international finance has control over politics at a national and international level and how this is limiting and distorting our capacity to address common challenges. This is a failure of governance, which requires a new way of governing the “global commons". 

We need stronger, effective international agreements to combat environmental degradation, including climate change. In this respect, the need for a fair and binding agreement on climate change at the UN Summit this December is essential to change course. 

Importantly, the Encyclical stresses that poor countries should not have to bear the burden of this transition. They need to be supported both in terms of finance and technology transfers to make the transition to renewable energy.

At a national level, the Pope also has a timely message for Ireland, as we finalise our own climate legislation in the next few weeks. He points to the need for robust laws to protect the environment and the need to ensure that they are enacted. 

These laws should not be subject to the whim of political cycles, but take the long view, thinking of the impact of their enforcement on future generations. In this regard, the need for Ireland's climate legislation to be as robust as possible and to incorporate the principle of climate justice is very clear.

On the economic front, the Encyclical points to the need for macroeconomic strategies and business plans in particular to integrate environmental costs. It points to the fact that the economy currently does not account properly for the use of natural capital, utilising it as if it were an infinite resource. We know now that it is not and that true natural capital accounting is essential. 

Similarly, all businesses need to implement Environmental Impact Assessments, which take the full environmental impacts into account.

The Encyclical starts and ends with a very compelling but simple message: we need to look at nature and each other with new eyes. Before thinking about how we can use nature, we need to recover our capacity to contemplate it, and give praise to God for its and our existence.