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Pope calls for urgent rethink of man's relationship with the Earth

18 June 2015 | by Catherine Pepinster

Pope Francis has urged the world to embark upon a revolutionary ethical rethink and change of heart in its relationship with the planet.

In an encyclical dedicated to the environment he has warned of the threat to God’s creation particularly from climate change, and backed a reduction in the use of fossil fuels.

Vatican sources have indicated that Laudato si’ – named after words of St Francis of Assisi in his Canticle of the Creatures and published today – is a deliberate intervention in the debate over climate change in the run-up to three major UN summits, including that in Paris in December, where 196 countries will meet to sign a new agreement.

The Pope’s words are addressed not only to Catholics but to everyone, including governments and businesses who can make decisions that will limit global warming.

The document makes it clear that Pope Francis is shifting Catholic theology away from a human-centred concept of life towards a more planet-centred idea. “We are not God. The earth was here before us and it has been given to us.”

It says that the account in Genesis which grants man “dominion” over the earth (Gen 1:28), has encouraged “the unbridled exploitation of nature”. But it says this reading of Scripture is not correct. Being created in God’s image does not justify absolute domination over other creatures, it says.

Laudato si’ also says Christians need to undergo an “ecological conversion”, which it said “entails the recognition of our errors, sins, faults and failures, and leads to heartfelt repentance.”

The encyclical rejects the belief that population control is the solution to environmental problems, blame for which, it says, lies with “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some”. It also cites abortion as part of the throwaway mentality that has damaged the planet.

While the document cites the importance of small acts by individuals such as cutting food waste, it is clear that action must also be taken at the global level. Its starting point is an acceptance of the science on climate change, backed by the majority of leading scientists. Among contributors to the document are Professor John Schnellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Change and a member of the International Panel on Climate Change.

The encyclical cites reports from bishops from around the world, including from the Philippines, Australia and Brazil. Pope Francis warns: “The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands.”

Pope Francis reportedly told members of the curia on Thursday that Laudato Si' was not a green encyclical but a social one.

Read the encyclical here.

You'll find full coverage of the encylical – the politics, the spirituality, the influences and the role of St Francis of Assisi – in the 20 June issue of The Tablet.



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