'Unsustainable' consumption has led to climate change, Pope Francis says
As world governments prepare to negotiate a potential climate change agreement this fall, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church issued his own, highly anticipated call for decisive action Thursday and chastised those who would deny a human connection to global warming.
In a provocative and powerfully worded encyclical, Pope Francis declared that the planet was indeed growing warmer and that this dangerous trend was due largely to a culture of instant gratification. Tragically, he stated, we have grown increasingly self-obsessed, ever more distant from nature, and alarmingly preoccupied with technological novelty.
"Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain," Francis wrote in the 188-page document. "We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes."
At a Vatican news conference Thursday, Cardinal Peter Turkson, who wrote a draft of the document, said humanity is facing a "crucial challenge" that needs to be addressed through dialogue.
"For Pope Francis it is imperative that practical proposals not be developed in an ideological, superficial or reductionist way," he said.
Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon, representing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Orthodox Church, said the environmental crisis was also a spiritual problem caused by the rise of individualism and a greed for personal happiness.
He warned it could leave future generations to inherit a damaged world if unaddressed.
"The pursuit of individual happiness has been made into an ideal in our time," he said. "Ecological sin is due to human greed, which blinds men and women to the point of ignoring and disregarding the basic truth that the happiness of the individual depends on its relationship with the rest of human beings."
He added that the ecological crisis was growing in conjunction with the spread of social injustice. "We cannot face successfully the one without dealing with the other."
A draft copy of the letter, titled "Laudato Si" (Be Praised), had been leaked to the Italian press this week, but long before then parties on both sides of the highly politicized global warming debate had been preparing for its release.
"The pope's message applies to all of us, regardless of our faith," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We all have a responsibility, as the pontiff reminds us, to do better — by the planet and by our fellow human beings."
"We all are paying a high price for rising seas, expanding deserts, blistering heat, withering drought, raging wildfires, floods, storms and other hallmarks of climate change," Suh said. "But some are bearing a greater burden."
Craig Groves, executive director of the Science for Nature and People partnership, said the group applauded the pope "for standing up for the fundamental values of nature."
"We also welcome the grounding of the church's views in science, which transcends national and religious boundaries," Groves said.
Those who dispute the cause and pace of global warming roundly criticized the religious leader for weighing in on the topic. Some said they hoped the pope would not take the next step and lobby for a new climate treaty at the United Nations climate change conference in Paris in November.
"Despite the media's portrayal, this is ultimately not a climate change encyclical, as only 2 percent of the encyclical deals with climate at all," wrote conservative publisher Marc Morano in a statement released by the Heartland Institute. "The irony is that the people who are lauding the pope's position on climate disagree with just about everything else he stands for."
At the Vatican news conference, Turkson addressed critics who say that Francis should not weigh in on matters of science.
"That the pope should not deal with science sounds a bit strange, since science is in the public domain," Turkson said. "It's a subject area that anyone can get into."
Asked how he would respond to conservatives who say they will listen to Pope Francis on matters of spirituality, but not about politics or economics, he said they had "freedom of choice" to make that distinction, but that he did not agree that there should be an "artificial split" between religion and public life.
In a final comment directed at political figures who might criticize Francis' intervention in the climate change debate, he said: "I would imagine that when they themselves become politicians ... without being scientists, they will not say or utter a word about science." His comments were met with loud applause.
In the encyclical, Francis said that this "post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history," and that the cause of degradation was "profoundly human."
A "disordered desire to consume more than what is really necessary" as well as a "use and throw away culture" were at the root of the problem. He likened this self-obsession and unconcern for nature to abortion.
"How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?"