The Encyclical from Pope Francis was released a short while ago, after a press conference. In some areas it is much stronger than I expected it to be. Even in the English translation the words are powerful. I expect they resonate even more strongly in the original Italian. In other parts it's almost schizophrenic. What seems clear is that there were multiple (teams of) authors.
These are just my first impressions, which may change if I study the document more closely. The letter is divided into six chapters. (I've added bookmarks to my version. It's not till you get to the end that you find a table of contents.)
First of all, the letter starts with a reminder that this is not the first pontiff to sound the alarm about how we are hurting our environment. There are quotes from preceding Popes, going back to 1971, more than forty years ago including Paul VI in 1971, John Paul II in 1979. and Benedict XVI in 2007. (You'd think from reading the outcry on denier blogs that no religious leader had ever spoken about the environment before. It's not so.)
Chapter One is hard-hitting. It's got very strong messages about the environment and what is happening. The language and imagery is powerful. It's the chapter that most climate hawks will go to if they are looking for a quote. I've listed some below. It covers pollution, climate change, biodiversity, and water quality as well as social order (over-crowded cities etc).
Chapter Two is for the religious. I skipped over it. Lots of Jesus-speak etc.
Chapter Three "The human roots of the ecological crisis" is about technology, which the letter blames for environmental crises. It talks about the "dominant technocratic paradigm". The benefits of technology are not played down. It looks as if the purpose is to warn about the dangers. And it does paint a black and white view of the world almost like a Batman film - good vs evil:
Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology, knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used.Chapter three links technology with power and control. It discusses globalisation and talks of the "technocratic paradigm".
The basic problem goes even deeper: it is the way that humanity has taken up technology and its development according to an undifferentiated and one-dimensional paradigm. This paradigm exalts the concept of a subject who, using logical and rational procedures, progressively approaches and gains control over an external object. This subject makes every effort to establish the scientific and experimental method, which in itself is already a technique of possession, mastery and transformation. It is as if the subject were to find itself in the presence of something formless, completely open to manipulation.It's thought-provoking and has some good messages, like hitting on the head the notion of unlimited growth:
Human beings and material objects no longer extend a friendly hand to one another; the relationship has become confrontational. This has made it easy to accept the idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology. It is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit....
...Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur.And it adopts a framing that I've long held, the concept of what it calls "modern anthropocentrism" - though not quite matching the way I think on the subject:
An inadequate presentation of Christian anthropology gave rise to a wrong understanding of the relationship between human beings and the world. Often, what was handed on was a Promethean vision of mastery over the world, which gave the impression that the protection of nature was something that only the faint-hearted cared about. Instead, our “dominion” over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship.I'll have to read Chapter Three a few more times. On first reading I'm not completely persuaded. It seems to be missing something. Perhaps it's because the Christian view of the world still places humans front and centre. Or perhaps it's that the complexity of modern societies, given the sheer number of people alive today, hasn't been addressed adequately.
Chapter Four is called "Integral Ecology", which is sort of what it's all about.
It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected....This chapter seems to have had a few different people wanting to get their various messages across, which has tended to dilute the impact overall.
...When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.
Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community. New processes taking shape cannot always fit into frameworks imported from outside; they need to be based in the local culture itself. As life and the world are dynamic realities, so our care for the world must also be flexible and dynamic. Merely technical solutions run the risk of addressing symptoms and not the more serious underlying problems. There is a need to respect the rights of peoples and cultures, and to appreciate that the development of a social group presupposes an historical process which takes place within a cultural context and demands the constant and active involvement of local people from within their proper culture.That above passage could be read as meaning that we need to respect the right of indigenous people to hunt the Dugong to extinction. Hard to tell.
Chapter Five is meant to be about solutions. It starts off strongly, talking about the "spiral of self-destruction":
So far I have attempted to take stock of our present situation, pointing to the cracks in the planet that we inhabit as well as to the profoundly human causes of environmental degradation. Although the contemplation of this reality in itself has already shown the need for a change of direction and other courses of action, now we shall try to outline the major paths of dialogue which can help us escape the spiral of self-destruction which currently engulfs us.In contrast to some of the messaging in Chapter Four, this chapter talks about our interdependence and the need for a "common plan". Among other things, it again touches on climate change:
We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition....Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the twenty-first century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities.
Chapter Six is an attempt to combine the religious with the politico-social-environmental messaging. It talks about greed, consumerism and other flaws in humanity and how we need to change our habits. All good stuff I suppose, and will probably be used at the Sunday pulpit. Great for people who like to take guilt trips. (It brings out the cynic in me, if you can't tell.)
Some quotes, mostly from Chapter One
Here are some bits and pieces, mostly from Chapter One and mostly about climate - my bold italics.
- The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.
- The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.
- A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.
- Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s biodiversity.
- Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.
- 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, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change.
- There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy.
- We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves.
- We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
- Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
- Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years.
- The alliance between the economy and technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. Consequently the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas 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.
- It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons.
- Superficially, apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.
- Modern anthropocentrism has paradoxically ended up prizing technical thought over reality, since “the technological mind sees nature as an insensate order, as a cold body of facts, as a mere ‘given’, as an object of utility, as raw material to be hammered into useful shape; it views the cosmos similarly as a mere ‘space’ into which objects can be thrown with complete indifference”. The intrinsic dignity of the world is thus compromised. When human beings fail to find their true place in this world, they misunderstand themselves and end up acting against themselves.
- Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our decisions is only the most striking sign of a disregard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself.
- Once the human being declares independence from reality and behaves with absolute dominion, the very foundations of our life begin to crumble...
- When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it.
- We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.
- Human ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics.
- The notion of the common good also extends to future generations. ...Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.
- Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. 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, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.
- Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification.
- Beginning in the middle of the last century and overcoming many difficulties, there has been a growing conviction that our planet is a homeland and that humanity is one people living in a common home.
- We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.
- As far as the protection of biodiversity and issues related to desertification are concerned, progress has been far less significant. With regard to climate change, the advances have been regrettably few. Reducing greenhouse gases requires honesty, courage and responsibility, above all on the part of those countries which are more powerful and pollute the most.
- Let us also mention the system of governance of the oceans. International and regional conventions do exist, but fragmentation and the lack of strict mechanisms of regulation, control and penalization end up undermining these efforts. The growing problem of marine waste and the protection of the open seas represent particular challenges. What is needed, in effect, is an agreement on systems of governance for the whole range of so-called “global commons”.
- Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.
- There are a number of (reader's) comments under the "live-streaming" article here
- From Lewandowsky with love: climate conspiracies from WUWT