(CN) – Evoking his namesake and the patron saint of ecology, Pope Francis began his much-anticipated Thursday address on climate change by demanding respect for the “Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us.”
She “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her,” the 180-page papal encyclical states.
A draft of the letter to bishops leaked earlier this week earned swift condemnation from the Vatican, but the final text strays little in its remarkable treatment of the otherwise secular subject matter.
“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” Francis wrote.
Blasting the “powerful opposition” and apathy that stands in the way of solving the environmental crisis, the Argentina-born pope’s message is expected to cause waves among U.S. political circles, where most Republicans in office brush off the existence of climate change.
“Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions,” Francis wrote. “We require a new and universal solidarity. As the bishops of Southern Africa have stated: ‘Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation.'”
The pope’s upcoming U.S. visit is scheduled to have him addressing both the United Nations and a joint meeting of Congress.
His speeches are sure to evoke highlights from the encyclical, which remarks on the overall “weak international political responses” thus far to the impending ecological disaster.
“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis wrote. “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”
Francis sharpens these words in a separate section on generational justice.
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain,” he wrote. “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. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now. We need to reflect on our accountability before those who will have to endure the dire consequences.”
Francis noted the concern that the Band-Aid of “carbon credits” might promote speculation that contravenes the goal of reducing pollution.
“In no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require,” Francis wrote. “Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors.”
For Francis, cooperation between the economy and technology serves only to sideline “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,” the encyclical states.
The economy had been a special concern for the pope’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, who used an encyclical in 2009 to propose putting a global authority in charge of the economic crisis.
Francis said the lessons of that crisis “have not been assimilated, and we are learning all too slowly the lessons of environmental deterioration.”
In addition to the urgent need for “enforceable international agreements,” governments must also adopt “global regulatory norms … to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions, for example, when powerful companies dump contaminated waste or offshore polluting industries in other countries,” according to the letter.
“The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the economic and financial sectors, being transnational, tends to prevail over the political,” Francis wrote. “Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions.”
While cooperation toward the goal is key, Francis emphasized that “there are no uniform recipes, because each country or region has its own problems and limitations.”
“It is also true that political realism may call for transitional measures and technologies, so long as these are accompanied by the gradual framing and acceptance of binding commitments,” he wrote. “At the same time, on the national and local levels, much still needs to be done, such as promoting ways of conserving energy.”
Francis called for a return to the common good over greed.
“Our concern cannot be limited merely to the threat of extreme weather events, but must also extend to the catastrophic consequences of social unrest,” he wrote. “Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.”
The dire situation requires each human change his “lifestyle, production and consumption,” according to the encyclical.
Such changes “could bring healthy pressure to bear on those who wield political, economic and social power,” Francis wrote.
“This is what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products,” he added. “They prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers.”