The environment and the poor: our responsibility

"This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor," Pope Francis said at his weekly general audience yesterday, the day before his encyclical Laudato Si was published. "Mine is an appeal for responsibility ... I ask everyone to receive this document with an open spirit".

The encyclical was launched at a press conference in the Vatican this morning. Among those who gave presentations was Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace: “At the heart of the encyclical is the question: What kind of world do we want to leave to our children?" he said. “We have a serious responsibility to do everything we can to reduce its impact on the environment and the poor. It is a responsibility for the whole of humanity.” However, he insisted there is still hope of averting catastrophe. “Not everything has been lost,” he said. “Human beings can also overcome this.”

A sin against future generations

In the document, which the Pope decided to issue after seeing the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, Francis calls for not only Catholics but everyone on Earth to go through “ecological conversion”, starting with being prepared to make simple changes to their lifestyles such as turning off lights and using public transport rather than private vehicles. Saying that climate change is caused “mainly” by human action, he describes the destruction of the natural world for our own benefit as a “sin” against God and future generations. He is critical of rich and powerful vested interests which have sought to "conceal the symptoms" of climate change and says that rich countries owe an “ecological debt” to the poor.The launch of Laudato Sii in the Vatican, 18 June 2015

Pope Francis addresses politicians in his encyclical, calling upon them to agree an urgent plan for drastic reductions in carbon emissions. And he says that fossil fuels should be "progressively replaced without delay". Key threats to the future of humanity include the life-and-death struggle for water and the extinction of species. All of us, he writes, have a responsibility to shoulder the burden.

Faith, science and reason

Also at the launch of Laudato Si was Metropolitan John of Pergamon, who is the leading environmentalist for the Greek Orthodox Church. Both he and Patriarch Bartholomew, head of the Greek Orthodox Church, have been highly influential in the process leading up to today’s events. “The danger,” he told the assembly, “is that we will bequeath to future generations a world damaged beyond repair".

But the launch of Laudato Si also included some influential scientific voices. In his presentation, Professor John Schellnhuber, founding director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, identified "wealth, consumption and waste" as the factors that are endangering the planet, not growth in population among the poor, adding that the poorest billion on the planet contribute virtually nothing to carbon emissions. He said Pope Francis’s encyclical brings together faith, science and reason, which is the only way to tackle the combined environmental and social crisis facing the world.

Writing for Thinking Faith, Damian Howard SJ sets Laudato Si in its cultural and political context and asks how it fits into the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching.