Pope Francis Feels Our Pain

by Rona Fried

"I’m angry that we are still debating climate change, and that despite the reams of science-based evidence for it, there are still those who ignore the facts. I’m angry that we’re heavily investing in fossil fuels to power our nation, when greater investment in renewable energy represents jobs, energy stability – and the sustainability of life as we know it," says actor Mark Ruffalo.

These words struck me today as I read all the news covering Pope Francis’s encyclical on the environment, "On Care for Our Common Home."

Yes, I’m furious at climate deniers who are holding us back, literally forcing us to face the abyss of an uninhabitable earth, but more than that, I’m deeply sad that I have to witness the destruction every day.  

When I walk my dog in the park, can I find even one trail where there are no invasive plants suffocating every plant in sight? I stop and spend a sweaty several hours clearing them out, week after week, year after year, and feel good about making a difference, but it’s never enough.

Pope Francis

This small act is at the root of Pope Francis’s encyclical, which starts with, … "our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life … This sister 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.

"We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will …  is reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor."

While the media focuses on the Pope’s call to action on climate change – incredibly important – he is really asking us to look at an even bigger picture – the pain we are inflicting on all life on Earth.

It’s not a pretty picture: apathy, reckless pursuit of profits and  political shortsightedness, are among the causes, he says.

Focus on Life on Earth

Many Popes before him have shared these sentiments, which Francis states at the beginning of the encyclical.

"We require a new and universal solidarity," he says, and then details the many ways we look the other way as powerful interests continue to degrade every last natural system, and as we participate in a blind "consumer" culture. 

"The Earth, our home, is beginning to look like an immense pile of filth."

His 182-page encyclical begins with these Chapters:

Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture: so many agrotoxins – fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides; non-biodegradable, highly toxic waste from electronic gadgets to nuclear and industrial waste. Plastic everywhere in our oceans. Depletion and pollution of our precious water.

Loss of Biodiversity: "Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species" … "We have no such right."

"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."

"Highways, new plantations, the fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out natural habitats and break them up so that animal populations can no longer migrate or roam freely. Alternatives exist which at least lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries demonstrate such concern and foresight."

Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society: We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.

Global Inequality: "The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation."

Weak Responses: "Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years." … "It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been." … "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." … "Whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule." 

"We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity. Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us"… "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. 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."

Peppered throughout, he acknowledges the work of the environmental community: "thanks to their efforts, environmental questions have increasingly found a place on public agendas and encouraged more far-sighted approaches."

"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."

"There is a need to change "models of global development" … Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. "Frequently, in fact, people’s quality of life actually diminishes  by the deterioration of the environment, the low quality of food or the depletion of resources – in the midst of economic growth." … "The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy."

Read our articles, Global Catholic Climate Movement Forms, Anticipating Pope’s Formal Letter on Climate and Fossil Fuel Divestment Sweeps Through Religious Community.

Read the encyclical:

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