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Pope Francis: Care for our common home (4)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasHere’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

(Note: emphasis added by me)

Climate as a common good

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes. (Para. 23) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

5 October, 2015 at 6:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (3)

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Pope Francesco I_Jeffrey BrunoHere’s the next installment of our close reading of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

Chapter One: What Is Happening To Our Common Home

The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity. (Para. 18)

Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of society are now adopting a more critical approach. We see increasing sensitivity to the environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and distressing, for what is happening to our planet. Let us review, however cursorily, those questions which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (Para. 19) Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

21 September, 2015 at 8:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (2)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasHere’s the next installment of our close read of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’.

We left off last time at Paragraph 8.

In the Saint Francis of Assisi section, whose name Pope Francis too k as his “guide and inspiration” when he was elected Bishop of Rome:

I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authenti­cally. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast…  Francis helps us to see that an integral ecol­ogy calls for openness to categories which tran­scend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be hu­man. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun, the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise… If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our at­titude will be that of masters, consumers, ruth­less exploiters, unable to set limits on their im­mediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.  (Paragraphs 10 and 11)

The he finishes his introductory matter with My appeal:

The urgent challenge to protect our com­mon home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change…Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home…Particu­lar appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmen­tal degradation on the lives of the world’s poor­est. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better fu­ture without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. (Paragraph 13)

I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our plan­et. We need a conversation which includes every­one, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological move­ment has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous or­ganizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental cri­sis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. 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. 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”.  (Paragraph 14)

It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientif­ic research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the pres­ent situation, so as to consider not only its symp­toms but also its deepest causes. This will help to provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in the treasure of Christian spiritual experience. (Paragraph 15)

With that introductory work done, we’ll look into Chapter One: What Is Happening To Our Common Home, next time.

Image: Laudato Si’ (cover) by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

14 September, 2015 at 6:00 am

Pope Francis: Care for our common home (1)

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Laudato Si'_cover_ Thomas CizauskasAdmit it: how much of Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter on climate change, Laudato Si’, have you read? I admit I have read some parts of it and have certainly read about it, but here’s a thought: let’s read it together…

It is 184 beautifully written and compelling pages. As I read it I’ll highlight some passages and post them here over the course of—well, however long it takes.

The pope gets right into on page 3:

“Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us.

“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. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also 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; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22).”

Some perspective, “Nothing in this world is indifferent to us” starts on page 4.

But note, rather than cite specific pages after this, I’ll use paragraph numbers and delete the footnote cites.

3. More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

4. In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this degradation”…

5. Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. Subsequently, he would call for a global ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”.6 The destruction of the human environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”. Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.

Pope Francis notes that his predecessor, Benedict XVI, also proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable of ensuring respect for the environment”. He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”.

“Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage.” Both are ultimately “due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence human freedom is limitless.”

This is valuable background, I think, because it shows that Pope Francis is not alone in his thinking on climate change and society – the popes are “united by the same concern.” And the statements of the popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers, theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions. Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find disturbing.” (Paragraph 7) He cites the compelling statements of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople in the ways we have harmed the planet: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. (Paragraph 8).

Riveting stuff whether you believe in God or not, but especially if you believe in God.

This where we’ll stop for now.

Image: Laudato Si’ (cover) by Thomas Cizauskas via Flickr CC

Written by William DiBenedetto

7 September, 2015 at 6:22 am

Obama’s mixed message on climate change and arctic drilling

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sHell No Nighttime Action _Backbone CampaignPresident Obama is traveling to Arctic Alaska this week to call for urgent action on climate change, but—and there’s always a but these days—his journey also comes in the context of his recent decision permitting offshore oil and gas drilling by Shell Oil in the same region.

As Julie Hirschfield Davis wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, While the Arctic is a fitting backdrop for the president’s call to action, it is also a place where the conflicting threads of his environmental policy collide, and where the bracing public debate over how to address the warming of the planet is particularly animated.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

31 August, 2015 at 5:24 am

Exxon Oils the Palms of Climate Science Deniers

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exxon valdez oil spill_ARLIS referenceWord that ExxonMobil is still funding climate science deniers comes as no surprise but does reveal much about how feckless and arrogant the company is. Basically, the oil major is playing with us while thinking we won’t notice.

A long piece this month in the Huffington Post by Elliott Negin, a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists, outlined ExxonMobil’s current approach on climate change. It also noted this carefully parsed statement from spokesman Richard Kiel: “We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.” Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

27 July, 2015 at 6:10 am

A Shell game?

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shell oil vintage sign_Karen BlahaWhen the CEO of Royal Dutch Shell chats up the importance of renewable energy as part of the globe’s future energy mix, one might well be a tad suspicious—after all this is an oil major speaking, right?

Could it be that Ben van Beurden has seen the light, powered by things other than fossil fuels? Is it possible he is thinking about the future in a way that’s perhaps more enlightened than simply rhetorical?

Speaking recently at OPEC‘s 167th meeting in Vienna, van Beurden said traditional energy sources should integrate and work together with clean technologies to provide sustainable and economically-sensible power for the future. Read the rest of this entry »

Written by William DiBenedetto

13 July, 2015 at 6:30 am


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