It takes quite a lot to brand someone “the most dangerous man on the planet.” But on June 17th, a news pundit called Pope Francis exactly that. So what did the Argentine Pope do to be given such a title?
He published Laudato Si’, an Encyclical bearing the subtitle On the Care of Our Common Home. The document, clocking in at almost two hundred pages, primarily focuses on climate change, environmental degradation, and what we as humans on God’s earth should do about it. Throughout the entire document, the argument centers on the poorest of Earth’s citizens and the disproportionate load of environmental damage they bear.
It’s easy to see why this Encyclical is so divisive. A religious figure is speaking out on a scientific topic that the leaders in both the political and corporate spheres already fight over. What isn’t there to attack?
But most criticisms take an overly reductive stance on Laudato Si’. Everyone has been reaching for the slice of the Encyclical that speaks to their interest or field. Since it’s such a broad document, it’s easy for people to find a chapter to latch on to and fight over. But instead of making a battleground of Laudato Si’, we should use its broad nature to unify our concerns for the Earth and its people. Just as the Earth is our common home, so too are the damages inflicted upon it common damages, and the remedies common remedies.
This Encyclical has its roots in Catholic faith, but you do not need to be Catholic or even a member of any faith to find meaning in Laudato Si’. Yes, the language is couched in that of the Bible, and the fact that the document originated in the Vatican should not be forgotten, but that also should not be used to dismiss it.
There are many critics who say the Pope should stay out of matters of science. The important response to this criticism is not that he holds a technical certificate in Chemistry (although he does) but that Laudato Si’ accomplishes the daunting yet necessary task of bringing climate change out of the realm of science. Through the Encyclical, Pope Francis is trying to make the environment a common concern, and to do so he ties climate change to issues of faith, equality, and social justice.
Every issue is connected to environmental policy, and to every other issue in turn. Take, for example, the frequent droughts due to climate change. These droughts place a larger burden on poor, agrarian villages than on modernized cities. The villages lose both their main food supply and main source of income when the year’s harvest is damaged. The question presented here looks different to everyone. It can be an ecological issue (what is causing the extreme weather?), a development issue (why are these villages so poor and economically vulnerable?), a governmental one (are these people being equally represented and supported by their state?), or something else depending on your perspective. But whatever you see the issue as, it is real, and Pope Francis is reminding us we need to work together in the face of global environmental degradation.
No matter what you believe is the primary challenge facing humanity, Laudato Si’ is a call to arms. The ecologists can rally behind the Pope’s conviction that “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels…needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” Pope Francis speaks to all of us who believe in global development and equality when he writes, “the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and promote the social development of their people.” The campaign for open democracy and the elimination of corruption can draw strength from the Encyclical when it “demands transparent political process involving a free exchange of views.” If you are a Catholic, or a spiritual person of any alignment, a “sense of deep communion with the rest of nature” can serve as your call to action.
The Earth is our common home. Let’s start treating it like one.
I’d love to know what Laudato Si’ means to you, and why, in the comments below.