Pope Francis' Encyclical on Integral Ecology and Climate Change

The full document is available here:

Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home

...and I will post some excerpts below from Chapters 4 and 6



138. Ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop. This necessarily entails reflection and debate about the conditions required for the life and survival of society, and the honesty needed to question certain models of development, production and consumption. It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand. A good part of our genetic code is shared by many living beings. It follows that the fragmentation of knowledge and the isolation of bits of information can actually become a form of ignorance, unless they are integrated into a broader vision of reality.

139. When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it. Recognizing the reasons why a given area is polluted requires a study of the workings of society, its economy, its behaviour patterns, and the ways it grasps reality. Given the scale of change, it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.

140. Due to the number and variety of factors to be taken into account when determining the environmental impact of a concrete undertaking, it is essential to give researchers their due role, to facilitate their interaction, and to ensure broad academic freedom. Ongoing research should also give us a better understanding of how different creatures relate to one another in making up the larger units which today we term “ecosystems”. We take these systems into account not only to determine how best to use them, but also because they have an intrinsic value independent of their usefulness. Each organism, as a creature of God, is good and admirable in itself; the same is true of the harmonious ensemble of organisms existing in a defined space and functioning as a system. Although we are often not aware of it, we depend on these larger systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about. Once they become conscious of this, many people realize that we live and act on the basis of a reality which has previously been given to us, which precedes our existence and our abilities. So, when we speak of “sustainable use”, consideration must always be given to each ecosystem’s regenerative ability in its different areas and aspects.

141. Economic growth, for its part, tends to produce predictable reactions and a certain standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs. This suggests the need for an “economic ecology” capable of appealing to a broader vision of reality. The protection of the environment is in fact “an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it”.[114] We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment. There is an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction, demonstrating yet again that “the whole is greater than the part”.[115]

142. If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life. “Every violation of solidarity and civic friendship harms the environment”.[116] In this sense, social ecology is necessarily institutional, and gradually extends to the whole of society, from the primary social group, the family, to the wider local, national and international communities. Within each social stratum, and between them, institutions develop to regulate human relationships. Anything which weakens those institutions has negative consequences, such as injustice, violence and loss of freedom. A number of countries have a relatively low level of institutional effectiveness, which results in greater problems for their people while benefiting those who profit from this situation. Whether in the administration of the state, the various levels of civil society, or relationships between individuals themselves, lack of respect for the law is becoming more common. Laws may be well framed yet remain a dead letter. Can we hope, then, that in such cases, legislation and regulations dealing with the environment will really prove effective? We know, for example, that countries which have clear legislation about the protection of forests continue to keep silent as they watch laws repeatedly being broken. Moreover, what takes place in any one area can have a direct or indirect influence on other areas. Thus, for example, drug use in affluent societies creates a continual and growing demand for products imported from poorer regions, where behaviour is corrupted, lives are destroyed, and the environment continues to deteriorate."

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You can be atheist (there are a growing number of atheist priests who continue to practice, a recent study reports; also see The Clergy Project), but the sex thing probably has to wait awhile....

If we were to presume that "members" of a religion are expected to obey authoritative dictates -- a common but possibly misguided assumption given the actual behavior (with a reasonably clear conscience) of Catholics relative to sex.

True.  :-)  Depends on how much you want to have to put up with the need, outwardly, to be discreet or 'sneaky.'  I'm thinking here of Thomas Merton sneaking the lovely woman into his monastery compound ... clearly a risk he was willing to take.

See this article on the impact of the encyclical. Some excerpts:

"Leaders of the Catholic church in America took their 'marching orders' from the pope’s encyclical on Thursday, fanning out to Congress and the White House to push for action on climate change. The high-level meetings offered a first glimpse of a vast and highly organised effort by the leadership of America’s nearly 80 million Catholics to turn the pope’s moral call for action into reality. [...] Representatives of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops said they would hold two briefings for members of Congress on Thursday and visit the White House on Friday to promote and explain the pope’s environmental message."

"The push for the pope’s climate message – as already defined by the US Conference on Catholic Bishops – includes support for three specific policy measures. These include the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules for new power plants, which are vigorously opposed by the fossil fuel industry and Republicans, the Green Climate Fund for developing countries, also opposed by Republicans, and an energy efficiency bill before Congress, which has bipartisan support."

In terms of authoritative dictates, the Roman Catholic church is the most prominent among the various Christian denominations. Remember that Luther's protestant reformation was largely framed around the idea of the priesthood of all believers, equally able to interpret and apply the authority of holy scripture. The Roman Catholics, on the other hand, claim that the church hierarchy has greater authority, because only they can be trusted to properly interpret and apply the holy scriptures. And this authoritative hierarchy very clearly follows a chain of command, which leads to the pope himself. 

From Wikipedia:

"Papal supremacy is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church that the pope, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Christian Church, has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered:[1] that, in brief, "the Pope enjoys, by divine institution, supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls."[2]

The doctrine had the most significance in the relationship between the church and the temporal state, in matters such as ecclesiastic privileges, the actions of monarchs and even successions."

From catholic.com:

"...the Church Fathers recognized that Jesus made Peter the rock on which he would build his Church, that this gave Peter a special primacy, that Peter went to Rome, and that he left successors there. In this tract we will show that they also understood that Peter’s successors shared in his special authority or primacy."

And then there is the issue of papal infallibility (also from catholic.com):

"Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17–19; John 21:15–17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope "enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter."

Of course, not everyone in the Catholic church fully embraces these doctrines absolutely literally (Matthew Fox comes to mind). There are many liberal and progressive Catholics who would like the church to move past these doctrines.

However, for those who claim to be conservative Catholics who claim to believe in the divine authority of the Catholic church and it's pope, I can imagine them caught in a real bind here, with this encyclical that likely contradicts tightly held beliefs.

For those conservative politicians who claim allegiance to the Catholic church for purely pragmatic reasons, hiding under the cover of God and the flag, this is an opportunity to call them out. If they truly believe in the authority of the church, they need to act accordingly.  If they do not agree, perhaps they should consider leaving the church. 

Rick Santorum: "The Church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we’re probably better off leaving science to the scientists and focus on what we’re really good on, which is theology and morality. When we get involved with political and controversial scientific theories, then I think the church is probably not as forceful and credible.”

Santorum apparently doesn't recognize that the encyclical is very much a theological document, and that the Pope was a scientist before he was a clergyman. It is also quite ironic that he would say that "we're probably better off leaving science to the scientists." When have we ever heard a climate skeptic say such a thing?  He's in a bind.

Jeb Bush: “I hope I’m not going to get castigated for saying this by my priest back home,” Bush said. “But I don’t get my economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my pope.”

Bush, a former Florida governor who converted to Catholicism 25 years ago, said religion “ought to be about making us better as people and less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”

Watch Jeb Bush squirm. In fact, much of the encyclical is about making us better as people. And since when did religious conservatives start keeping faith out of politics?

Hopefully one result of the encyclical will be the exposure of some of the whitewashed tombs we have in Washington D.C.

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness." - Matthew 23:27.

Layman Pascal said:

If we were to presume that "members" of a religion are expected to obey authoritative dictates -- a common but possibly misguided assumption given the actual behavior (with a reasonably clear conscience) of Catholics relative to sex.

To follow up on my comments above, see this post ("Ignoring the Pope on Climate Change is not Like Using Contraceptives") and this one ("When It's OK to Ignore the Pope").

Balder, thanks for the link to the Jacob Erickson article ("Falling in Love with the Earth: Franci's Faithful Ecology"). 

I'm reminded of one of my favorite films, Franco Zeffirelli's "Brother Sun, Sister Moon" about the life of St. Francis of Assisi. A great film to revisit, in light of this encyclical.  Consider organizing a showing in your community, and use it as a springboard to launch a discussion about  Laudato si, Praise Be to You. Movie review here.

Keller on a related theme:  What Can Trigger Transformation?


You are not here because you need to be told that we face catastrophe. You are here because you think that we can still do something about it. You wouldn’t have come just for company in misery. But you do want to confront the future in wide and fresh alliances, yes? The 97% scientific consensus—yes you know already—that the climate is changing due to the rise of the planet’s average temperature driven by greenhouse gases emitted by fossil fuels. However much time we have til the catastrophic effects kick in –of extreme weather, melting glaciers, intensified wildfires and droughts (welcome to California 2015)… You also glimpse the probable human devastation –in terms of mass hunger and climate migrations, with the inevitable mobilization of racist defenses and imperialist aggressions, intensified violence over dwindling resources. The climate issue is not one issue among many—nor does it trump our justice issues. It entangles them.

You know that the threat needs response now. But to change our collective ways of thinking and acting, to change government and corporate practices, seems to require long term transformation–too much time, too much improbability. Word is that we may have about 15 years to shift practices that have been developing for centuries, entrenched since the coal-fired industrial revolution and locked in since 1980 and the capital-fired Reagan-olution. [Reagan never met a millionaire he didn’t like and never met a tree that didn’t look like all the others.] There is too much to change way too fast: as Hamlet lamented, the time is out of joint. Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate, has a chapter called Bad Timing. “It means there is a whole lot of stuff we have been told is inevitable that simply cannot stand. And it means that a whole lot of stuff we have been told is impossible has to start happening right away.”

The change can seem impossible. But, she adds, “nothing is inevitable.” As this section’s description puts it: “we do not believe that the extinction of the human race is inevitable.” Admittedly that is a pretty low bar for hope… So maybe you also ask with John Cobb “what actions now have the best chance of reducing the inevitable die-off and providing grounds for a healthier and more sustainable civilization for the survivors?”

How refreshingly honest. Thanks for sharing - I still am not very familiar with Keller's work, but she is very high on the list of people to investigate. 

This quote sums up the essence of my ITC 2015 paper:

"By turning up—up up and away, in a delusional transcendence of our earth , our civilization has produced a catastrophic down-turning. That is ironic. So we need the reverse irony: catastrophe turning us down to earth in a way that does not wipe us out but transforms us. Of course seizing an alternative will one way or another involve a massive turning down — of the energy. But also I have imprinted on my mind something Cobb said to me when I was a student, on a walk, here–35 years ago,: “what we need is enough ecological catastrophe that people wake up, and not so much that it is too late.” Still true? Catastrophe can be a catalyst."

I honestly think those responsible for the climate disaster, the curdled cream of the 1%, really don't give a shit about the lives of people or the planet. It seems no amount of catastrophe will do the trick for them.

Unfortunately, I think things might have to get much worse - true chaos and widespread catastrophe, resulting in the collapse of the 1%. Not in 15 years as Keller indicates, but in 0 to 5 years.  At that point we just might, possibly, be in a position and willing to enact the integral epoch. 

Although I understand what you mean equating the 1% as those responsible, there's another perspective in which we're all responsible. And that the 1% are as caught up in the myth of the given/misplaced concreteness, that they can't see their way out, and are as much trapped in the system as the rest of us.

From the Keller article, the neologism "weaving a glocal web," which I'm assuming here was not a typo, but combining the words global and local, ala Edgar Morin's dictum that "we must globalize and deglobalize," or the Transition/Resilience/peak oil movement calling for "relocalization."


These are very concrete instances of creative entanglement, weaving a glocal web: The relationality is highly intentional: for instance, a statement of gratitude now up on the 350.org website was sent to the NW activists from the Pacific Climate Warriors who in traditional hand-carved canoes paddled into the port of Newcastle in Australia to blockade one of the largest coal-shipping terminals in the world. They were met by thousands of people on land. This is catalytic agency bubbling up from below.

Speaking of which, here's the Transition Albuquerque website. I'll be participating in it more after my current commitments free up.

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

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