Full English Translation of Pope Francis' Climate and Environmental Encyclical, 'Laudato Si': Chapter One

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 18 Jun 2015 02:56:00 GMT

Praised BeThe leaked draft of “Laudato Si’”, Pope Francis’ widely anticipated encyclical on the crisis of climate change and other global environmental concerns, includes 246 numbered paragraphs contained within a preface and six chapters. The translation below from the original Italian is very rough, a Google translation amended by Brad Johnson.

A formatted English translation of the Laudato Si draft is available as a PDF, as is a full side-by-side translation.


Table of Contents

Download the full side-by-side translation.


1. “Praised be, my Lord,” sang Saint Francis of Assisi. In this beautiful song he reminded us that our common home is also a sister, with whom we share the existence, and a beautiful mother who welcomes us into her arms: “Praised be, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.” [1 Canticle of the Sun: Franciscan Sources (FF) 263.]

2. This sister protests the evil that we provoke, because of the irresponsible use and the abuse of the goods that God has placed in her. We grew up thinking that we were its owners and rulers, allowed to plunder it. The violence that exists in the human heart wounded by sin is also manifested in the symptoms of the disease we perceive in soil, water, air and in living things. For this, among the most abandoned poor and abused, there is our oppressed and devastated land, that “groaning in travail” (Rm 8:22). We forget that we ourselves are earth (cf. Gen 2.7). Our body is made up of the same elements of the planet, its air is the one that gives us the breath and its water gives us life and restores.

Nothing that arises in this world is indifferent.

3. More than fifty years ago, while the world teetered on the brink of a nuclear crisis, the saint Pope John XXIII wrote an Encyclical with which was not limited only to reject the war, but he wanted to submit a draft proposal peace. He directed his message Pacem in Terris to all the “Catholic world”, but added “as well to all men of good will. “Now, of the deteriorating global environment, I speak to every person who lives this planet. In my Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to the members of the Church to mobilize a reform process still on a mission from accomplishing. In this encyclical, I propose especially to enter into dialogue with all respecting our common home.

4. Eight years after the Pacem in Terris, in 1971, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological question, presenting it as a crisis that is “a dramatic consequence” of uncontrolled activity of the human being: “Through a reckless exploitation of nature he risks destroying it and becoming in his turn the victim of this degradation”. [2 Lett. Ap. Octogesima adveniens (14 May 1971), 21: AAS 63 (1971), 416-417.] He also spoke to the FAO of the possibility “under the influence of backlash of industrial civilization, of [...] a real ecological catastrophe,” emphasizing “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of mankind,” because “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical feats, the most prodigious economic growth, if they are not joined to a genuine social and moral progress, they turn, ultimately, against man. ” [3 Address to FAO on the 25th anniversary (November 16, 1970), 4: AAS 62 (1970), 833.]

5. St. John Paul II dealt with this issue with a growing interest. In his first encyclical, he said that the human being seems “to perceive no other meaning in his natural environment, but only those that serve the purpose of immediate use and consumption.” [4 Lett. Enc. Redemptor hominis (4 March 1979), 15: AAS 71 (1979), 287.] Subsequently he invited to a global ecological conversion. [5 Cf. Catechism (17 January 2001), 4: L’Osservatore 24/1 (2001), 179.] But at the same time he pointed out that it takes little effort to “safeguard the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology.” [6 Lett. Enc. Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 38: AAS 83 (1991), 841.] The destruction of the human environment is something very serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to the human being, but because human life itself is a gift that must be protected by various forms of degradation. Any aspiration to treat and improve the world requires to change profoundly the “lifestyles, of models of production and consumption, the established structures of power which today govern societies”. [7 Ibid., 58: p. 863.] Authentic human development has a moral character and assumes the full respect of the human person, but must also pay attention to the natural world and “take into account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”. [8 John Paul II, Enc. Lett. Ioannis Pauli PP (30 December 1987), 34: AAS 80 (1988), 559.] Therefore, the ability of human beings to transform reality must be developed on the basis of prior and original gift of the things of God. [9 Cf. Id., Lett. enc. Centesimus Annus (May 1, 1991), 37: AAS 83 (1991), 840.]

6. My predecessor Benedict XVI renewed the invitation “to eliminate the structural causes of global economic dysfunction and to correct models of growth that seem incapable of guaranteeing respect for the environment.” [10 Address to the Diplomatic Corps accredited to the Holy See (January 8, 2007): AAS 99 (2007), 73.] He recalled that the world can not be analyzed by isolating just one aspect, because “the book of nature is one and indivisible “and includes the environment, life, sexuality, family, social relationships, and other aspects. Consequently, “the degradation of nature is closely linked to the cultural models shaping human coexistence.” [11 Lett. Enc. Caritas in Veritate (29 June 2009), 51: AAS 101 (2009), 687.] Pope Benedict has proposed to recognize that the natural environment is full of wounds caused by our irresponsible behavior. Even the social environment has its wounds. But all are caused basically by the same evil, that is the idea that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, that human freedom has no limits. He forgets that “man is not only a freedom that creates itself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and desire, but also nature. ” [12 Address to the Deutscher Bundestag, Berlin (September 22, 2011): AAS 103 (2011), 664.] With fatherly concern he invited us to recognize that the creation is compromised “where we ourselves are the ultimate demand, where the set is merely our property and we consume it for ourselves alone. And the wasting of creation begins where we no longer recognize any need superior to us, but we see only ourselves. ” [13 Address to the clergy of the Diocese of Bolzano-Bressanone (August 6, 2008): AAS 100 (2008), 634.]

United by the same concern

7. These contributions of the Popes collect the reflection of countless scientists, philosophers, theologians and social organizations that have enriched the Church’s thinking on these issues. But we cannot ignore that, even outside the Catholic Church, other churches and Christian communities – as well as other religions – have developed a deep concern and a valuable reflection on these issues that are dear to us all. To name just a particularly significant example, I want to take a brief part of the contribution of the first Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.

8. Patriarch Bartholomew has referred particularly to the need for everyone to repent of their way of mistreating the planet, because “to the extent that all of us we cause little damage to the environment,” we are called to recognize “our contribution, small or large, the distortion and destruction of the environment. ” [14 Message for the Day of Prayer for the integrity of creation (1 September 2012). ] On this point, he has repeatedly expressed firmly and bracingly, inviting us to recognize sins against creation: “What humans destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; that humans affect the integrity of the earth and contribute to climate change, stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; that humans pollute the waters, soil, air: all these are sins. “[15 speech in Santa Barbara, California (November 8, 1997); cf. John Chryssavgis, On Earth as in Heaven: Ecological Vision of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Initiatives, Bronx, New York, 2012.] Because “a crime against nature is a crime against ourselves and a sin against God.” [16 Ibid.]

9. At the same time Bartholomew has called attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of environmental problems, which invite us to seek solutions not only in technology, but also a change in the human being, because otherwise it would address only the symptoms. He proposed to move from consumption to sacrifice, from greed to generosity, from the waste to the ability to share, in an asceticism that “means learning to give, and not simply give up. It is a way to love, to gradually shift from what I want to what the world of God needs. It is freedom from fear, greed and addiction.” [17 Conference to Utstein Monastery, Norway (June 23, 2003).] We Christians, also, are called to “accept the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and with one another in a global scale. It is our humble belief that the divine and the human meet in the smallest detail of the seamless garment of God’s creation, even the last speck of dust of our planet.” [18 Speech “Global Responsibility and Ecological Sustainability: Closing Remarks”, The Summit of Halki, Istanbul (20 June 2012).]

St. Francis of Assisi

10. I do not want to proceed in this encyclical without mentioning a beautiful and motivating example. I took his name as a guide and inspiration in the moment of my election as Bishop of Rome. I think Francis is the example par excellence of care for the weak and of an integral ecology, lived with joy and authenticity. He is the patron saint of all those who study and work in the field of ecology, loved by many who are not Christians. He showed special attention towards the creation of God and for the poor and abandoned. He loved and was loved for his joy, his selfless dedication, his universal heart. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived with simplicity and in a wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. In him we find the extent to which concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society and inner peace are inseparable.

11. His testimony also shows us that the integral ecology requires openness towards categories that transcend the language of the exact sciences or biology and connect us with the essence of the human. Just as it happens when we fall in love with a person, whenever Francis looked at the sun, the moon, the smaller animals, his reaction was singing, involving in its praise all other creatures. He entered into communication with the whole of creation, and even preached to the flowers and “invited them to praise and love God, as beings endowed with reason.” [19 Thomas of Celano, First Life of St. Francis, XXIX, 81: FF 460. ] His reaction was much more than an intellectual appreciation or an economic calculation, because for him any creature was a sister, joined to him with bonds of affection. For that he felt called to take care of all that exists. His disciple, St. Bonaventure said of him, “considering that all things have a common origin, he felt full of pity and even more called creatures, however small, as his brother or sister.” [20 Legenda Maior, VIII, 6: FF 1145.] This belief cannot be despised as an irrational romanticism, because it influences the choices that determine our behavior. If we approach nature and environment without this opening to amazement and wonder, if we no longer talk the language of brotherhood and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitudes will be those of the ruler, the consumer or the mere exploiter of natural resources, unable to put a limit to his immediate interests. Conversely, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, sobriety and care will arise spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of St. Francis were not only external asceticism but something more radical: a renunciation of making reality a mere object of use and domination.

12. On the other hand, St. Francis, faithful to Scripture, proposes to recognize nature as a wonderful book in which God speaks to us and gives us something of its beauty and goodness: “For from the greatness and beauty of created things come a corresponding perception of their author” (Wis 13,5) and “his eternal power and divinity has been clearly perceived by the creation of the world through the things he has made” (Romans 1:20). Why the convent asks that you always leave a part of the garden uncultivated, because wild herbs will grow, so that those who admire them might raise the thought to God, the author of so much beauty. [21 See Thomas of Celano, second Life of St. Francis, CXXIV, 165: FF 750] The world is more than a problem to be solved, it is a happy mystery we contemplate with joy and praise.

My appeal

13. The urgent challenge of protecting our common home understands the concern to unite the whole human family in the search for sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us, he never backed down in his plan of love, does not regret having created. Humanity still has the ability to work together to build our common home. I wish to express gratitude, encourage and thank all those who, in various fields of human activity, are working to ensure the protection of the home we share. Those who fight vigorously to solve the dramatic consequences of environmental degradation in the lives of the world’s poorest deserve a special gratitude. Young people demand of us a change. They wonder how can you claim to build a better future without thinking about the environmental crisis and the suffering of the excluded.

14. I address an urgent call to renew the dialogue on how we are building the future of the planet. We need a comparison that unites us all, because the environmental challenge in which we live, and its human roots, concern us and affect us all. The ecological movement worldwide has already come a long and rich way, and has created numerous coalitions that have fostered citizens’ awareness. Unfortunately, a lot of effort to find concrete solutions to the environmental crisis are often frustrated not only by the refusal of the powerful, but also by the lack of interest of others. Attitudes that hinder the ways of solution, even among believers, range from denial of the problem to indifference, to comfortable resignation, or blind faith in technical solutions. We need new universal solidarity. As the Bishops of South Africa said, “the talent and the involvement of everyone is needed to repair the damage caused by humans on the creation of God.” [22 Conference of Catholic Bishops of Southern Africa, Pastoral Statement on the Environmental Crisis ( September 5, 1999). ] We can all work together as instruments of God for the care of creation, each with his own culture and experience, his own initiative and capabilities.

15. I hope that this encyclical letter, in addition to the social teaching of the Church, help us to recognize the magnitude, the urgency and the beauty of the challenge facing us. First, I’ll make a brief journey through various aspects of the current ecological crisis in order to engage the best fruits of scientific research available today, to let us touch it deeply and give a basic substance to the ethical and spiritual path that follows. From this overview, I will take up some of the arguments arising from the Judeo-Christian tradition, in order to give greater coherence to our commitment to the environment. Then I’ll try to get to the roots of the current situation, in order to grasp not only the symptoms but also the root causes. So we propose an ecology that, in its various dimensions, integrates the specific place that man occupies in this world and its relations with the world around him. In the light of this reflection I would like to take a step forward in some broad lines of dialogue and action that involve both all of us, and international politics. Finally, since I am convinced that any change needs motivations and an educative path, propose some lines of human development inspired by the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.

16. Each chapter, though it has its own theme and a specific methodology, takes in turn, from a new perspective, important issues addressed in the previous chapters. This especially concerns some cornerstones that cross all the Encyclical. For example: the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet; the belief that everything in the world is closely connected; the criticism of the new paradigm and the forms of power that arise from technology; an invitation to look for other ways of understanding the economy and progress; the intrinsic value of every creature; the human sense of ecology; the need for sincere and honest debates; the grave responsibility of local and international policy; the culture of waste and the proposal of a new lifestyle. These themes are never closed or abandoned, but rather constantly taken up and enriched.


17. The philosophical or theological reflections on the state of humanity and the world may sound like a repetitive and empty message, if not presented anew starting from a comparison with the current situation, in what’s new for the story of humanity. For this, first to recognize that faith brings new motivation and needs in front of the world to which we belong, I propose to take a brief look to consider what is happening to our common home.

18. The continued acceleration of the changes of mankind and the planet joins today the intensification of the rhythms of life and work, in what some call in Spanish “rapidaci√≥n” (rapidization). Although the change is part of the dynamics of complex systems, the speed that human actions impose today contrasts with the natural slowness of biological evolution. Added to this is the problem that the objectives of this rapid and constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good and sustainable and integral human development. Change is something auspicious, but it becomes worrisome when it changes into deterioration of the world and the quality of life of most of humanity.

19. After a period of irrational faith in progress and in human capabilities, a part of society is entering a phase of greater awareness. There is an increasing sensitivity about the environment and care of nature, and it developed a sincere and painful concern for what is happening to our planet. Let’s take a path which will be certainly incomplete, through those issues which today cause anxiety and that now we can no longer hide under the rug. The goal is not to collect information or to satisfy our curiosity, but to take painful awareness, to dare to transform personal suffering that happens in the world, and thus recognize what is the contribution that each can bring.

I. Pollution and climate change

Pollution, refuse and culture of waste

20. There are forms of pollution that affect people every day. Exposure to air pollutants produces a wide range of health effects, particularly the poorest, and cause millions of premature deaths. We get sick, for example, due to inhalation of large amounts of smoke produced by fuels used for cooking and heating. Added to this is the pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, by industrial fumes, by emitting of substances that contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and toxic pesticides in general. Technology, related to finance, claims to be the only solution to the problems, in fact it is not able to see the mystery of the multiple relationships that exist between things, and this sometimes solves a problem by creating new ones.

21. We must also consider the pollution produced by waste, including hazardous waste present in different environments. They produce hundreds of millions of tons of waste a year, many of which are not biodegradable: household and commercial waste, demolition debris, clinical waste, highly toxic and radioactive electronic or industrial waste. The earth, our home, seems to become more and more in a huge garbage dump. In many places on the planet, the elderly remember with nostalgia the landscapes of the past, which now appear inundated with junk. Much industrial waste as the chemicals used in the towns and fields, can produce an effect of bio-accumulation in the bodies of the inhabitants of neighboring areas, which also occurs when the level of the presence of a toxic element in a place is low. Many times they take measures only when effects on people’s health produced are irreversible.

22. These issues are intimately linked to the culture of waste, which is harmful to both human beings as well as the things that turn quickly into trash. Let us realize, for example, that most of the paper that is produced is thrown away and not recycled. Hard to recognize that the functioning of natural ecosystems is exemplary: the plants synthesize nutrients that feed the herbivores; these in turn feed the carnivores, which provide large quantities of organic waste, which give rise to a new generation of plants. In contrast, the industrial system, at the end of the cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the ability to absorb and reuse waste and slag. It has not yet managed to adopt a circular pattern of production to ensure resources for all and for future generations, and that requires us to limit the use of non-renewable resources, moderate consumption, maximize the efficiency of exploitation, reuse and recycle. Addressing this issue would be a way to counter the culture of waste that ends up hurting the entire planet, but we see that progress in this direction are still very limited.

The climate as a common good

23. The climate is a common good of all and for all. It, globally, is a complex system in relation to many conditions essential for human life. There is a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are witnessing an alarming warming of the climate system. In recent decades, this warming has been accompanied by a steady rise in the sea level, and is also hard not to relate it to the increase in extreme weather events, regardless of the fact that we can not attribute a scientifically determined cause to every particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to become aware of the need to change lifestyles, production and consumption, to combat this heating or, at least, the human causes that produce or accentuate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, and the variations of the orbit of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming of recent decades is due to the large concentration of gas emissions (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and other) issued mainly because of human activity. Their concentrations in the atmosphere prevent the heat of sunlight reflected by the earth from being dispersed into space. This is especially enhanced by the development model based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the center of the world energy system. It has also been affected by the increase in the practice of land-use change, primarily deforestation for agricultural purposes.

24. In turn, the heating has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious cycle that exacerbates the situation even more and that will affect the availability of essential resources such as drinking water, energy and agricultural production of the hottest areas, and will result in the extinction of the planet’s biodiversity. The melting of polar ice and high altitude threat of methane gas escaping at high risk, and the decomposition of frozen organic matter could further accentuate the emission of carbon dioxide. In turn, the loss of tropical forests makes things worse, since they help to mitigate climate change. The pollution produced by carbon dioxide increases the acidity of the oceans and affects the marine food chain. If the current trend continues, this century could witness unprecedented climate change and unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us. Rising sea levels, for example, can create situations of extreme seriousness when we consider that a quarter of the world population lives by the sea or very close to it, and most of the megacities are located in coastal areas.

25. Climate change is a global problem with serious environmental, social, economic, distributive, and political implications, and are a major current challenge for humanity. Heavier impacts probably will fall in the coming decades on developing countries. Many poor people live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to global warming, and their livelihoods are heavily dependent on nature reserves and by so-called ecosystem services, such as agriculture, fisheries and forestry. They have no other financial resources and other resources that enable them to adapt to climate impacts or deal with catastrophic situations, and have little access to social services and protection. For example, climate change gives rise to migration of animals and plants that can not always adapt, and this in turn affects the productive resources of the poor, who also are forced to migrate with great uncertainty about the future of their lives and of their children. Tragically, the increase of migrants fleeing poverty exacerbated by environmental degradation, are not recognized as refugees in international conventions and carry the burden of lives abandoned by a lack of any protective legislation. Unfortunately there is a general indifference to these tragedies, which commonly occur in different parts of the world. The lack of reaction in the face of these tragedies of our brothers and sisters is a sign of the loss of the sense of responsibility for our fellow men that underpin any civilized society.

26. Many of those who hold more resources and economic or political power appear to be concentrating mainly in masking the problems and hiding the symptoms, just trying to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. But many signs indicate that these effects may be worse and worse if we continue with current patterns of production and consumption. Therefore it has become an urgent and compelling policy development in the coming years that the emission of carbon dioxide and other heavily polluting gases is reduced drastically, for example, by replacing fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources. In the world there is a small level of access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate technologies for storage. However, in some countries there have been advances that begin to be significant, although they are far from reaching a significant proportion. There are also a number of investments in modes of production and transportation that use less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods of construction or renovation of buildings that improve energy efficiency. But these practices are far from becoming general.

II. The water issue

27. Other indicators of the current situation are related to the depletion of natural resources. We know it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption of more developed countries and the wealthiest sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and throwing away reaches unprecedented levels. Already they have exceeded certain maximum limits of exploitation of the planet, without the problem of poverty having been resolved.

28. Clean drinking water is an issue of primary importance, because it is essential for human life and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water supply the health, agro-pastoral and industrial sectors. The availability of water has remained relatively constant for a long time, but now in many places demand exceeds sustainable supply, with serious consequences in the short and long term. Big cities, dependent on major water reserves, suffer periods of shortage of the resource, which at critical moments is not always administered with proper and impartial management. There is a poverty of public water especially in Africa, where large sections of the population do not have access to safe drinking water, or suffer droughts that make the production of food difficult. In some countries, there are regions with plenty of water, while others suffer from a serious shortage.

29. A particularly serious problem is that of the quality of water available to the poor, which causes many deaths every day. Among the poor there are frequent water-related diseases, including those caused by microorganisms and chemicals. Dysentery and cholera, due to inadequately improved sanitation and water reserves, are a significant factor of suffering and mortality. The aquifers in many places are threatened by pollution from certain mining, agricultural and industrial practices, especially in countries where there are not sufficient regulations or controls. We do not think only of waste from factories. Detergents and chemicals that people use in many places around the world continue to pour in rivers, lakes and seas.

30. While the quality of the available water is steadily worse, in some places the trend is advancing to privatize this scarce resource, transformed into a commodity subject to market forces. In fact, access to safe drinking water is an essential, a fundamental and universal human right, because it determines the survival of the people, and this is a requirement for the exercise of other human rights. This world has a serious social debt to the poor who have no access to clean water, because that is to deny them the right to life rooted in their inalienable dignity. This debt is joined in part with greater economic contributions to provide clean water and sanitation services among the poorest populations. But there is a waste of water, not only in developed countries but also in developing ones that have large reserves. This highlights that the water problem is partly a question of education and culture, because there is not awareness of the seriousness of such conduct in a context of great inequity.

31. A greater water shortage will result in the increase in the cost of food and various products that depend from its use. Some studies have reported the risk of suffering an acute shortage of water within a few decades if action is not taken urgently. The environmental impacts could affect billions of people, and on the other hand it is expected that the water control by large global companies will become a major source of conflict in this century. [23 See Greeting to FAO staff ( November 20, 2014): AAS 106 (2014), 985.]

III. Loss of biodiversity

32. Even the earth’s resources are plundered because of the economy and the commercial and productive attitudes too tied to the immediate result. The loss of forests and woodlands implies at the same time the loss of species which may constitute in the future extremely important resources, not only for feeding, but also for the treatment of diseases and for multiple services. Different species contain genes that may be key resources to respond in the future to some human need or to solve some environmental problem.

33. But do not just think about the different species just like any exploitable “resources”, forgetting that they have a value in themselves. Every year thousands of species of plants and animals disappear that we can no longer know, that our children will not be able to see, lost forever. The vast majority is extinguished for reasons having to do with some human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will not give glory to God with their lives, nor can communicate his message. We have not the right.

34. Probably becoming aware of the extinction of a mammal or a bird troubles us, because of their greater visibility. But for the proper functioning of ecosystems there is also needed fungi, algae, worms, small insects, reptiles and countless variety of microorganisms. Some species that are few in number, usually going unnoticed, play a role critical to stabilizing the balance of a place. It is true that the human being has to intervene when a geosystem enters a critical stage, but today the level of human intervention in a reality as complex as the nature is such, that the constant disasters caused by human cause his new intervention, so that human activity become ubiquitous, with all the risks that entails. It creates a vicious circle in which the intervention of the human being to solve a problem often worsens the situation further. For example, many birds and insects that die out as a result of toxic pesticides created by technology, are useful to agriculture itself, and their disappearance will be compensated with another technological intervention that probably will bring new harmful effects. The efforts of scientists and technicians who try to solve the problems created by humans are commendable and sometimes admirable. But looking at the world we see that this level of human intervention, often in the service of finance and consumerism, actually causes the earth we live in to become less rich and beautiful, more and more limited and gray, while at the same time the development of technology and consumer goods continues to advance without limits. In this way, it seems that we delude ourselves that we are able to replace a unique and unrecoverable beauty by another created by us.

35. When analyzing the environmental impact of any economic initiative, it is customary to consider the effects on the soil, water and air, but it does not always include a careful study of the impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of some species or groups of animal or vegetation was something unimportant. Roads, new crops, fences, water bodies and other buildings, they are taking possession of and sometimes fragmenting habitat so that animal populations can no longer migrate or move freely, so that some species are threatened with extinction. There are alternatives that at least mitigate the impact of these works, such as the creation of biological corridors, but in only a few countries there is such care and such attention. When we commercially exploit certain species, we don’t always consider their growth mode, to avoid their excessive reduction with the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.

36. The attention of ecosystems requires a look that goes beyond the immediate, because when you look at only quick and easy financial gain, there is not anyone truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of damage caused by neglect selfish is far higher than the economic benefit that you can get. In case of loss or serious damage to some species, we are talking about values that exceed any calculation. For this, we can be silent witnesses to serious inequity when one attempts to obtain significant benefits by charging to the rest of humanity, present and future, the high costs of environmental degradation.

37. Some countries have made progress in the effective conservation of certain places and areas – on land and in the oceans – which forbids any human intervention that can change its appearance or alter its original constitution. In the care of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need to place a special emphasis on those areas with the richest variety of species, endemic species, and infrequent or lesser degree of effective protection. There are places that require special care because of their enormous importance to the global ecosystem, or that are significant reserves of water and thus ensure other forms of life.

38. We recall, for example, those lungs of the planet full of biodiversity that are the Amazon and the river basin of the Congo, or the great aquifers and glaciers. The importance of these regions for the whole planet and for the future of humanity is well known. The ecosystems of tropical forests have a biodiversity of great complexity, almost impossible to know completely, but when these forests are burned or razed to increase crops, in a few years you lose countless species, or those areas are transformed into arid deserts. However, a delicate balance is required when it comes to these places, because you cannot ignore the huge international economic interests which, on the pretext of taking care, may endanger national sovereignty. In fact there is the “proposed internationalization of the Amazon, which only serves the economic interests of transnational corporations.” [24 V General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Aparecida Document (June 29, 2007), 86.] It is a commendable commitment of international agencies and civil society organizations to sensitize the people and cooperate in a critical way, even using legitimate mechanisms of pressure, so that every government and fulfills its non-delegable duty to preserve the environment and natural resources of their country, without selling to ambiguous local or international interests.

39. Not even the replacement of the areas planted with wildflowers with timber farms, which are generally monocultures, is usually subject to appropriate analysis. In reality it can seriously affect biodiversity which is not accomodated by new species that are planted. The wetlands, which are converted into agricultural land, lose the enormous biodiversity that was housed there. In some coastal areas there is the alarming disappearance of mangrove ecosystems.

40. The oceans not only contain most of the planet, but also most of the wide variety of living things, many of which are still unknown to us and are threatened by various causes. In addition, life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds much of the world’s population, is seen to be affected by the uncontrolled withdrawal of fish resources, which results in drastic declines of some species. Yet we continue to develop selective fishing methods that discard much of the collected species. Marine organisms that we do not take into account are particularly threatened, as some forms of plankton that form a very important component in the marine food chain, and ultimately, species that are used for human food, on which they depend.

41. Delving in tropical and subtropical seas, we find the coral reefs, which correspond to the great forests of the mainland, because they are home to approximately one million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges, algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs today are infertile or are in steady decline “Who turned the wonderful marine world into submarie cemeteries stripped of life and color?”. [25 Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, Pastoral Letter What is Happening to our Beautiful Land? (29 January 1988).] This phenomenon is largely due to the pollution that reaches the sea as a result of deforestation, monoculture farming, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the temperature of the oceans. All this helps us to understand how any actions on nature can have consequences that we do not notice at first glance, and that some forms of exploitation of resources are obtained at the cost of a decline that eventually reaches all the way to the oceans.

42. You need to invest much more in research to better understand the behavior of ecosystems and properly analyze the different variables of the impact of any significant change of the environment. Since all creatures are related to each other, each of their value must be recognized with affection and admiration, and all we created beings need each other. Each region has a responsibility in the care of this family, so it should make a thorough inventory of species it houses, with a view to developing programs and strategies of protection, taking care with particular attention to species in danger of extinction.

IV. Deterioration in the quality of human life and social degradation

43. If we take into account the fact that the human being is a creature of this world, who has the right to live and be happy, and also has a special dignity, we can not fail to consider the effects of environmental degradation, of the current development model and the culture of waste on people’s lives.

44. Today we find, for example, the boundless and disordered growth of many cities that have become unbearable from the point of view of health, not only for the pollution originated by toxic emissions, but also for the urban chaos, the problems of transport and visual pollution and noise. Many large cities are inefficient structures that consume excessive water and energy. There are areas that, although they have been built recently, are congested and disorderly, without sufficient green spaces. It is not for people on this planet to live increasingly inundated with concrete, asphalt, glass and metals, deprived of physical contact with nature.

45. In some places, rural and urban, the privatization of space has made it difficult for citizens’ access to areas of particular beauty; elsewhere they have created residential “greens” only available to a few, where you do so to prevent others from entering a disturbing artificial tranquility. Often there is a beautiful city full of well-tended green spaces in some “safe” areas, but not so in less visible areas, home to society’s discarded.

46. Among the social components of global change will include the employment effects of some technological innovations, social exclusion, inequality in the availability and consumption of energy and other services, social fragmentation, the increase in violence and the emergence of new forms of social aggression, drug trafficking and the increasing consumption of drugs among young people, the loss of identity. They are signs, among others, that show how the growth of the last two centuries has no sense of a true integral progress and a better quality of life in all its aspects. Some of these signs are both symptoms of a real social degradation, of a silent rupture of the ties of integration and of social communion.

47. Add to this the dynamics of the media and the digital world, which, when they become ubiquitous, do not favor the development of a capacity to live with wisdom, to think deeply, to love generously. The great sages of the past, in this context, would run the risk of seeing stifled their wisdom in the noise-dispersive information. This will require an effort to ensure that such media result in a new cultural development of mankind and not in a deeper deterioration of its wealth. True wisdom, the result of reflection, dialogue and encounter between generous people, is not acquired by a mere accumulation of data that eventually saturates and confuses, in a kind of mental pollution. At the same time, the real relationships with others, with all the challenges that imply, tend to be replaced by a type of communication mediated by Internet. This allows you to select or delete relations according to our will, and so it often generates a new type of artificial emotions, which have more to do with devices and screens than with people and nature. The current means allow us to communicate among ourselves and we share knowledge and affection. However, sometimes they also prevent us from making direct contact with the anguish, with the tremor, with the joy of the other and with the complexity of his personal experience. Therefore it should not surprise that, together with the overwhelming offerings of these products, go an increasingly deep and melancholic dissatisfaction in relationships, or a damaging insulation.

V. Planetary inequities

48. The human environment and the natural environment will degrade together, and we cannot adequately address environmental degradation, if we do not pay attention to the causes that have to do with the social and human degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and society affect especially the most vulnerable on the planet: “Both the common experience of ordinary life and scientific research shows that the poorest people suffer the worst effects of all environmental assaults”. [26 Bolivian Episcopal Conference, Pastoral Letter on the environment and human development in Bolivia El universe, Don de Dios para la vida (2012), 17.] For example, the depletion of fish stocks penalizes especially those who live on artisanal fishing and not have a subsitute, water pollution particularly affects the poorest who do not have the opportunity to buy bottled water, and rising sea level mainly affects impoverished coastal populations that have nowhere to move. The impact of the current imbalances is also manifested in the premature death of many poor, in the conflicts generated by the lack of resources and many other issues that do not find enough space on the agendas of the world. [27 Cf. German Bishops’ Conference. Committee on Social Affairs, Der Klimawandel: Brennpunkt globaler, intergenerationeller und √∂kologischer Gerechtigkeit (September 2006), 28-30.]

49. I would observe that often we do not have clear understanding of the problems affecting particularly the marginalized. They are most of the planet, billions of people. Today they are mentioned in political debates and international economics, but mostly it seems that their problems present themselves as an appendix, as a matter to be added almost as an obligation or in a peripheral manner, if not considered a mere collateral damage. In fact, at the moment of concrete implementation, frequently they remain in last place. This is partly due to the fact that many professionals, opinion leaders, media and power centers are located far away from them, in urban areas isolated, with no direct contact with their problems. They live and reflect from the comfort of a development and a quality of life that are beyond the reach of most of the world population. This lack of physical contact and meeting, sometimes exacerbated by the fragmentation of our cities, help cauterize the conscience and to ignore reality in partial analyses. This sometimes coexists with a “green” discourse. But today we cannot help but recognize that a true ecological approach becomes a social approach, which must integrate environmental justice in the discussions, to hear the cry of the earth as much as the cry of the poor.

50. Instead of solving the problems of the poor and thinking of a different world, some limit themselves to propose a reduction in the birth rate. There is no lack of international pressure on countries in the developing world affecting economic aid to certain policies of “reproductive health”. However, “it is true that the unequal distribution of the population and of available resources creates obstacles to development and to a sustainable use of the environment, it should be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development.” [28 Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 483.] Blaming the increase in population instead of the extreme and selective consumerism of some, is a way to avoid facing problems. So it claims to legitimize the current distribution model, where a minority believes in the right to consume in a proportion that would be impossible to generalize, because the planet cannot even contain the waste of such consumption. In addition, we know that we waste approximately one third of the foods that are produced, and “the food that is thrown away is as if you steal from the table of the poor.” [29 Catechesis (5 June 2013): Teachings 1/1 (2013 ), 280.] However, it is certain that we must pay attention to the imbalance in the distribution of the population of regions, both nationally and globally, because the increase in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, for combinations of problems of environmental pollution, transport, waste disposal, with the loss of resources, with the quality of life.

51. The inequity affects not only individuals, but whole countries, and forces one to think of ethics in international relations. There is in fact a true “ecological debt”, especially between the North and the South, related to trade imbalances with consequences in the context of ecology, as well as the disproportionate use of natural resources historically made by some countries. Exports of some raw materials to satisfy the markets in the industrialized North have produced local damage, such as pollution from mercury in gold mining or sulfur dioxide in the copper. In particular there is to reckon the use of the ambient space around the planet to deposit waste gases that have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation that now affects every country in the world. The warming caused by the enormous consumption of some rich countries has an impact in the poorest places on earth, especially in Africa, where the increase in temperature combined with drought has disastrous effects on yields. This is combined with the damage caused by the export to developing countries of solid and liquid toxic pollutants and activity of enterprises in less developed countries what they can not do in countries that provide their capital: “We often note companies operating so are multinational, they do here what they are not allowed in the developed or the so-called first world. Generally, when they cease their activities and withdraw, leaving large human and environmental damage, such as unemployment, lifeless villages, depletion of some nature reserves, deforestation, depletion of local animals and plants, craters, devastated hills, polluted rivers, and that any social work can no longer support.” [30 Bishops of the Region Patagonia-Comahue (Argentina), Mensaje de Navidad (December 2009), 2.]

52. The external debt of poor countries has become an instrument of control, but the same thing does not happen with the ecological debt. In many ways, the people in the developing world, where there are the most important reserves of the biosphere, continue to fuel the development of the richest countries at the price of their present and their future. The land of the poor South is rich and less polluted, but access to ownership of assets and resources to meet their essential needs is forbidden by a system of trade relations and structurally perverse property. It is necessary that developed countries contribute to solving this debt limit so important to the consumption of non-renewable energy, and bringing resources to the countries most in need to promote policies and programs for sustainable development. The regions and the poorest countries are less likely to adopt new models for reducing environmental impact, because they do not have the preparation to develop the necessary processes and cannot cover its costs. Therefore, we must keep a clear conscience that in climate change there are different responsibilities and, as Bishops of the United States said, it is appropriate to point “especially at the needs of the poor, weak and vulnerable in a debate often dominated by the interests of more powerful”. [31 Conference of Catholic Bishops of the United States, Global Climate Change: A Plea for Dialogue, Prudence and the Common Good (15 June 2001).] We must strengthen the awareness that we are one human family. There are no political or social borders and barriers that allow us to isolate ourselves, and for that reason there is not even space for the globalization of indifference.

VI. The weakness of the reactions

53. These situations cause the cries of sister earth, which are joined to the cries of the abandoned in the world, with a lament that demands from us another route. We never mistreated and insulted our common home as in the last two centuries. Instead, we are called to be instruments of God the Father because our planet is what he has dreamed of creating it and responds to his project of peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we do not have yet the culture needed to address this crisis and we need to build leadership indicating routes, trying to meet the needs of current generations including all without compromising future generations. It is essential to create a regulatory system that includes inviolable limits and provides protection to ecosystems, before the new forms of power derived from the techno-economic paradigm end up destroying not only politics but also freedom and justice.

54. Also of note is the weakness of the international political reaction. The submission of politics to technology and finance proves the failure of world summits on the environment. There are too many special interests and very easily the economic interests get to prevail over the common good and to manipulate information so as not to see their plans affected. In this vein, the Aparecida Document calls “interventions on natural resources are not overridden by the interests of economic groups that irrationally destroy the sources of life”[32 V General Conference of Latin American Bishops, Aparecida Document (June 29, 2007), 471.] The alliance between economics and technology ends up leaving out anything that is not part of their immediate interests. So you might expect only a few superficial proclamations and isolated philanthropy, and even efforts to show sensitivity to the environment, while in reality any attempt of social organizations to change things will be seen as a disorder caused by romantic dreamers or as an obstacle to circumvent.

55. Gradually some countries can show significant progress, the development of more efficient competition controls and a more sincere fight against corruption. Environmental awareness of the people has grown, although not enough to change harmful habits of consumption, which do not seem to recede, but extend and develop. That’s what happens, to give just one simple example, with the growing increase in the use and intensity of air conditioners: the markets, looking for immediate profit, stimulate even more demand. If someone was observing from outside the planetary society, he would be stupefied in the face of such behavior that sometimes seems suicidal.

56. In the meantime, the economic powers continue to justify the current world system, in which speculation and a pursuit for financial rent which tends to ignore each context and the effects on human dignity and the environment prevail. So clearly it reveals that environmental degradation and human and ethical degradation are intimately connected. Many will say that they are not aware of engaging in immoral action, because the constant distraction takes away the courage to realize the reality of a limited and finite world. To this day, “anything that is fragile, like environment, remains defenseless against the interest of the deified market, transformed into absolute rule.” [33 Apost. ap. Evangelii gaudium (24 November 2013), 56: AAS 105 (2013), 1043.]

57. It is expected that, in the face of the depletion of some resources, one would be creating a favorable scenario for new wars, disguised with lofty claims. War always causes serious damage to the environment and the cultural wealth of the peoples, and the risks become huge when you think of nuclear energy and biological weapons. In fact, “despite international agreements that prohibit chemical, bacteriological and biological warfare, the fact is that in laboratory research there continues to develop new offensive weapons capable of altering the balance of nature.” [34 John Paul II, Message for the Day World Peace 1990, 12: AAS 82 (1990), 154.] It requires greater attention from policy to prevent and address the causes that can give rise to new conflicts. But the power connected with finance is one that resists this effort, and political designs often lack breadth of vision. Who holding power today wants to be remembered for his failure to intervene when it was urgent and necessary to do so?

58. In some countries there are examples of positive results in improving the environment, as the recovery of some rivers that were polluted for many decades, the recovery of native forests, or the beautification of landscapes with works of environmental recovery, or construction projects of great aesthetic value, progress in the production of non-polluting energy, improving public transport. These actions do not solve global problems, but confirm that the human being is still able to intervene positively. Having been created to love, in the midst of his limits there inevitably sprout gestures of generosity, solidarity and care.

59. At the same time, there grows a superficial or apparent ecology, which consolidates a certain lethargy and a carefree irresponsibility. As often happens in times of deep crisis, that require courageous decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not certain. If we look superficially, beyond some visible signs of pollution and degradation, it seems that things are not so severe and that the planet could remain for a long time under current conditions. We need this evasive behavior to maintain our lifestyles, production and consumption. It is the way in which the human being arranges to feed all self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, struggling to not recognize them, putting off important decisions, acting as if nothing had happened.

VII. Diversity of opinions

60. Finally, we recognize that different views and ways of thinking about the situation and possible solutions have developed. From one extreme, some argue at all costs the myth of progress and say that environmental problems will be solved simply by new technical applications, without ethical or fundamental changes. On the other extreme, others believe that the human species, with whatever his intervention, can only be a threat and compromise the global ecosystem, so it should reduce its presence on the planet and prevent any kind of intervention. Between these extremes, reflection should identify possible future scenarios, because there is not only one way of solution. This would leave room for a variety of contributions that could enter into dialogue with a view to integral responses.

61. On many concrete issues the Church has no reason to propose a definite word and realizes it must listen and promote honest debate among scientists, respecting differences of opinion. But we only look at reality with sincerity to see that there is a great deterioration of our common home. Hope invites us to recognize that there is always a way out, we can always change course, we can always do something to solve the problems. However, it seems we are experiencing symptoms of a breaking point, because of the great speed of change and degradation, which occur both in regional natural disasters as well as in social or even financial crises, since the problems of the world can not be analyzed nor explained in isolation. There are regions which are already particularly at risk and, beyond any catastrophic prediction, it is certain that the current world system is unsustainable from different points of view, because we have stopped thinking about the purpose of human action: “If you look along regions of our planet, one realizes immediately that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations”. [35 Id., Catechesis (17 January 2001), 3: L’Osservatore 24/1 (2001), 178.]