Pope Francis on the Environment: Part Three

51. Pope Francis decries the behavior of developed nations and large multinational corporations toward disadvantaged nations. He describes the pollution and harm to the environment caused by companies which exploit the resources of poorer nations, with no regard for harm to the populace and the environment.

“The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.” Pope Francis states that global warming is caused in part by human activity, especially in rich nations. I will add that some developing nations, e.g. China, have been using fossil fuels as a sharply increasing rate, causing more harm to the environment than many developed nations.

52. The Pontiff proposes that the exploitation of environmental resources in developing nations by wealthy nations leaves a debt, which the latter owe to the former. This ecological debt is based on the benefits that the wealthy nations received from the resources of the poorer nations, and the harm done in exploiting those resources. “The developed countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable development.”


53. “Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.”

54. “It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been.” Holy Father, that’s true of all politics when dealing with any problem. Modern political systems are not very effects as tools for solving major problems.

“The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.” So true.

55. “People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing, appear to be growing all the more.”

56. “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule” Yes, modern society idolizes money and power, causing harm to society and nature. The idea that capitalism and a free market economy will solve all problems is essentially a deification of unthinking uncaring economic systems. Only by acting with love toward one another, in cooperation with grace, can we solve the many problems afflicting humanity today.

Problems caused by greed cannot be solved with money. Problems caused by sin cannot be solved with technology.

57. “War always does grave harm to the environment and to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and biological weapons.”

58. “For all our limitations, gestures of generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.”

59. “This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.”


60. Pope Francis criticizes both the political left and the political right on the topic of the environment: “At one extreme, we find those who doggedly uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change.” The political right minimize or deny ecological problems, and trust in technology and capitalism to solve all problems.

“At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited.” The political left exalts the environment above human needs, treating human persons as if they were a blight upon the face of the earth. This results in a rejection of all “forms of intervention”, i.e. ways that society interacts with nature, opposing all development, regardless of human need.

61. “On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views. But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair.” The Pontiff admits that many points in this encyclical are not definitive teachings, nor even a definitive opinion. Instead, must of the material is “a frank look at the facts” offered by science and human knowledge, along with the teaching that we have a moral obligation to act so as to help humanity and protect nature.

“aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity.” Pope Francis sets aside the “doomsday predictions” of some commentators on the far left, and argues for sustainable development, based on the true goals of human life: love of God and neighbor.


62. “science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.”


63. “If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.”

64. “faith convictions can offer Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most vulnerable of their brothers and sisters.”


65. “Those who are committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles!”

66. “The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself…. This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.”

67. “we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15).”

“Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations.

The above point is very important for a balance between the political right and left. The left tends toward the error of keeping without tilling; they preserve nature, but without regard for human needs for living space, agricultural land, and other types of development. the right tends toward the error of tilling without keeping; they advance human needs by changing the face of the earth, without regard for the benefits of preserving nature. Pope Francis is arguing against both extremes: we must preserve and care for nature, but we must also work the land to provide for our needs.

68. “This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world….”

69. “In our time, the Church does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish.”

70. “everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”

71. In ancient Israel, through the laws pertaining to crops and Sabbatical years and Jubilee years, those “who tilled and kept the land were obliged to share its fruits, especially with the poor, with widows, orphans and foreigners in their midst”. We must act similarly today, caring for nature as a ways to care for our neighbors in need.

72. “The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join us in this praise….”

73. “In the Bible, the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected”

74. “The God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.”

75. “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world. Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.”

— More on the topic in future posts —

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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