Pope Francis on the Environment: Part Six

New biological technologies

130. “human intervention on plants and animals is permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life” — the use of animals for experiments, and the use of biotech to modify plants and animals (genetically), must not be done without any restraints.

131. “If an artist cannot be stopped from using his or her creativity, neither should those who possess particular gifts for the advancement of science and technology be prevented from using their God-given talents for the service of others. We need constantly to rethink the goals, effects, overall context and ethical limits of this human activity, which is a form of power involving considerable risks.”

The Pontiff offers a balanced view of the use of biotechnology, its benefits and detriments.

132. “The respect owed by faith to reason calls for close attention to what the biological sciences, through research uninfluenced by economic interests, can teach us about biological structures, their possibilities and their mutations. Any legitimate intervention will act on nature only in order ‘to favour its development in its own line, that of creation, as intended by God’ ” [inner quote from Pope Saint John Paul II]

133. “It is difficult to make a general judgement about genetic modification (GM), whether vegetable or animal, medical or agricultural, since these vary greatly among themselves and call for specific considerations.” The Pope does not wholly approve, nor wholly condemn, genetically-modified organisms (GMO). He is more cautious on this topic than the political right, and less critical than the political left.

134. The use of GM crops presents “a number of significant difficulties which should not be underestimated…. In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners….” GM crops are controlled by plant patents and protected by law, giving the large corporation control over any farmer who uses the crop. Small farms are pushed out of production, by economic pressures and trumped up lawsuits. “In various countries, we see an expansion of oligopolies for the production of cereals and other products needed for their cultivation. This dependency would be aggravated were the production of infertile seeds to be considered; the effect would be to force farmers to purchase them from larger producers.”

Yes, there is a GM biotechnology which makes the seed from a crop infertile, solely for the purpose of forcing the farmer to buy seed (instead of saving seed from one crop to plant the next crop). This makes farmers dependent on large corporations. The Pope is condemning this use of GM technology.

135. “Certainly, these issues require constant attention and a concern for their ethical implications…. It sometimes happens that complete information is not put on the table; a selection is made on the basis of particular interests, be they politico-economic or ideological.”

136. “On the other hand, it is troubling that, when some ecological movements defend the integrity of the environment, rightly demanding that certain limits be imposed on scientific research, they sometimes fail to apply those same principles to human life. There is a tendency to justify transgressing all boundaries when experimentation is carried out on living human embryos. We forget that the inalienable worth of a human being transcends his or her degree of development. In the same way, when technology disregards the great ethical principles, it ends up considering any practice whatsoever as licit. As we have seen in this chapter, a technology severed from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power.”

In yet another sharp rebuke to the left, the Pontiff condemns the tendency for the pro-environment left to treat unborn human persons as objects for experimentation and destruction, without regard for the right to life of human beings from conception. Ethics is largely absent from the current secular ecological movement. They wish to protect the environment, but they do not want to protect innocent human life.


137. “an integral ecology, one which clearly respects its human and social dimensions.”


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.”

When Pope Francis speaks of an integral ecology, he includes, as one of the main concerns, the needs of the poor and of the most vulnerable of society. An integral ecology includes opposition to abortion and euthanasia, concern for the issues of world hunger and poverty, as well as a respect for the environment.

In addition, this integral ecology joins balances the good of preserving the beauty and resources of nature with the needs of business and human development. Both extremes — enslaving human needs to the needs of nature, and enslaving nature to the needs of business — are rejected. Humanity is called by God to “keep” (preserve) nature, but also to “till” (make use of) nature.

139. “When we speak of the “environment”, what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it.”

“Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”

140. “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.”

141. “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.”

142. “If everything is related, then the health of a society’s institutions has consequences for the environment and the quality of human life.”

The typical environmentalism of the political left give no consideration to human needs, poverty, hunger, or economics, and limited consideration to the quality of human life. The integral ecology suggested by Pope Francis puts human needs first, but also offers a deep respect for all creation. This is not the message the left or the right wishes to hear, but it is what they needed to hear.

“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.”

Ethics, social justice, and concern for nature are integrated, each with its proper place in the scale of values, within the integral ecology of Pope Francis. Very nice. Why is everyone complaining about this encyclical?


143. “Ecology, then, also involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity in the broadest sense.”

144. “Attempts to resolve all problems through uniform regulations or technical interventions can lead to overlooking the complexities of local problems which demand the active participation of all members of the community.”

Modern culture and what might seem to be social or technological advancement has a tendency to impose itself on local communities, trample on their culture, and take away their right to participate in decisions.

145. “The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.”

The integral ecology of Pope Francis prioritizes human needs above nature, while respecting both.

146. “In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions.”

147. “Authentic development includes efforts to bring about an integral improvement in the quality of human life, and this entails considering the setting in which people live their lives…. We make every effort to adapt to our environment, but when it is disorderly, chaotic or saturated with noise and ugliness, such overstimulation makes it difficult to find ourselves integrated and happy.”

148. “The feeling of asphyxiation brought on by densely populated residential areas is countered if close and warm relationships develop, if communities are created, if the limitations of the environment are compensated for in the interior of each person who feels held within a network of solidarity and belonging. In this way, any place can turn from being a hell on earth into the setting for a dignified life.”

People overcome the limitations and negative aspects of their environment with love of neighbor, for the environment includes the people around you.

149. “In the unstable neighbourhoods of mega-cities, the daily experience of overcrowding and social anonymity can create a sense of uprootedness which spawns antisocial behaviour and violence. Nonetheless, I wish to insist that love always proves more powerful.”

150. “It is not enough to seek the beauty of design. More precious still is the service we offer to another kind of beauty: people’s quality of life, their adaptation to the environment, encounter and mutual assistance.”

151. “It is important that the different parts of a city be well integrated and that those who live there have a sense of the whole, rather than being confined to one neighbourhood and failing to see the larger city as space which they share with others.”

152. “Lack of housing is a grave problem in many parts of the world, both in rural areas and in large cities, since state budgets usually cover only a small portion of the demand. Not only the poor, but many other members of society as well, find it difficult to own a home. Having a home has much to do with a sense of personal dignity and the growth of families.”

I add that, where the poor are crowded into slums, it is often necessary to build housing for them in other areas, so that they have land on which to grow food. Many slums are too crowded for decent housing to accommodate so many on so little land.

153. “The quality of life in cities has much to do with systems of transport, which are often a source of much suffering for those who use them.” Cars are a problem in cities, due to crowded roads, limited parking, and pollution. But public transportation has problems also: crowding, lack of safety, and limited service.

154. “Respect for our dignity as human beings often jars with the chaotic realities that people have to endure in city life. Yet this should not make us overlook the abandonment and neglect also experienced by some rural populations which lack access to essential services and where some workers are reduced to conditions of servitude, without rights or even the hope of a more dignified life.”

155. “Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment.”

Unlike the secular ecology of the political left, the integral human ecology of Pope Francis includes love of neighbor and the eternal moral law.

“Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognize myself in an encounter with someone who is different.”

— 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.

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