In a close reading of the first papal encyclical focused exclusively on the global ecological crisis, The New York Times finds the head of the Catholic Church calling on leaders and people from all cultures to act to protect the world’s ecosystems and the disadvantaged from predatory and shortsighted political and economic systems.

Times contributors Laurie Goodstein and Justin Gillis’ annotations of the document include the following:

To Every Person

“More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire ‘Catholic world’ and indeed ‘to all men and women of good will.’ Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

LAURIE GOODSTEIN:

By invoking “Pacem in Terris,” or “Peace on Earth,” one of the most famous encyclicals ever issued and one addressed to the world, Pope Francis is making it clear he wants his document to be a historic watershed. …

Climate as Common Good

“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system. In recent decades this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon. Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”

LAURIE GOODSTEIN:

Much of the controversy preceding the encyclical in the United States has been focused on this point: Would Francis take a position on whether climate change is human-induced. Any suspense is now over: He has, citing scientific studies. …

Myopic Power Politics

“A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments.”

LAURIE GOODSTEIN:

Francis calls on local and national governments to look toward the long term and the common good. He goes on to say that individually and in groups, people can make an impact by organizing and pressuring governments to reorder their priorities. This is an example of Francis aiming to inspire citizens everywhere, and not just Catholics, to take action in their communities. As he says later in the the encyclical, “Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.”

Read more here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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