Pope Frank on the environment

I’ve just finished reading Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ encyclical letter on the environment that came out last week. Below the fold I’ll share some brief impressions based on the official English translation from the Vatican, available here in a PDF formatted for tablets. Numbers in parentheses refer to the numbered paragraphs of the document.

The Pope accepts the current AGW (anthropogenic global warming) orthodoxy: the planet is warming; this is a bad thing; the warming comes mainly from human activity; changes in human activity can solve the problem. He says “crisis” a lot.

At no point does the Pope indicate that he speaks ex cathedra. He never includes the formula “the teaching of the Church is” or the like. He encourages dialogue among Catholics, Protestants, and believers in other religions. The encyclical ends with two prayers: one a general prayer that any monotheist could say, and the other a Trinitarian Christian prayer.

Francis takes a holistic view that includes humans, especially the poor, as part of the environment. Unborn humans also qualify.

The document contains good theology in general, broadly conceived and clearly expressed. The only part that might trouble Protestants is a brief section on Mary and Joseph (241-2).

The Pope speaks against free-market economics without much nuance. He treats big business as a monolithic entity, characterized by greed and doing no one any good but its shareholders. He doesn’t acknowledge that business provides people with essentials along with nonessentials. Instead, he decries consumerism at every turn and criticizes a “technocratic” attitude without defining it. He clearly rejects the idea that improved technology eventually helps everyone.

The Pope treats economics as a zero-sum game. The pie has only so many slices, and you can’t bake another pie. Whatever one person has, another person necessarily lacks. The earth will support only so many people, and Francis does not acknowledge that technical progress might allow the world to support more people. Contraception is of course off the table.

The document contains a number of “to be sure” statements. Technology is wonderful, but. The Church believes in private property, but. The Pope comes across as an anti-technology, communitarian thinker. He believes that sound environmental attitudes require an “ecological conversion” (217), and enforcement requires a “world political authority” (175).

That was a not totally unbiased summary of the encyclical, but I’ve tried to portray it fairly. My take in a nutshell: solid theology, naïve economics. And now a couple of personal reflections.

In the 1950s I saw some people in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, demonstrating against nuclear weapons. One of the signs said, “Ban the bomb.” I remember wondering, even as a child, who would ban the bomb and what they would to do people who went ahead and built bombs. The encyclical suffers from a similar weakness. When Francis calls for a change of heart, he stands on solid papal ground. When he gets into the specifics of how to make the necessary changes, he knows no more than the rest of us.

Both my grandfathers died young, and my parents were raised by widowed mothers. Both lived through the Great Depression, and they raised me to be frugal and live simply. We were Appalachian people who “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” It turns out I’ve been green all my life and didn’t know it; the green movement caught up with me later. This background leaves me predisposed to accept Francis’ simple-living exhortation but not his alarmism.


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One Response to “Pope Frank on the environment”

  1. Jon Anderson Says:

    Reblogged this on Living the Daring Way.

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