Pope Francis’s climate change encyclical has become a talking point. But why has it gripped the world’s attention? Ankita Dwivedi Johri explains
The word “encyclical” is derived from Latin encyclicus which means “circular”. It refers to a letter sent by the Pope with the intent of it being circulated among the bishops of the world. It is the highest form of teaching from a Pope, as he interprets the Catholic doctrine, and is used primarily for teaching, sometimes to caution and, in a few cases, for condemnation. The first encyclical was released by Pope Benedict XIV on December 3, 1740, but Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI, the encyclical which reaffirmed the Catholic church’s ban on artificial birth control in 1968, is considered a landmark circular. Encyclicals are usually addressed to Catholic clergy and lay people, but the documents can have a wider influence. Francis, in his address to “every person living on this planet”, has made it clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement.
Pope Francis’s 184-page papal encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) on environment is a call to action on climate change, calling it one of the “principal challenges” facing humanity, while pinning the blame on apathy, political short-sightedness and a pursuit of profits. It’s a stinging indictment of “developed, industrialised countries”, who, the Pope says, are “responsible for unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us”. The encyclical is a sweeping call to developed countries to take “swift corrective action and help poorer nations confront the crisis”.
Right from the time a draft of Pope Francis’s encyclical was leaked online by an Italian magazine, the document is being viewed as a major intervention in the climate change debate. The fact that the encyclical comes just months before the UN summit meeting on climate change in Paris in December, has sent a strong buzz through governments.
The encyclical says that “International (climate) negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good.” With the UN chief endorsing the encyclical’s message, environmental groups are optimistic that it would mount pressure on the 193 nations slated to attend the Paris climate summit.
The ANGER, THE SUPPORT
While many in Europe and the UN hailed the Pope’s attempt to combine science, humanity and faith into a single cause, the criticism has been equally powerful. Francis has been rebuked by the lobby that questions the science of human-caused climate change, and by conservative Roman Catholics, who see the encyclical as an attack on capitalism and as a case of political meddling. Conservatives in the US, who are largely climate change deniers, see the encyclical as a direct threat to their core beliefs and have lashed out at the Pope for his “interference in science”. Nevertheless, getting the Pope on board the green bandwagon is an undoubted coup for the eco lobby, and they hope his message will touch religious sceptics of climate change.
In most cases, encyclicals have had a short public shelf-life, and have been restricted to topics of internal church debates and theological dissertations. But Pope Francis’s message on climate change could be different. Bishops, priests and Catholic environmentalists around the world are planning sermons and public events to draw attention to the document. The Pope himself is expected to raise the issue when he addresses the UN General Assembly in September this year.
The Pope’s Argument
If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequences for all of us.
Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth.
The idea of unlimited growth, so attractive to economists, is based on a lie that leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.
Current economics will not solve environmental problems and problems of global hunger and poverty will not be resolved by market growth.
All is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good.
“I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals or my Pope. Religion should be less about things that end up getting into the political realm.”- Jeb Bush, US Presidential hopeful
“Pope ought to stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.”- James Inhofe, Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
“The application of affordable energy makes everything we do better.”- Thomas Pyle, Institute of Energy Research
“The church has gotten it wrong a few times on science, and I think we probably are better off leaving science to the scientists.”- Rick Santorum, former US Senator