Pope Francis encyclical: The digested read

ReutersPope Francis' encyclical speaks of care for the environment and for the poor.

Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si was leaked a few days ago, but only in an Italian draft. English-only readers whose conscience allowed them had to make do with scraps of machine translations.

Now it has been officially released. It is a truly remarkable document, not just for what it says about climate change but for its wisdom on the whole way in which human beings relate to their environment and to each other.

Pope Francis has won the world's admiration for his personal qualities: now he has produced a work that provides a template for scientists, businesses, economists and politicians – and ordinary people too – to work together on the great questions of our time. It's a profound, insightful and moving analysis of what's wrong with our world and how to start fixing it.

It says:

1. The earth is a "sister" who "cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irre­sponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will."

2. Signficantly, Francis reaches out to the Orthodox world by quoting Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, "with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion": "It is our humble conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of God's creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet."

3. He takes aim at "obstructionist attitudes", even on the part of believers, which "can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions" – a possible tilt at US Republicans, who are generally sceptical about climate change.

4. He calls for an end to the "throwaway culture" of consumption and waste, saying: "We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling them."

5. Climate change is real and human-induced. "A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system... 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."

6. We don't care enough for the poor who face the worst consequences: "Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption."

7. Privatising water, " turning it into a commodity subject to the laws of the market", is wrong.

8. Allowing species to go extinct is a tragedy. "The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right."

9. Consumerism and unregulated 'progress' is deeply dangerous. "A sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with something which we have created ourselves."

10. Many cities don't work for people. They are "huge, inefficient struc­tures, excessively wasteful of energy and water. Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green space. We were not meant to be inundated by ce­ment, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature."

11. Population control isn't the problem: "It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption."

12. Rich countries need to help poor ones to move to sustainable energy production: "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."

13. We genuinely risk wars if resources run out. "Politics must pay greater attention to foreseeing new conflicts and addressing the causes which can lead to them. But powerful financial interests prove most resistant to this effort, and political planning tends to lack breadth of vision. What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?"

14. We are not God. "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."

15. We can't carry on as we are. The idea of infinite growth is "based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit".

16. The poor and vulnerable come first. "Neglecting to monitor the harm done to nature and the environmental impact of our de­cisions is only the most striking sign of a disre­gard for the message contained in the structures of nature itself. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a hu­man embryo, a person with disabilities – to offer just a few examples – it becomes difficult to hear the cry of nature itself; everything is connected."

17. People need work, not charity. "Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines."

18. Genetically modified crops can harm the poor. "In many places, following the introduction of these crops, productive land is concentrated in the hands of a few owners", small producers are forced off their land and "The most vulnerable of these become temporary labourers, and many rural workers end up moving to poverty-stricken urban areas."

19. Everything is connected. "When we speak of the 'environment', what we really mean is a relationship existing between nature and the society which lives in it. Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live. We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it."

20. City life has to prioritise the poor. "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."

21. We have to bear in mind intergenerational justice. "Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth."

22. Fossil fuel technology has to be replaced, and soon. "Un­til greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is le­gitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agree­ments about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition."

23. On climate change, national interests are taking precedence over global responsibilities. "International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good. Those who will have to suffer the consequences of what we are trying to hide will not forget this failure of conscience and responsibility."

24. Carbon credits are a con, aimed at letting rich nations off the hook. "This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require. Rather, it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors."

25. Multinational corporations can't be allowed to run the world. "The twenty-first century, while maintaining systems of governance inherited from the past, is witnessing a weakening of the power of nation states, chiefly because the eco­nomic and financial sectors, being transnation­al, tends to prevail over the political. Given this situation, it is essential to devise stronger and more efficiently organized international institu­tions, with functionaries who are appointed fairly by agreement among national governments, and empowered to impose sanctions."

26. Lessons from the financial crisis have not been learned. "Saving banks at any cost, making the public pay the price, foregoing a firm commitment to reviewing and reforming the entire system, only reaffirms the absolute power of a financial system, a power which has no future and will only give rise to new crises after a slow, costly and only apparent recovery."

27. People and the environment should come first right from the start. "Environmental impact assessment should not come after the drawing up of a business proposition or the proposal of a particular poli­cy, plan or programme. It should be part of the process from the beginning, and be carried out in a way which is interdisciplinary, transparent and free of all economic or political pressure. It should be linked to a study of working con­ditions and possible effects on people's physical and mental health, on the local economy and on public safety."

28. Rich nations should consume less and grow less. "We know how unsustainable is the behaviour of those who constantly consume and destroy, while others are not yet able to live in a way worthy of their human dignity. That is why the time has come to accept decreased growth in some parts of the world, in order to provide resources for other places to ex­perience healthy growth."

29. Science and religion can be allies. "It cannot be maintained that empirical sci­ence provides a complete explanation of life, the interplay of all creatures and the whole of reality. This would be to breach the limits imposed by its own methodology. If we reason only within the confines of the latter, little room would be left for aesthetic sensibility, poetry, or even reason's ability to grasp the ultimate meaning and purpose of things."

30. We can all do something. "Only by cultivating sound virtues will people be able to make a selfless ecological commitment. A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment. There is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions, and it is wonderful how education can bring about real changes in lifestyle."