Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si’, or by its English title, Praise Be to You, On Care for Our Common Home, has been portrayed as a book about global warming. It’s far more than that, as you’ll see if you read it. You can download it to your Kindle for just 99 cents.
Francis writes that the destruction of the earth’s environment we are witnessing today is due to a host of causes, not just global warming. He deplores the persistent poverty and the rising economic inequality of our modern world — both occurring despite the tremendous wealth that science and technology have made possible. He attributes poverty and inequality to the same forces that have damaged the environment: our throwaway consumer society, in which the profit motive has triumphed over over humanism. Indeed, in harming the environment and forcing millions to live in degrading poverty, our society threatens to deprive us of the sense of what it means to be human.
The Pope grounds his argument in part on a thorough review of the science. All of those politicians who have said that he ought to stick to what he knows about are wrong. Pope Francis has studied the science, and he knows what he is talking about.
The second basis of Francis’ case is theology, and he brings to bear the Bible, the sayings of St. Francis, and the statements of his predecessors to make his points. Some might find the theology a little overpowering, but Francis is the Pope. theology is to be expected. You may disagree with some or all of it, but sometimes it can be quite beautiful. “Saint Therese of Lisieux,” he writes, “invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship.”
The theological case is so well argued that any Catholic, or indeed any Christian, ought to find it compelling. That’s why defenders of the status quo find this encyclical so threatening.
What are the particular implications of Laudato Si’ for seniors?
The quality of the environment we pass on to our heirs will determine how our generation, collectively, is remembered. Earth is a shared inheritance, the Pope reminds us again and again. We should hand it down intact if there is to be “justice between the generations.”
Second, the Pope recognizes that the environmental crisis is a political crisis. He says, for example, that “The failure of global summits on the environment makes it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good ….” We seniors vote, and we can use our votes to elect candidates for office who are willing to speak up for the environment and resist the power of money in politics.
We can participate in politics in other ways as well. Pope Francis states that “Unless citizens control political power — national, regional and municipal — it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.” This sentence put me in mind of the citizens uprising that has led to a ban on hydrofracking throughout New York, my home state. The large majority of those who led and participated in this uprising, from what I could see, were seniors.
Finally, we seniors can participate in, and try to lead, the shift toward a new lifestyle that the Pope calls for. We can resist “compulsive consumerism” and demonstrate an “ecological commitment,” as he asks, even in small ways. “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 nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions ….”