Laudato Si’ – Chapter 1

An extract from ‘A reflection on Laudato Si’ mi Signore – On Care for our Common Home’ written by Fr. Liam O’Callaghan

Chapter One – What is happening to our common home (17-61)

In the first chapter, Francis presents a detailed map of the damage caused to the environment by humankind in our world of rapid change, which he notes “contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution…..Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity” (18). We will now look at six of the most serious challenges he outlines: –

Pollution and Climate Change – pollution, waste and the throwaway culture (20-26): –    Pope Francis outlines numerous ways in which pollution damages the health of humans and the planet: “exposure to atmospheric pollutions produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths” (20). We are now producing so much waste: “much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive……that the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” (21). Francis laments the “throwaway culture…as it quickly reduces things to rubbish” (22); as he does in relation to our industrial system which has singularly failed to creates ways of re-using waste and by-products. Many economists and environmentalists agree when they state that improved efficiency in using resources must become the great economic challenge of the twenty-first century.

Francis categorically states that he believes global warming and climate change is primarily caused by human activity: “a very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system…..due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases…. released mainly as a result of human activity” (23). There is an urgent need to change our lifestyle, production and consumption in the light of this enormous problem. Again, his concern for the poor rings through as he fears: “its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades” (25).

The Issue of Water (27-31) –                                                                                                

Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance for Pope Francis, who is greatly worried that large numbers of people especially in parts of Africa have no access to safe drinking water. Another of his concerns is the quality of water available to the poor, many of whom die from diseases caused by drinking unsafe water. Laudato Si’ is also highly critical of the growing tendency to privatise water, proclaiming that “access to safe drinking water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights” (30). Urgent action is needed; otherwise acute water shortage may occur within a few decades.

Loss of Diversity (32-42)

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species…..lost forever…the great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. We have no such right” (33). There is major concern for ecosystems and far-sightedness is needed for their preservation, not short-term profit considerations. It is clear that much of our human intervention in making the earth less rich and beautiful and most often is in the service of business interests and consumerism. Francis specifically mentions the Amazon and Congo basins, “those richly diverse lungs of our planet”, and the great aquifers and glaciers because they are so crucial for the entire earth and the future of humanity and yet they are in real danger. Tropical and virgin forests with their enormously complex biodiversity are being destroyed every day at an enormous rate. The oceans are also under severe threat and in tropical and subtropical seas many coral reefs, once home to approximately a million species of ocean life, have already been rendered barren. Ocean pollution and rise in ocean temperatures due to global warming makes this a truly depressing picture.

Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society (43-47)

In this section, Pope Francis is concerned with the effects on people’s lives of environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture” (43). He in particular laments “the disproportionate and unruly growth of many cities” which drastically reduces the quality of human life. I suspect many urban planners might not be too happy as normally well planned cities are seen as an answer to environmental problems. Most likely, the Pope has cities of the less developed world in mind, many of which have vast amount of slum areas. The vast array of social problems facing so many of the world’s population reveals that development has been uneven and unjust, leading to a disimprovement in quality of life for millions of people. Francis also advises us to use wisely the gifts of media and the digital world.

Global Inequality (48-52)

“The deterioration of the environment and society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet” (48); Francis adds “there is little in the way of clear awareness of problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet, they are the majority of the planet’s population, billions of people” (49). He argues that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach, “so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (49). He maintains a traditional position on population control; the solution cannot be just “a reduction in the birth rate” (50) as many propose, “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some” is a greater cause of difficulty than population growth.

Weak Responses (53-59)

“Nev­er have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years”(53). In the light of this, Francis speaks out strongly against the weakness of the reactions of the international community, especially “the failure of global summits on the environment….where economic interests easily end up trumping the common good” (54). He calls for “the establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable” (53).

Fr. Liam is a Columban working in Pakistan.