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The Best Quotes (and Key Themes) from the Pope's Environmental Manifesto:
Part II

Yesterday, I posted a piece about the Pope's "encyclical" on the environment, released last month. I summarized what I saw as the key themes and takeaways. I also provided the first half of my list of the best quotes from the essay. Yesterday's excerpts covered climate science (and denial), environmental ills in general, and the Pope's critique of modern technological society.

Yesterday, I posted a piece about the Pope's "encyclical" on the environment, released last month. I summarized what I saw as the key themes and takeaways. I also provided the first half of my list of the best quotes from the essay. Yesterday's excerpts covered climate science (and denial), environmental ills in general, and the Pope's critique of modern technological society.

Today is the moral and social side of the argument. The Pope provides a moving and profound view on the deep connection between environmental and social issues, between humans and animals, and between spiritual and practical. He also hits head on the contentious issue of man's "dominion" over Nature - many have interpreted the Bible to indicate that man should conquer nature. The Pope explains how wrong that reading is.

The most powerful call for me is the discussion of the common good. We have seen a pendulum swing in the U.S. in particular toward a "you're on your own" philosophy that underinvests in our common "infrastructure" (from roads to schools) and in each other.

Again, I hope to provide the best, pithy moments from the piece so the most people can access it. It's an important essay of near book-length, which could preclude many from engaging. The numbers for each quote indicate the paragraph from the encyclical. Enjoy my take on the best of...


Part II. The Pope on the Moral Case, the Common Good, Inequity, and Solutions to Our Social/Environmental Challenges


Environmental protection and Christianity

  • 62-3. …science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both… Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality.

    1. Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith”.[36] It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the ecological commitments which stem from our convictions.
    1. …some committed and prayerful Christians, with the excuse of realism and pragmatism, tend to ridicule expressions of concern for the environment…what they all need is an “ecological conversion”… Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience.

“Dominion” Over Nature

    1. Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things…he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of ‘brother’ or ‘sister’”… If we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder…our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters, unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously.
    1. …creation accounts in the book of Genesis…suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself…these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin…distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth.
    1. …the Genesis account which grants man “dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting him as domineering and destructive by nature. This is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church. Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures…“keeping” means caring, protecting, overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming generations. (see also passage 116 for nice point that environmentalism is often viewed as “something only the faint-hearted care about” versus a “sense of responsible stewardship”)
  • 68-9. Clearly, the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures…we are called to recognize that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes:

    1. …yet another argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us.
    1. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is “contrary to human dignity”

Our purpose

    1. What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?...if these issues are courageously faced, we are led inexorably to ask other pointed questions: What is the purpose of our life in this world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? It is no longer enough, then, simply to state that we should be concerned for future generations. We need to see that what is at stake is our own dignity…[and] the ultimate meaning of our earthly sojourn.


    1. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.
    1. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone
  • 156-7. An integral ecology is inseparable from the notion of the common good, a central and unifying principle of social ethics. The common good is “the sum of those conditions of social life which allow social groups and their individual members relatively thorough and ready access to their own fulfillment”…respect for the human person as such, endowed with basic and inalienable rights ordered to his or her integral development… common good calls for social peace, the stability and security provided by a certain order which cannot be achieved without particular concern for distributive justice.
    1. Interdependence obliges us to think of one world with a common plan. [italics in original]
    1. We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it

Connections/Systems Thinking and “Integral Ecology”

    1. …the conviction that everything in the world is connected
    1. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others.
    1. As the Catechism teaches: “… no creature is self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the service of each other.”
    1. Everything is connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.
  • 109-110. The specialization which belongs to technology makes it difficult to see the larger picture…often leads to a loss of appreciation for the whole, for the relationships between things, and for the broader horizon…makes it hard to find adequate ways of solving the more complex problems of today’s world, particularly those regarding the environment and the poor; these problems cannot be dealt with from a single perspective...

    1. …an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour.
    1. It cannot be emphasized enough how everything is interconnected. Time and space are not independent of one another, and not even atoms or subatomic particles can be considered in isolation. Just as the different aspects of the planet – physical, chemical and biological – are interrelated, so too living species are part of a network which we will never fully explore and understand.
    1. 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…it is no longer possible to find a specific, discrete answer for each part of the problem. It is essential to seek comprehensive solutions which consider the interactions within natural systems themselves and with social systems. We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather with one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.
    1. The protection of the environment is in fact “an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.”…the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment.

Value of natural capital
AW Comment: The Pope doesn’t specifically talk about valuing natural capital, but that’s what he’s really talking about as a main theme in his integral ecology thesis.

    1. we depend on these larger systems for our own existence. We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about.
    1. …decisions must be made “based on a comparison of the risks and benefits foreseen for the various possible alternatives”. This is especially the case when a project may lead to a greater use of natural resources, higher levels of emission or discharge, an increase of refuse, or significant changes to the landscape, the habitats of protected species or public spaces
    1. …as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. Yet only when “the economic and social costs of using up shared environmental resources are recognized with transparency and fully borne by those who incur them, not by other peoples or future generations”, can those actions be considered ethical.


    1. I will point to the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet.
    1. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet…
    1. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor. [italics in original]
    1. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and south.
    1. …the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but someone.”
    1. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all.
    1. There can be no ecology without adequate anthropology…Human beings cannot be expected to feel responsibility for the world unless, at the same time, their unique capacities of knowledge, will, freedom and responsibility are recognized and valued.
    1. The mindset which leaves no room for sincere concern for the environment is the same mindset which lacks concern for the inclusion of the most vulnerable members of society


Urgent call for action

    1. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all… concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity.
    1. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any significant modification of the environment.
    1. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.

International responses and policies; Local/Citizen-led policies
AW Comment: Here’s another area that will make some camps uncomfortable. The Pope clearly calls for international agreements with teeth.

    1. It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make 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… the most one can expect is superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.
    1. International negotiations cannot make significant progress due to positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good.
    1. … there is a need for common and differentiated responsibilities.
    1. Enforceable international agreements are urgently needed…Global regulatory norms are needed to impose obligations and prevent unacceptable actions
    1. As Benedict XVI has affirmed… “there is urgent need of a true world political authority.
    1. Questions related to the environment and economic development can no longer be approached only from the standpoint of differences between countries; they also call for greater attention to policies on the national and local levels.
    1. Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.
    1. Because the stakes are so high, we need institutions empowered to impose penalties for damage inflicted on the environment.


  • 182-3. An assessment of the environmental impact of business ventures and projects demands transparent political processes involving a free exchange of views…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…Economic returns can thus be forecast more realistically

Precautionary Principle

  • 186-7. The Rio Declaration of 1992…precautionary principle makes it possible to protect those who are most vulnerable…If objective information suggests that serious and irreversible damage may result, a project should be halted or modified, even in the absence of indisputable proof. Here the burden of proof is effectively reversed…This does not mean being opposed to any technological innovations which can bring about an improvement in the quality of life. But it does mean that profit cannot be the sole criterion to be taken into account…

Circular and Clean Economy

    1. Our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. 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.
    1. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy.
    1. … technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.
    1. [Developed countries] are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources…The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change. In any event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted in solidarity between all peoples.
  • 191-2. Efforts to promote a sustainable use of natural resources are not a waste of money, but rather an investment capable of providing other economic benefits in the medium term. If we look at the larger picture, we can see that more diversified and innovative forms of production which impact less on the environment can prove very profitable…. generate intelligent and profitable ways of reusing, revamping and recycling…

Rethinking growth/Broader view of progress
AW Comment: This is clearly a really complicated issue. Can we ‘grow’ in normal terms? Probably not. But what if our economy is based on renewable energy and circular models? Then perhaps we can provide a good quality of life for 9 billion people in 2050, which would include some growth.

  • 192-3. …a broader concept of quality of life…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. Benedict XVI has said that “technologically advanced societies must be prepared to encourage more sober lifestyles, while reducing their energy consumption and improving its efficiency.”
  • 194-5. Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress. A technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress…talk of sustainable growth usually becomes a way of distracting attention and offering excuses. It absorbs the language and values of ecology into the categories of finance and technocracy, and the social and environmental responsibility of businesses often gets reduced to a series of marketing and image-enhancing measures….the principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy.

Limits of Markets
AW Comment: Again, I don’t share the same level of discomfort with market solutions. I believe that if we get the prices right (as in value the intangibles, indirect value, and natural capital), markets are a wonderful tool. But the Pope does make a good case for injecting the nearly impossible to value – ethics and ‘objective truths’ – into our markets. Fair point.

    1. Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth… Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.
    1. It is also the mindset of those who say: Let us allow the invisible forces of the market to regulate the economy, and consider their impact on society and nature as collateral damage. In the absence of objective truths or sound principles other than the satisfaction of our own desires and immediate needs, what limits can be placed on human trafficking, organized crime, the drug trade, commerce in blood diamonds and the fur of endangered species?
    1. Some strategies for lowering pollutant gas emissions call for the internationalization of environmental costs, which would risk imposing on countries with fewer resources burdensome commitments to reducing emissions comparable to those of the more industrialized countries. Imposing such measures penalizes those countries most in need of development. A further injustice is perpetrated under the guise of protecting the environment.
  • 171-2. The strategy of buying and selling “carbon credits” can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide…it may simply become a ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries and sectors…For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people.
    1. “environmental protection cannot be assured solely on the basis of financial calculations of costs and benefits. The environment is one of those goods that cannot be adequately safeguarded or promoted by market forces”… we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? Where profits alone count, there can be no thinking about the rhythms of nature, its phases of decay and regeneration, or the complexity of ecosystems which may be gravely upset by human intervention. Moreover, biodiversity is considered at most a deposit of economic resources available for exploitation, with no serious thought for the real value of things, their significance for persons and cultures, or the concerns and needs of the poor.

Citizen/Consumer-Level Change – Look Within
AW Comment: This is a call to personal behavior change. Of course this is necessary, but it’s a bit dated to suggest that “little daily actions” will tackle issues as big as climate change. But the larger point that business and politics alone won’t get us there without a change in our ethics and behavior is right.

    1. Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone.
    1. The emptier a person’s heart is, the more he or she needs things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. In this horizon, a genuine sense of the common good also disappears...
    1. …consumer movements…prove successful in changing the way businesses operate, forcing them to consider their environmental footprint and their patterns of production. When social pressure affects their earnings, businesses clearly have to find ways to produce differently. This shows us the great need for a sense of social responsibility on the part of consumers. “Purchasing is always a moral – and not simply economic – act”.
    1. Disinterested concern for others, and the rejection of every form of self-centeredness and self-absorption, are essential if we truly wish to care for our brothers and sisters and for the natural environment…the moral imperative of assessing the impact of our every action and personal decision on the world around us.
    1. …our current progress and the mere amassing of things and pleasures are not enough to give meaning and joy to the human heart
    1. [We need an] “ecological citizenship”…The existence of laws and regulations is insufficient in the long run to curb bad conduct…If the laws are to bring about significant, long-lasting effects, the majority of the members of society must be adequately motivated to accept them, and personally transformed to respond…there is a nobility in the duty to care for creation through little daily actions…avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights…
    1. We must not think that these efforts are not going to change the world. They benefit society, often unbeknown to us, for they call forth a goodness which, albeit unseen, inevitably tends to spread.
    1. But we also need the personal qualities of self-control and willingness to learn from one another.
  • 216-7. I am interested in how such a spirituality can motivate us to a more passionate concern for the protection of our world…the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us…the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion.
    1. Social problems must be addressed by community networks and not simply by the sum of individual good deeds…the ecological conversion needed to bring about lasting change is also a community conversion.
  • 222-3. It is the conviction that “less is more”. A constant flood of new consumer goods can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment…a growth marked by moderation and the capacity to be happy with little. It is a return to that simplicity which allows us to stop and appreciate the small things, to be grateful for the opportunities which life affords us…Such sobriety, when lived freely and consciously, is liberating. It is not a lesser life or one lived with less intensity. On the contrary, it is a way of living life to the full…They experience what it means to appreciate each person and each thing.
    1. Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good because, lived out authentically, it is reflected in a balanced lifestyle together with a capacity for wonder which takes us to a deeper understanding of life.

This post first appeared on Andrew Winston’s blog on July 9, 2015.


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