St Paul's Institute

Praise Be, Indeed!

by Barbara Ridpath

Posted: 19 Jun 2015

'If we are truly concerned to develop an ecology capable of remedying the damage we have done, no branch of the sciences and no form of wisdom can be left out, and that includes religion and the language particular to it.' Laudato Si, para.63, pp 45-46.

Pope Francis' Encyclical, released yesterday, is a welcome addition to the conversation on climate change and the environment. It places the discussion in the widest possible context of our life on earth and our responsibilities to those with whom we share this planet, including the generations that will come after us. He makes clear that we must work collaboratively across all forms of enterprise: science, politics, business and NGOs, and indeed religion, as we have a collective responsibility for the issue. He asserts that we shall need all forms of wisdom to resolve it.

There are difficult messages in the Encyclical. It reminds us that we are caretakers of this earth for the benefit of all its creatures; that often our consumption and use of the earth's resources comes at a cost to others, particularly between North and South. He scolds us for our materialism, reflecting that such consumption often keeps us from seeing the beauty around us, the value in human relationships and the real meaning in life.

Perhaps the content is less striking than the stance taken by the Roman Catholic Church with this Encyclical. Much of what it contains both scientifically and theologically is well known and well-rehearsed. However, three things stand out. First, the intimate relationship between our human interactions and the environment is highlighted. Second, the author weaves together a vast array of arguments and issues that we traditionally divide among scientists, politicians and business to resolve, and reminds us everything is interrelated and need to be regarded holistically to be resolved. Last and most important, the very fact that the Pope chose the environment at the subject of his first encyclical highlights the urgency of the issue and calls people to action.

While rightly critical of both our consumerism, and the economic system that encourages it and enslaves us, the Encyclical is light on how we might effect change or how we distribute the costs of such change. It recommends no 'system' that directs how this happens. That remains our challenge and in many ways the most difficult question of all.

The Pope emphasizes the need to act always in the interest of the common good. He extends that sense of the common good to future generations, and considers intergenerational solidarity as a basic question of justice.

The Encyclical carries a difficult message; that change has some cost to our lifestyles. At the same time, it helps reinforce the connection among us and our agency to effect change in this world. It should give us great hope, particularly if, as he writes 'we cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.[1]' His appeal to people to work at levels from the individual, to the community, to the wider national and international community needs not only to be heard, but it deserves to become a call to action for us all.

So where do we go from here? First to Paris in December for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, where the nations of the world would serve humanity better by breaking the paralysis of 'blaming the other' and working collectively and collaboratively toward solutions. Second, we need to work toward interdisciplinary dialogues and cross-sector alliances both to look for constructive solutions at all levels and to hold up examples of good practice to others. Third, each of us must take responsibility for becoming an agent of change. St Paul's Institute looks forward to helping nurture such dialogues, alliances and seeds of change.

[1] Laudato Si, para.119, p.89, English version.

About this author

Barbara Ridpath is the Director of St Paul's Institute.

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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of St Paul's Institute or St Paul's Cathedral.