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Pope Francis' climate manifesto: We read it so you don't have to


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In an historic letter addressed to all citizens of the globe on Thursday, Pope Francis issued a moral and religious call to action on climate change and, more broadly, environmental degradation. The letter, known in the Catholic Church as an "encyclical," is the first-ever such document devoted to the environment.

Pope Francis' climate manifesto: We read it so you don't have to

The encyclical recognizes the mainstream climate science findings that the burning of fossil fuels is causing global warming, and it marks Francis' entrance as a central player in international climate negotiations at a critical time for climate diplomacy.

The document, entitled "Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home," is lengthy, at 180 pages.

SEE ALSO: Pope Francis: Global warming is a threat to humanity

At times, it reads like a climate science or ecology textbook, while other sections explore profound moral, ethical and religious questions about humanity's relationship with the Earth. Interestingly, it also lays out the pope's views on our technologically-obsessed society, which he calls a "throwaway culture."

Here are some of the major points that Pope Francis makes in his letter:

The climate is a common good
Francis aligns himself and the Catholic Church firmly behind mainstream climate science when he writes:

The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life. A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system.

In recent decades, this warming has been accompanied by a constant rise in the sea level and, it would appear, by an increase of extreme weather events, even if a scientifically determinable cause cannot be assigned to each particular phenomenon.

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanic activity, variations in the earth’s orbit and axis, the solar cycle), yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.

A dialogue is needed between science and religion
The encyclical is unusual in that the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide is weighing in on a scientific issue. It proposes a conversation between science and religion to help resolve the moral and ethical implications of climate change.

"Science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both," the encyclical says.

God did not create Earth for us to do whatever we want with it
Francis invalidates the argument often put forward by climate skeptics and several religious groups, including some within his own church, that Earth exists for humans to exploit its resources:

We are not God. The Earth was here before us and it has been given to us. This allows us to respond to the charge that Judaeo-Christian thinking, on the basis of 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.

Climate change will hit the poor hardest
Francis approaches climate change through the lens of poverty alleviation, a cause to which he has devoted his entire church career. He repeatedly refers to the chasm between how global warming will affect industrialized nations, such as the U.S. and members of the European Union, and developing nations.

According to encyclical:

Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day. Its worst impact will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.

Another passage of the encyclical condemns developed countries for their unsustainable use of resources. "The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits, and we still have not solved the problem of poverty," the pope says.

Population growth is not the problem
The Catholic Church has long held a controversial position against forms of birth control, and Francis doesn't deviate from that in this encyclical. He says that blaming population growth for the problems of environmental degradation and global warming is off target. Instead, "extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some" is more at fault.

"To blame population growth," Francis says, "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."

Humanity has a duty to protect the environment, rather than exploit it
In a passage on the loss of biodiversity, Francis laments the rapid loss rate of species. "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," he says.

Global climate and environmental negotiations have failed
The encyclical does not have much praise for international environmental negotiations to date, which is significant since one of the most important rounds of climate talks is rapidly approaching in early December.

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 and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.

Consequently 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.

In a section of the encyclical that explores the history of global environmental negotiations, Francis emphasizes that powerful countries that pollute the most, including the U.S., China, India and members of the European Union, among others, bear a special responsibility:

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.

Even as this encyclical was being prepared, the debate was intensifying. We believers cannot fail to ask God for a positive outcome to the present discussions, so that future generations will not have to suffer the effects of our ill-advised delays.

It's tempting to ignore or deny the problem — so, don't do this
While Francis does not call out climate skeptics specifically, he does allude to the ardent foes of climate science and environmental progress when he says: "As often occurs in periods of deep crisis, which require bold decisions, we are tempted to think that what is happening is not entirely clear."

The pope continues:

Such evasiveness serves as a license to carrying on with our present lifestyles and models of production and consumption. This is the way human beings contrive to feed their self-destructive vices: trying not to see them, trying not to acknowledge them, delaying the important decisions and pretending that nothing will happen.

Climate change may not be solved with technology and market forces alone
An interesting section of the encyclical details the pope's views on technological development and the free market. In short, he says technological gains are often viewed without a recognition of their downsides.

"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," Francis writes. "Their behaviour shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself, the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion."

The pope opposes the view that technological fixes will solve global warming.

"To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected, and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system," the encyclical says.

An obsession with technological progress is obscuring deeper ecological and ethical issues
Francis is probably not a fan of the latest gadget, as he decries a "throwaway" culture and obsession with technological progress above all else.

"Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today's self-centered culture of instant gratification," he writes. The pope also appeals for solidarity with future generations, as well as current generations of the poor "whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting."

The Pope as climate diplomat
It's no coincidence that Francis released the first-ever encyclical on the environment in June 2015. The letter comes ahead of a high-level United Nations meeting on climate later this month, discussions at the U.N. General Assembly in September where the pope will appear, and U.N. climate talks in December in Paris.

Francis was aided in writing the encyclical by the Vatican's little-known scientific advisory group, known as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which held climate science meetings with him. The group produced a report in April that may have helped guide the encyclical's language.

The encyclical was always expected to help shape the global debate on a new climate treaty, but it is surprising to see how specific Francis is in offering guidance about the negotiations themselves. He comes out strongly in favor of the notion that developing nations must primarily focus on poverty alleviation and development, and have fewer climate-related burdens placed on them than developed nations.

The pope also criticizes a global system of buying and selling carbon credits to cut emissions, and calls for a global movement to encourage global leaders to act on climate change. Without this pressure, he says, nothing may change.

Fuente: mashable.com
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