Pope calls for ‘open spirit’ towards climate change encyclical

Pope Francis [Marco Garro/Flickr]

Pope Francis has called for his encyclical on the environment to be received with an “open spirit”, saying the unprecedented ecological statement should be seen as an appeal for responsibility.

In the essay to be released by the Vatican today (18 June), the pontiff is expected to issue a moral challenge to the global indifference to climate change, stating in stark terms that humanity is failing in its God-given role to be a responsible steward of Earth, and time is running out to fix the problem. He is expected to say that climate change is mostly man-made and people must stop relying on fossil fuels as a source of energy.

“This home of ours is being ruined and that damages everyone, especially the poor,” he said at his weekly general audience on Wednesday. “Mine is an appeal for responsibility … I ask everyone to receive this document with an open spirit”.

The encyclical could be viewed as the ultimate test of Francis’s role as one of the world’s most influential diplomats, after he helped thaw relations between the US and Cuba earlier this year. The release of the document was timed to precede the pope’s visit to the US, where he will address the United Nations and seek to encourage climate-change negotiators in the leadup to the November climate summit in Paris. He will also address a joint session of the US Congress in September.

The encyclical has already been criticised by conservative Republican politicians who staunchly oppose action on climate change, and was politely but firmly dismissed by the presidential candidate Jeb Bush. In a campaign speech in New Hampshire, the converted Catholic said he respected Francis, but “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinal or my pope”.

According to a draft of the encyclical that was leaked by L’Espresso magazine on Monday, the roughly 200-page statement will include a theological examination of environmentalism, as well as a practical and technical evaluation of ways the church believes global warming should be tackled. For example, Pope Francis is expected to criticise cap and trade programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, saying that such “easy solutions” simply give rise to market speculation.

The encyclical is not just a statement about global warming. It is expected to touch on themes that have been at the heart of Francis’s papacy, including a critique of the culture of consumption, in which rich nations have exploited poor countries.

Although the Argentinian pontiff has said the encyclical is designed to appeal to everyone as a statement on our “shared home”, it is expected to include a section that will speak primarily to Christians based on their faith: namely that the story of creation calls on people to serve the earth, not dominate it.

The encyclical has largely been praised by progressives and climate activists before its release, but it is also expected to contain statements that speak to the church’s conservative beliefs, including its objection to abortion and contraception, which the draft encyclical said contradicted nature.

Bernd Hagenkord, a reverend who heads the German-speaking section of Vatican Radio, emphasised the transformative impact the encyclical would have on the church’s social teaching.

“Yes, we talk about justice and poverty. And now we also talk about ecology. There is now an added element to the official teaching of the church, and it is not something Francis has made up. It is in the Bible,” he told the Guardian.


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