21 October 2016
Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical "imperative" for believers and non-believers alike. Photo: AFP
Pope Francis said protecting the planet is a moral and ethical "imperative" for believers and non-believers alike. Photo: AFP

Pope urges decisive action to save planet from ecological ruin

Pope Francis urged world leaders to take swift action to save the planet from environmental ruin, plunging the Catholic Church into political controversy over climate change, Reuters reported.

In his encyclical Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home, the 78-year-old pontiff also advocated a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture and an end to an “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good.

He took on big business, appearing to back “what consumer movements accomplish by boycotting certain products” in order to force companies to respect the environment.

Francis has said he wants to influence this year’s UN climate summit in Paris, which will seek commitments from world leaders to fight global warming.

As such, the encyclical further consolidates his role as a global diplomatic player following his mediation bringing Cuba and the United States to the negotiating table last year, the news agency said.

The document, leaked a few days before its official release on Thursday, won broad praise from scientists, the United Nations  and climate change activists.

However, it also earned the wrath of conservatives, including several US Republican presidential candidates and leading lawmakers who have scolded the pope for delving into science and politics.

Jeb Bush said he didn’t get his economic policy from his bishops, cardinals or pope, while Rick Santorum questioned whether the Pope was credible on the issue of climate science, BBC News reported.

At a news conference to present the encyclical, Cardinal Peter Turkson, a key collaborator on the landmark document, rejected criticisms that the pope should steer clear of political issues.

“Just because the pope is not a scientist does not mean he can’t consult scientists,” he said, adding with a sly smile that journalists write about many things after consulting experts.

The Argentine-born pope, who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecology, said protecting the planet was a moral and ethical “imperative” for believers and non-believers alike that should supersede political and economic interests.

Reuters said it was the most controversial papal document since Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae upholding the Church’s ban on contraception, and it could spur his flock of 1.2 billion Catholics to lobby policymakers on climate change.

The Argentine-born pontiff, 78, decried a “myopia of power politics” he said had delayed far-sighted environmental action.

“Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms,” he wrote.

Francis dismissed the argument that “technology will solve all environmental problems [and that] global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth”.

Time was running out to save a planet “beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth” and which could see “an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems” this century, he said.

The pope also dismissed the effectiveness of carbon credits, saying they seemed to be a “quick and easy solution” but could lead “to a new form of speculation” that maintained excessive consumption and did not allow the “radical change” needed.

“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth,” he said in the nearly 200-page work.

“The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world,” Francis said.

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