November 2, 2007


The pope and global warming

(Listen to this editorial being read)

The secular media have publicized widely former vice president Al Gore’s achievements this year—an Oscar, an Emmy and, finally, the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to draw attention to the threat of global warming. He is probably the best known environmentalist in the world today as well as one of the most polarizing politicians.

Less publicized, though, have been the statements of Pope Benedict XVI about the requirement that we all protect the environment. The pope and other Vatican officials have spoken out frequently this year about the environmental crisis.

For example, The Criterion reported with a page one story the pope’s talk at a megagathering of Italian young people on Sept. 1, a day that the Italian Church had dedicated to ecological awareness. He told the young people that following Christ means being aware that the created world belongs to all and must be protected.

“To the new generations is entrusted the future of the planet, where it is clear that development has not always been able to protect the delicate balance of nature,” he said. “There should be a decisive ‘yes’ to the protection of the created world and a strong commitment to reverse those tendencies that could lead to situations of irreparable degradation.”

In a message to religious leaders attending a symposium on the environment in Ilulissat, Greenland, Pope Benedict wrote, “Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family. No nation or business sector can ignore the ethical implications present in all economic and social development.”

The ecological crisis is not just a recent concern for our popes. Back in 1990, the topic of Pope John Paul II’s World Day of Peace message was “The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility.”

He wrote, “Today the ecological crisis has assumed such proportions as to be the responsibility of everyone. … There is an order in the universe which must be respected, and the human person, endowed with the capability of choosing freely, has a grave responsibility to preserve this order for the well-being of future generations. I wish to repeat that the ecological crisis is a moral issue.”

Even earlier, during his talk to the United Nations in 1979, Pope John Paul said, “We must find a simple way of living for it is not right that the standard of living of the rich countries would seek to maintain itself by draining off a great part of the reserves of energy and raw materials that are meant to serve the whole of humanity.”

The Vatican has followed the popes’ words with action. Among other things, it has installed solar panels at the top of the audience hall to provide electricity for lights and air conditioning. It also changed the lighting in St. Peter’s Basilica to low-impact, energy-efficient bulbs to cut energy consumption by 40 percent.

We recognize that global warming is a controversial topic. The fact that the planet is warming at an alarming rate is a scientific fact that shouldn’t be controversial. The controversy comes over whether this warming is a natural climatic change or whether it was caused and can be controlled by the actions of humans.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church treats respect for the integrity of creation in its chapter about the Seventh Commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.”

It says, in part, “The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. … Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation” (#2415).

We can expect to hear more about ecology from Pope Benedict in the future. There’s speculation that respect for the environment might be the topic for his address to the United Nations next spring.

Whether or not we can control global warming by our actions, the Catholic Church teaches unequivocally that we must be good stewards of the Earth.

—John F. Fink

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