Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Ecology June 2015
Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Ecology June 2015
Published on: Mar 4, 2016
Transcripts - Pope Francis’s Encyclical on Ecology June 2015
The Holy See
OF THE HOLY FATHER
ON CARE FOR OUR COMMON HOME
1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle,
Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our
life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord,
through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit
with coloured flowers and herbs”.
2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible
use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as
her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded
by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and
in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most
abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that
we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we
breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.
Nothing in this world is indifferent to us
3. More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John
XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He
addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed “to all men and
women of good will”. Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to
address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote
to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this
Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.
4. In 1971, eight years after Pacem in Terris, Blessed Pope Paul VI referred to the ecological
concern as “a tragic consequence” of unchecked human activity: “Due to an ill-considered
exploitation of nature, humanity runs the risk of destroying it and becoming in turn a victim of this
degradation”. He spoke in similar terms to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United
Nations about the potential for an “ecological catastrophe under the effective explosion of
industrial civilization”, and stressed “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of
humanity”, inasmuch as “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical
abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social
and moral progress, will definitively turn against man”.
5. Saint John Paul II became increasingly concerned about this issue. In his first Encyclical he
warned that human beings frequently seem “to see no other meaning in their natural environment
than what serves for immediate use and consumption”. Subsequently, he would call for a global
ecological conversion. At the same time, he noted that little effort had been made to “safeguard
the moral conditions for an authentic human ecology”. The destruction of the human
environment is extremely serious, not only because God has entrusted the world to us men and
women, but because human life is itself a gift which must be defended from various forms of
debasement. Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in “lifestyles,
models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today
govern societies”. Authentic human development has a moral character. It presumes full respect
for the human person, but it must also be concerned for the world around us and “take into
account the nature of each being and of its mutual connection in an ordered system”.
Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all
6. My predecessor Benedict XVI likewise proposed “eliminating the structural causes of the
dysfunctions of the world economy and correcting models of growth which have proved incapable
of ensuring respect for the environment”. He observed that the world cannot be analyzed by
isolating only one of its aspects, since “the book of nature is one and indivisible”, and includes the
environment, life, sexuality, the family, social relations, and so forth. It follows that “the
deterioration of nature is closely connected to the culture which shapes human coexistence”.
Pope Benedict asked us to recognize that the natural environment has been gravely damaged by
our irresponsible behaviour. The social environment has also suffered damage. Both are ultimately
due to the same evil: the notion that there are no indisputable truths to guide our lives, and hence
human freedom is limitless. We have forgotten that “man is not only a freedom which he creates
for himself. Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature”. With paternal
concern, Benedict urged us to realize that creation is harmed “where we ourselves have the final
word, where everything is simply our property and we use it for ourselves alone. The misuse of
creation begins when we no longer recognize any higher instance than ourselves, when we see
nothing else but ourselves”.
United by the same concern
7. These statements of the Popes echo the reflections of numerous scientists, philosophers,
theologians and civic groups, all of which have enriched the Church’s thinking on these questions.
Outside the Catholic Church, other Churches and Christian communities – and other religions as
well – have expressed deep concern and offered valuable reflections on issues which all of us find
disturbing. To give just one striking example, I would mention the statements made by the beloved
Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, with whom we share the hope of full ecclesial communion.
8. Patriarch Bartholomew has spoken in particular of the need for each of us to repent of the ways
we have harmed the planet, for “inasmuch as we all generate small ecological damage”, we are
called to acknowledge “our contribution, smaller or greater, to the disfigurement and destruction of
creation”. He has repeatedly stated this firmly and persuasively, challenging us to
acknowledge our sins against creation: “For human beings… to destroy the biological diversity of
God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its
climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to
contaminate the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life – these are sins”. For “to commit a
crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.
9. At the same time, Bartholomew has drawn attention to the ethical and spiritual roots of
environmental problems, which require that we look for solutions not only in technology but in a
change of humanity; otherwise we would be dealing merely with symptoms. He asks us to replace
consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing, an
asceticism which “entails learning to give, and not simply to give up. It is a way of loving, of moving
gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and
compulsion”. As Christians, we are also called “to accept the world as a sacrament of
communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbours on a global scale. It is our humble
conviction that the divine and the human meet in the slightest detail in the seamless garment of
God’s creation, in the last speck of dust of our planet”.
Saint Francis of Assisi
10. I do not want to write this Encyclical without turning to that attractive and compelling figure,
whose name I took as my guide and inspiration when I was elected Bishop of Rome. I believe that
Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology
lived out joyfully and authentically. He is the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of
ecology, and he is also much loved by non-Christians. He was particularly concerned for God’s
creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous
self-giving, his openheartedness. He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in
wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how
inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society,
and interior peace.
11. Francis helps us to see that an integral ecology calls for openness to categories which
transcend the language of mathematics and biology, and take us to the heart of what it is to be
human. Just as happens when we fall in love with someone, whenever he would gaze at the sun,
the moon or the smallest of animals, he burst into song, drawing all other creatures into his praise.
He communed with all creation, even preaching to the flowers, inviting them “to praise the Lord,
just as if they were endowed with reason”. His response to the world around him was so much
more than intellectual appreciation or economic calculus, for to him each and every creature was a
sister united to him by bonds of affection. That is why he felt called to care for all that exists. His
disciple Saint Bonaventure tells us that, “from a reflection on the primary source of all things, filled
with even more abundant piety, he would call creatures, no matter how small, by the name of
‘brother’ or ‘sister’”. Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism, for it affects
the choices which determine our behaviour. If we approach nature and the environment without
this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in
our relationship with the world, our attitude will be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters,
unable to set limits on their immediate needs. By contrast, if we feel intimately united with all that
exists, then sobriety and care will well up spontaneously. The poverty and austerity of Saint
Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn
reality into an object simply to be used and controlled.
12. What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent
book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.
“Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker”
(Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since
the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden
always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw
them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be
solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
13. The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole
human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things
can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of
having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home.
Here I want to recognize, encourage and thank all those striving in countless ways to guarantee
the protection of the home which we share. Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly
seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest.
Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future
without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.
14. I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.
We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are
undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement
has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations
committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete
solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful
opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on
the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation
or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity. As the
bishops of Southern Africa have stated: “Everyone’s talents and involvement are needed to
redress the damage caused by human abuse of God’s creation”.  All of us can cooperate as
instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience,
involvements and talents.
15. It is my hope that this Encyclical Letter, which is now added to the body of the Church’s social
teaching, can help us to acknowledge the appeal, immensity and urgency of the challenge we
face. I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim
of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us
deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows. I will
then consider some principles drawn from the Judaeo-Christian tradition which can render our
commitment to the environment more coherent. I will then attempt to get to the roots of the present
situation, so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes. This will help to
provide an approach to ecology which respects our unique place as human beings in this world
and our relationship to our surroundings. In light of this reflection, I will advance some broader
proposals for dialogue and action which would involve each of us as individuals, and also affect
international policy. Finally, convinced as I am that change is impossible without motivation and a
process of education, I will offer some inspired guidelines for human development to be found in
the treasure of Christian spiritual experience.
16. Although each chapter will have its own subject and specific approach, it will also take up and
re-examine important questions previously dealt with. This is particularly the case with a number of
themes which will reappear as the Encyclical unfolds. As examples, I will point to the intimate
relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the
world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology,
the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each
creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious
responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new
lifestyle. These questions will not be dealt with once and for all, but reframed and enriched again
WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR COMMON HOME
17. Theological and philosophical reflections on the situation of humanity and the world can sound
tiresome and abstract, unless they are grounded in a fresh analysis of our present situation, which
is in many ways unprecedented in the history of humanity. So, before considering how faith brings
new incentives and requirements with regard to the world of which we are a part, I will briefly turn
to what is happening to our common home.
18. The continued acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet is coupled today with
a more intensified pace of life and work which might be called “rapidification”. Although change is
part of the working of complex systems, the speed with which human activity has developed
contrasts with the naturally slow pace of biological evolution. Moreover, the goals of this rapid and
constant change are not necessarily geared to the common good or to integral and sustainable
human development. Change is something desirable, yet it becomes a source of anxiety when it
causes harm to the world and to the quality of life of much of humanity.
19. Following a period of irrational confidence in progress and human abilities, some sectors of
society are now adopting a more critical approach. We see increasing sensitivity to the
environment and the need to protect nature, along with a growing concern, both genuine and
distressing, for what is happening to our planet. Let us review, however cursorily, those questions
which are troubling us today and which we can no longer sweep under the carpet. Our goal is not
to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn
what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of
us can do about it.
I. POLLUTION AND CLIMATE CHANGE
Pollution, waste and the throwaway culture
20. Some forms of pollution are part of people’s daily experience. Exposure to atmospheric
pollutants produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes
millions of premature deaths. People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke
from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by
transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water,
fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked
to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves
incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves
one problem only to create others.
21. Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste
present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of
it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction
and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources. The earth, our home, is
beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the
elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish. Industrial waste and
chemical products utilized in cities and agricultural areas can lead to bioaccumulation in the
organisms of the local population, even when levels of toxins in those places are low. Frequently
no measures are taken until after people’s health has been irreversibly affected.
22. These problems are closely linked to a throwaway culture which affects the excluded just as it
quickly reduces things to rubbish. To cite one example, most of the paper we produce is thrown
away and not recycled. It is hard for us to accept that the way natural ecosystems work is
exemplary: plants synthesize nutrients which feed herbivores; these in turn become food for
carnivores, which produce significant quantities of organic waste which give rise to new
generations of plants. But our industrial system, at the end of its cycle of production and
consumption, has not developed the capacity to absorb and reuse waste and by-products. We
have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for
present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable
resources, moderating their consumption, maximizing their efficient use, reusing and recycling
them. A serious consideration of this issue would be one way of counteracting the throwaway
culture which affects the entire planet, but it must be said that only limited progress has been
made in this regard.
Climate as a common good
23. 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. Humanity is called to recognize the
need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at
least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. 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. Concentrated in the atmosphere, these gases do not
allow the warmth of the sun’s rays reflected by the earth to be dispersed in space. The problem is
aggravated by a model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the
heart of the worldwide energy system. Another determining factor has been an increase in
changed uses of the soil, principally deforestation for agricultural purposes.
24. Warming has effects on the carbon cycle. It creates a vicious circle which aggravates the
situation even more, affecting the availability of essential resources like drinking water, energy and
agricultural production in warmer regions, and leading to the extinction of part of the planet’s
biodiversity. The melting in the polar ice caps and in high altitude plains can lead to the dangerous
release of methane gas, while the decomposition of frozen organic material can further increase
the emission of carbon dioxide. Things are made worse by the loss of tropical forests which would
otherwise help to mitigate climate change. Carbon dioxide pollution increases the acidification of
the oceans and compromises the marine food chain. If present trends continue, this century may
well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with
serious consequences for all of us. A rise in the sea level, for example, can create extremely
serious situations, if we consider that a quarter of the world’s population lives on the coast or
nearby, and that the majority of our megacities are situated in coastal areas.
25. 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. Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming,
and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic
services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or
resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their
access to social services and protection is very limited. For example, changes in climate, to which
animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the
poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of
their children. There has been a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the
growing poverty caused by environmental degradation. They are not recognized by international
conventions as refugees; they bear the loss of the lives they have left behind, without enjoying any
legal protection whatsoever. Sadly, there is widespread indifference to such suffering, which is
even now taking place throughout our world. Our lack of response to these tragedies involving our
brothers and sisters points to the loss of that sense of responsibility for our fellow men and women
upon which all civil society is founded.
26. 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, simply making efforts to
reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, many of these symptoms
indicate that such effects will continue to worsen if we continue with current models of production
and consumption. There is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the
emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for
example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy. Worldwide
there is minimal access to clean and renewable energy. There is still a need to develop adequate
storage technologies. Some countries have made considerable progress, although it is far from
constituting a significant proportion. Investments have also been made in means of production and
transportation which consume less energy and require fewer raw materials, as well as in methods
of construction and renovating buildings which improve their energy efficiency. But these good
practices are still far from widespread.
II. THE ISSUE OF WATER
27. Other indicators of the present situation have to do with the depletion of natural resources. We
all know that it is not possible to sustain the present level of consumption in developed countries
and wealthier sectors of society, where the habit of wasting and discarding has reached
unprecedented levels. The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and
we still have not solved the problem of poverty.
28. Fresh drinking water is an issue of primary importance, since it is indispensable for human life
and for supporting terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Sources of fresh water are necessary for
health care, agriculture and industry. Water supplies used to be relatively constant, but now in
many places demand exceeds the sustainable supply, with dramatic consequences in the short
and long term. Large cities dependent on significant supplies of water have experienced periods of
shortage, and at critical moments these have not always been administered with sufficient
oversight and impartiality. Water poverty especially affects Africa where large sectors of the
population have no access to safe drinking water or experience droughts which impede
agricultural production. Some countries have areas rich in water while others endure drastic
29. One particularly serious problem is the quality of water available to the poor. Every day, unsafe
water results in many deaths and the spread of water-related diseases, including those caused by
microorganisms and chemical substances. Dysentery and cholera, linked to inadequate hygiene
and water supplies, are a significant cause of suffering and of infant mortality. Underground water
sources in many places are threatened by the pollution produced in certain mining, farming and
industrial activities, especially in countries lacking adequate regulation or controls. It is not only a
question of industrial waste. Detergents and chemical products, commonly used in many places of
the world, continue to pour into our rivers, lakes and seas.
30. Even as the quality of available water is constantly diminishing, in some places there is a
growing tendency, despite its scarcity, to privatize this resource, turning it into a commodity
subject to the laws of the market. Yet access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal
human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of
other human rights. Our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to
drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity.
This debt can be paid partly by an increase in funding to provide clean water and sanitary services
among the poor. But water continues to be wasted, not only in the developed world but also in
developing countries which possess it in abundance. This shows that the problem of water is
partly an educational and cultural issue, since there is little awareness of the seriousness of such
behaviour within a context of great inequality.
31. Greater scarcity of water will lead to an increase in the cost of food and the various products
which depend on its use. Some studies warn that an acute water shortage may occur within a few
decades unless urgent action is taken. The environmental repercussions could affect billions of
people; it is also conceivable that the control of water by large multinational businesses may
become a major source of conflict in this century.
III. LOSS OF BIODIVERSITY
32. The earth’s resources are also being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the
economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species
which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food but also for
curing disease and other uses. Different species contain genes which could be key resources in
years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems.
33. It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential “resources” to be
exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves. Each year sees the
disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our
children will never see, because they have been lost for ever. The great majority become extinct
for reasons related to human activity. 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.
34. It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more
visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles
and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally
unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place. Human
beings must intervene when a geosystem reaches a critical state. But nowadays, such intervention
in nature has become more and more frequent. As a consequence, serious problems arise,
leading to further interventions; human activity becomes ubiquitous, with all the risks which this
entails. Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further
aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic
agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet
other techniques which may well prove harmful. We must be grateful for the praiseworthy efforts
being made by scientists and engineers dedicated to finding solutions to man-made problems. But
a sober look at our world shows that the degree of human intervention, often in the service of
business interests and consumerism, is actually making our earth less rich and beautiful, ever
more limited and grey, even as technological advances and consumer goods continue to abound
limitlessly. We seem to think that we can substitute an irreplaceable and irretrievable beauty with
something which we have created ourselves.
35. In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects
on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss
of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. Highways, new plantations, the
fencing-off of certain areas, the damming of water sources, and similar developments, crowd out
natural habitats and, at times, break them up in such a way that animal populations can no longer
migrate or roam freely. As a result, some species face extinction. Alternatives exist which at least
lessen the impact of these projects, like the creation of biological corridors, but few countries
demonstrate such concern and foresight. Frequently, when certain species are exploited
commercially, little attention is paid to studying their reproductive patterns in order to prevent their
depletion and the consequent imbalance of the ecosystem.
36. Caring for ecosystems demands far-sightedness, since no one looking for quick and easy
profit is truly interested in their preservation. But the cost of the damage caused by such selfish
lack of concern is much greater than the economic benefits to be obtained. Where certain species
are destroyed or seriously harmed, the values involved are incalculable. We can be silent
witnesses to terrible injustices if we think that we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest
of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration.
37. Some countries have made significant progress in establishing sanctuaries on land and in the
oceans where any human intervention is prohibited which might modify their features or alter their
original structures. In the protection of biodiversity, specialists insist on the need for particular
attention to be shown to areas richer both in the number of species and in endemic, rare or less
protected species. Certain places need greater protection because of their immense importance
for the global ecosystem, or because they represent important water reserves and thus safeguard
other forms of life.
38. Let us mention, for example, those richly biodiverse lungs of our planet which are the Amazon
and the Congo basins, or the great aquifers and glaciers. We know how important these are for
the entire earth and for the future of humanity. The ecosystems of tropical forests possess an
enormously complex biodiversity which is almost impossible to appreciate fully, yet when these
forests are burned down or levelled for purposes of cultivation, within the space of a few years
countless species are lost and the areas frequently become arid wastelands. A delicate balance
has to be maintained when speaking about these places, for we cannot overlook the huge global
economic interests which, under the guise of protecting them, can undermine the sovereignty of
individual nations. In fact, there are “proposals to internationalize the Amazon, which only serve
the economic interests of transnational corporations”. We cannot fail to praise the commitment
of international agencies and civil society organizations which draw public attention to these issues
and offer critical cooperation, employing legitimate means of pressure, to ensure that each
government carries out its proper and inalienable responsibility to preserve its country’s
environment and natural resources, without capitulating to spurious local or international interests.
39. The replacement of virgin forest with plantations of trees, usually monocultures, is rarely
adequately analyzed. Yet this can seriously compromise a biodiversity which the new species
being introduced does not accommodate. Similarly, wetlands converted into cultivated land lose
the enormous biodiversity which they formerly hosted. In some coastal areas the disappearance of
ecosystems sustained by mangrove swamps is a source of serious concern.
40. Oceans not only contain the bulk of our planet’s water supply, but also most of the immense
variety of living creatures, many of them still unknown to us and threatened for various reasons.
What is more, marine life in rivers, lakes, seas and oceans, which feeds a great part of the world’s
population, is affected by uncontrolled fishing, leading to a drastic depletion of certain species.
Selective forms of fishing which discard much of what they collect continue unabated. Particularly
threatened are marine organisms which we tend to overlook, like some forms of plankton; they
represent a significant element in the ocean food chain, and species used for our food ultimately
depend on them.
41. In tropical and subtropical seas, we find coral reefs comparable to the great forests on dry
land, for they shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and
algae. Many of the world’s coral reefs are already barren or in a state of constant decline. “Who
turned the wonderworld of the seas into underwater cemeteries bereft of colour and life?” This
phenomenon is due largely to pollution which reaches the sea as the result of deforestation,
agricultural monocultures, industrial waste and destructive fishing methods, especially those using
cyanide and dynamite. It is aggravated by the rise in temperature of the oceans. All of this helps
us to see that every intervention in nature can have consequences which are not immediately
evident, and that certain ways of exploiting resources prove costly in terms of degradation which
ultimately reaches the ocean bed itself.
42. Greater investment needs to be made in research aimed at understanding more fully the
functioning of ecosystems and adequately analyzing the different variables associated with any
significant modification of the environment. Because all creatures are connected, each must be
cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.
Each area is responsible for the care of this family. This will require undertaking a careful inventory
of the species which it hosts, with a view to developing programmes and strategies of protection
with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.
IV. DECLINE IN THE QUALITY OF HUMAN LIFE AND THE BREAKDOWN OF SOCIETY
43. Human beings too are creatures of this world, enjoying a right to life and happiness, and
endowed with unique dignity. So we cannot fail to consider the effects on people’s lives of
environmental deterioration, current models of development and the throwaway culture.
44. Nowadays, for example, we are conscious of the disproportionate and unruly growth of many
cities, which have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic
emissions but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise.
Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.
Neighbourhoods, even those recently built, are congested, chaotic and lacking in sufficient green
space. We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of
physical contact with nature.
45. In some places, rural and urban alike, the privatization of certain spaces has restricted
people’s access to places of particular beauty. In others, “ecological” neighbourhoods have been
created which are closed to outsiders in order to ensure an artificial tranquillity. Frequently, we find
beautiful and carefully manicured green spaces in so-called “safer” areas of cities, but not in the
more hidden areas where the disposable of society live.
46. The social dimensions of global change include the effects of technological innovations on
employment, social exclusion, an inequitable distribution and consumption of energy and other
services, social breakdown, increased violence and a rise in new forms of social aggression, drug
trafficking, growing drug use by young people, and the loss of identity. These are signs that the
growth of the past two centuries has not always led to an integral development and an
improvement in the quality of life. Some of these signs are also symptomatic of real social decline,
the silent rupture of the bonds of integration and social cohesion.
47. Furthermore, when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop
people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously. In this context, the
great sages of the past run the risk of going unheard amid the noise and distractions of an
information overload. Efforts need to be made to help these media become sources of new
cultural progress for humanity and not a threat to our deepest riches. True wisdom, as the fruit of
self-examination, dialogue and generous encounter between persons, is not acquired by a mere
accumulation of data which eventually leads to overload and confusion, a sort of mental pollution.
Real relationships with others, with all the challenges they entail, now tend to be replaced by a
type of internet communication which enables us to choose or eliminate relationships at whim,
thus giving rise to a new type of contrived emotion which has more to do with devices and displays
than with other people and with nature. Today’s media do enable us to communicate and to share
our knowledge and affections. Yet at times they also shield us from direct contact with the pain,
the fears and the joys of others and the complexity of their personal experiences. For this reason,
we should be concerned that, alongside the exciting possibilities offered by these media, a deep
and melancholic dissatisfaction with interpersonal relations, or a harmful sense of isolation, can
V. GLOBAL INEQUALITY
48. The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot
adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and
social degradation. In fact, the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most
vulnerable people on the planet: “Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the
gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest”. For example, the
depletion of fishing reserves especially hurts small fishing communities without the means to
replace those resources; water pollution particularly affects the poor who cannot buy bottled water;
and rises in the sea level mainly affect impoverished coastal populations who have nowhere else
to go. The impact of present imbalances is also seen in the premature death of many of the poor,
in conflicts sparked by the shortage of resources, and in any number of other problems which are
insufficiently represented on global agendas.
49. It needs to be said that, generally speaking, there is little in the way of clear awareness of
problems which especially affect the excluded. Yet they are the majority of the planet’s population,
billions of people. These days, they are mentioned in international political and economic
discussions, but one often has the impression that their problems are brought up as an
afterthought, a question which gets added almost out of duty or in a tangential way, if not treated
merely as collateral damage. Indeed, when all is said and done, they frequently remain at the
bottom of the pile. This is due partly to the fact that many professionals, opinion makers,
communications media and centres of power, being located in affluent urban areas, are far
removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the
comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of
the majority of the world’s population. This lack of physical contact and encounter, encouraged at
times by the disintegration of our cities, can lead to a numbing of conscience and to tendentious
analyses which neglect parts of reality. At times this attitude exists side by side with a “green”
rhetoric. Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a
social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear
both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.
50. Instead of resolving the problems of the poor and thinking of how the world can be different,
some can only propose a reduction in the birth rate. At times, developing countries face forms of
international pressure which make economic assistance contingent on certain policies of
“reproductive health”. Yet “while it is true that an unequal distribution of the population and of
available resources creates obstacles to development and a sustainable use of the environment, it
must nonetheless be recognized that demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and
shared development”. To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective
consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It 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. Besides, we know that approximately a third of all food
produced is discarded, and “whenever food is thrown out it is as if it were stolen from the table of
the poor”. Still, attention needs to be paid to imbalances in population density, on both national
and global levels, since a rise in consumption would lead to complex regional situations, as a
result of the interplay between problems linked to environmental pollution, transport, waste
treatment, loss of resources and quality of life.
51. Inequity affects not only individuals but entire countries; it compels us to consider an ethics of
international relations. A true “ecological debt” exists, particularly between the global north and
south, connected to commercial imbalances with effects on the environment, and the
disproportionate use of natural resources by certain countries over long periods of time. The
export of raw materials to satisfy markets in the industrialized north has caused harm locally, as
for example in mercury pollution in gold mining or sulphur dioxide pollution in copper mining. There
is a pressing need to calculate the use of environmental space throughout the world for depositing
gas residues which have been accumulating for two centuries and have created a situation which
currently affects all the countries of the world. The warming caused by huge consumption on the
part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa,
where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming. There is
also the damage caused by the export of solid waste and toxic liquids to developing countries, and
by the pollution produced by companies which operate in less developed countries in ways they
could never do at home, in the countries in which they raise their capital: “We note that often the
businesses which operate this way are multinationals. They do here what they would never do in
developed countries or the so-called first world. Generally, after ceasing their activity and
withdrawing, they leave behind great human and environmental liabilities such as unemployment,
abandoned towns, the depletion of natural reserves, deforestation, the impoverishment of
agriculture and local stock breeding, open pits, riven hills, polluted rivers and a handful of social
works which are no longer sustainable”.
52. The foreign debt of poor countries has become a way of controlling them, yet this is not the
case where ecological debt is concerned. In different ways, developing countries, where the most
important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries
at the cost of their own present and future. The land of the southern poor is rich and mostly
unpolluted, yet access to ownership of goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by
a system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally perverse. The developed
countries ought to help pay this debt by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable
energy and by assisting poorer countries to support policies and programmes of sustainable
development. The poorest areas and countries are less capable of adopting new models for
reducing environmental impact because they lack the wherewithal to develop the necessary
processes and to cover their costs. We must continue to be aware that, regarding climate change,
there are differentiated responsibilities. As the United States bishops have said, greater attention
must be given to “the needs of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable, in a debate often dominated
by more powerful interests”. We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single
human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still
less is there room for the globalization of indifference.
VI. WEAK RESPONSES
53. These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry
out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common
home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our
Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his
plan for peace, beauty and fullness. The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront
this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the
present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment
of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has
become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic
paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.
54. 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. The Aparecida
Document urges that “the interests of economic groups which irrationally demolish sources of life
should not prevail in dealing with natural resources”. The alliance between the economy and
technology ends up sidelining anything unrelated to its immediate interests. 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
55. Some countries are gradually making significant progress, developing more effective controls
and working to combat corruption. People may well have a growing ecological sensitivity but it has
not succeeded in changing their harmful habits of consumption which, rather than decreasing,
appear to be growing all the more. A simple example is the increasing use and power of air-
conditioning. The markets, which immediately benefit from sales, stimulate ever greater demand.
An outsider looking at our world would be amazed at such behaviour, which at times appears self-
56. In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority
tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into
account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment. Here we see how
environmental deterioration and human and ethical degradation are closely linked. Many people
will deny doing anything wrong because distractions constantly dull our consciousness of just how
limited and finite our world really is. As a result, “whatever is fragile, like the environment, is
defenceless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule”.
57. It is foreseeable that, once certain resources have been depleted, the scene will be set for new
wars, albeit under the guise of noble claims. War always does grave harm to the environment and
to the cultural riches of peoples, risks which are magnified when one considers nuclear arms and
biological weapons. “Despite the international agreements which prohibit chemical, bacteriological
and biological warfare, the fact is that laboratory research continues to develop new offensive
weapons capable of altering the balance of nature”. Politics must pay greater attention to
foreseeing new conflicts and addressing the causes which can lead to them. But powerful financial
interests prove most resistant to this effort, and political planning tends to lack breadth of vision.
What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their
inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?
58. In some countries, there are positive examples of environmental improvement: rivers, polluted
for decades, have been cleaned up; native woodlands have been restored; landscapes have been
beautified thanks to environmental renewal projects; beautiful buildings have been erected;
advances have been made in the production of non-polluting energy and in the improvement of
public transportation. These achievements do not solve global problems, but they do show that
men and women are still capable of intervening positively. For all our limitations, gestures of
generosity, solidarity and care cannot but well up within us, since we were made for love.
59. At the same time we can note the rise of a false or superficial ecology which bolsters
complacency and a cheerful recklessness. 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. Superficially,
apart from a few obvious signs of pollution and deterioration, things do not look that serious, and
the planet could continue as it is for some time. Such evasiveness serves as a licence 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.
VII. A VARIETY OF OPINIONS
60. Finally, we need to acknowledge that different approaches and lines of thought have emerged
regarding this situation and its possible solutions. At one extreme, we find those who doggedly
uphold the myth of progress and tell us that ecological problems will solve themselves simply with
the application of new technology and without any need for ethical considerations or deep change.
At the other extreme are those who view men and women and all their interventions as no more
than a threat, jeopardizing the global ecosystem, and consequently the presence of human beings
on the planet should be reduced and all forms of intervention prohibited. Viable future scenarios
will have to be generated between these extremes, since there is no one path to a solution. This
makes a variety of proposals possible, all capable of entering into dialogue with a view to
developing comprehensive solutions.
61. On many concrete questions, the Church has no reason to offer a definitive opinion; she
knows that honest debate must be encouraged among experts, while respecting divergent views.
But we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious
disrepair. Hope would have us recognize that there is always a way out, that we can always
redirect our steps, that we can always do something to solve our problems. Still, we can see signs
that things are now reaching a breaking point, due to the rapid pace of change and degradation;
these are evident in large-scale natural disasters as well as social and even financial crises, for
the world’s problems cannot be analyzed or explained in isolation. There are regions now at high
risk and, aside from all doomsday predictions, the present world system is certainly unsustainable
from a number of points of view, for we have stopped thinking about the goals of human activity. “If
we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s
THE GOSPEL OF CREATION
62. Why should this document, addressed to all people of good will, include a chapter dealing with
the convictions of believers? I am well aware that in the areas of politics and philosophy there are
those who firmly reject the idea of a Creator, or consider it irrelevant, and consequently dismiss as
irrational the rich contribution which religions can make towards an integral ecology and the full
development of humanity. Others view religions simply as a subculture to be tolerated.
Nonetheless, science and religion, with their distinctive approaches to understanding reality, can
enter into an intense dialogue fruitful for both.
I. THE LIGHT OFFERED BY FAITH
63. Given the complexity of the ecological crisis and its multiple causes, we need to realize that
the solutions will not emerge from just one way of interpreting and transforming reality. Respect
must also be shown for the various cultural riches of different peoples, their art and poetry, their
interior life and spirituality. 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. The Catholic Church is open to dialogue
with philosophical thought; this has enabled her to produce various syntheses between faith and
reason. The development of the Church’s social teaching represents such a synthesis with regard
to social issues; this teaching is called to be enriched by taking up new challenges.
64. Furthermore, although this Encyclical welcomes dialogue with everyone so that together we
can seek paths of liberation, I would like from the outset to show how faith convictions can offer
Christians, and some other believers as well, ample motivation to care for nature and for the most
vulnerable of their brothers and sisters. If the simple fact of being human moves people to care for
the environment of which they are a part, Christians in their turn “realize that their responsibility
within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their
faith”. It is good for humanity and the world at large when we believers better recognize the
ecological commitments which stem from our convictions.
II. THE WISDOM OF THE BIBLICAL ACCOUNTS
65. Without repeating the entire theology of creation, we can ask what the great biblical narratives
say about the relationship of human beings with the world. In the first creation account in the Book
of Genesis, God’s plan includes creating humanity. After the creation of man and woman, “God
saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen 1:31). The Bible teaches
that every man and woman is created out of love and made in God’s image and likeness (cf. Gen
1:26). This shows us the immense dignity of each person, “who is not just something, but
someone. He is capable of self-knowledge, of self-possession and of freely giving himself and
entering into communion with other persons”. Saint John Paul II stated that the special love of
the Creator for each human being “confers upon him or her an infinite dignity”. Those who are
committed to defending human dignity can find in the Christian faith the deepest reasons for this
commitment. How wonderful is the certainty that each human life is not adrift in the midst of
hopeless chaos, in a world ruled by pure chance or endlessly recurring cycles! The Creator can
say to each one of us: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you” (Jer 1:5). We were
conceived in the heart of God, and for this reason “each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary”.
66. The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative
language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that
human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with
our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have
been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator,
humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and
refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have
dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally
harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19).
It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was
seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation
with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence. This
is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the
various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on
67. 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. Although it is true that we Christians have
at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we must forcefully reject the notion that
our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination
over other creatures. The biblical texts are to be read in their context, with an appropriate
hermeneutic, recognizing that they tell us to “till and keep” the garden of the world (cf. Gen 2:15).
“Tilling” refers to cultivating, ploughing or working, while “keeping” means caring, protecting,
overseeing and preserving. This implies a relationship of mutual responsibility between human
beings and nature. Each community can take from the bounty of the earth whatever it needs for
subsistence, but it also has the duty to protect the earth and to ensure its fruitfulness for coming
generations. “The earth is the Lord’s” (Ps 24:1); to him belongs “the earth with all that is within it”
(Dt 10:14). Thus God rejects every claim to absolute ownership: “The land shall not be sold in
perpetuity, for the land is mine; for you are strangers and sojourners with me” (Lev 25:23).
68. This responsibility for God’s earth means that human beings, endowed with intelligence, must
respect the laws of nature and the delicate equilibria existing between the creatures of this world,
for “he commanded and they were created; and he established them for ever and ever; he fixed
their bounds and he set a law which cannot pass away” (Ps 148:5b-6). The laws found in the Bible
dwell on relationships, not only among individuals but also with other living beings. “You shall not
see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and withhold your help… If you chance
to come upon a bird’s nest in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs and the mother
sitting upon the young or upon the eggs; you shall not take the mother with the young” (Dt 22:4, 6).
Along these same lines, rest on the seventh day is meant not only for human beings, but also so
“that your ox and your donkey may have rest” (Ex 23:12). Clearly, the Bible has no place for a
tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures.
69. Together with our obligation to use the earth’s goods responsibly, we are called to recognize
that other living beings have a value of their own in God’s eyes: “by their mere existence they
bless him and give him glory”, and indeed, “the Lord rejoices in all his works” (Ps 104:31). By
virtue of our unique dignity and our gift of intelligence, we are called to respect creation and its
inherent laws, for “the Lord by wisdom founded the earth” (Prov 3:19). In our time, the Church
does not simply state that other creatures are completely subordinated to the good of human
beings, as if they have no worth in themselves and can be treated as we wish. The German
bishops have taught that, where other creatures are concerned, “we can speak of the priority of
being over that of being useful”. The Catechism clearly and forcefully criticizes a distorted
anthropocentrism: “Each creature possesses its own particular goodness and perfection… Each of
the various creatures, willed in its own being, reflects in its own way a ray of God’s infinite wisdom
and goodness. Man must therefore respect the particular goodness of every creature, to avoid any
disordered use of things”.
70. In the story of Cain and Abel, we see how envy led Cain to commit the ultimate injustice
against his brother, which in turn ruptured the relationship between Cain and God, and between
Cain and the earth from which he was banished. This is seen clearly in the dramatic exchange
between God and Cain. God asks: “Where is Abel your brother?” Cain answers that he does not
know, and God persists: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me
from the ground. And now you are cursed from the ground” (Gen 4:9-11). Disregard for the duty to
cultivate and maintain a proper relationship with my neighbour, for whose care and custody I am
responsible, ruins my relationship with my own self, with others, with God and with the earth.
When all these relationships are neglected, when justice no longer dwells in the land, the Bible
tells us that life itself is endangered. We see this in the story of Noah, where God threatens to do
away with humanity because of its constant failure to fulfil the requirements of justice and peace: “I
have determined to make an end of all flesh; for the earth is filled with violence through them”
(Gen 6:13). These ancient stories, full of symbolism, bear witness to a conviction which we today
share, that everything is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our
relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.
71. Although “the wickedness of man was great in the earth” (Gen 6:5) and the Lord “was sorry
that he had made man on the earth” (Gen 6:6), nonetheless, through Noah, who remained
innocent and just, God decided to open a path of salvation. In this way he gave humanity the
chance of a new beginning. All it takes is one good person to restore hope! The biblical tradition
clearly shows that this renewal entails recovering and respecting the rhythms inscribed in nature
by the hand of the Creator. We see this, for example, in the law of the Sabbath. On the seventh
day, God rested from all his work. He commanded Israel to set aside each seventh day as a day
of rest, a Sabbath, (cf. Gen 2:2-3; Ex 16:23; 20:10). Similarly, every seven years, a sabbatical year
was set aside for Israel, a complete rest for the land (cf. Lev 25:1-4), when sowing was forbidden
and one reaped only what was necessary to live on and to feed one’s household (cf. Lev 25:4-6).
Finally, after seven weeks of years, which is to say forty-nine years, the Jubilee was celebrated as
a year of general forgiveness and “liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants” (cf. Lev 25:10).
This law came about as an attempt to ensure balance and fairness in their relationships with
others and with the land on which they lived and worked. At the same time, it was an
acknowledgment that the gift of the earth with its fruits belongs to everyone. Those who tilled and
kept the land were obliged to share its fruits, especially with the poor, with widows, orphans and
foreigners in their midst: “When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field to
its very border, neither shall you gather the gleanings after the harvest. And you shall not strip
your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave
them for the poor and for the sojourner” (Lev 19:9-10).
72. The Psalms frequently exhort us to praise God the Creator, “who spread out the earth on the
waters, for his steadfast love endures for ever” (Ps 136:6). They also invite other creatures to join
us in this praise: “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you
highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens! Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he
commanded and they were created” (Ps 148:3-5). We do not only exist by God’s mighty power;
we also live with him and beside him. This is why we adore him.
73. The writings of the prophets invite us to find renewed strength in times of trial by contemplating
the all-powerful God who created the universe. Yet God’s infinite power does not lead us to flee
his fatherly tenderness, because in him affection and strength are joined. Indeed, all sound
spirituality entails both welcoming divine love and adoration, confident in the Lord because of his
infinite power. In the Bible, the God who liberates and saves is the same God who created the
universe, and these two divine ways of acting are intimately and inseparably connected: “Ah Lord
God! It is you who made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched
arm! Nothing is too hard for you… You brought your people Israel out of the land of Egypt with
signs and wonders” (Jer 32:17, 21). “The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of
the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to
the faint, and strengthens the powerless” (Is 40:28b-29).
74. The experience of the Babylonian captivity provoked a spiritual crisis which led to deeper faith
in God. Now his creative omnipotence was given pride of place in order to exhort the people to
regain their hope in the midst of their wretched predicament. Centuries later, in another age of trial
and persecution, when the Roman Empire was seeking to impose absolute dominion, the faithful
would once again find consolation and hope in a growing trust in the all-powerful God: “Great and
wonderful are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty! Just and true are your ways!” (Rev 15:3). The
God who created the universe out of nothing can also intervene in this world and overcome every
form of evil. Injustice is not invincible.
75. A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we
end up worshipping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of
claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot. The best way to restore men and
women to their rightful place, putting an end to their claim to absolute dominion over the earth, is
to speak once more of the figure of a Father who creates and who alone owns the world.
Otherwise, human beings will always try to impose their own laws and interests on reality.
III. THE MYSTERY OF THE UNIVERSE
76. In the Judaeo-Christian tradition, the word “creation” has a broader meaning than “nature”, for
it has to do with God’s loving plan in which every creature has its own value and significance.
Nature is usually seen as a system which can be studied, understood and controlled, whereas
creation can only be understood as a gift from the outstretched hand of the Father of all, and as a
reality illuminated by the love which calls us together into universal communion.
77. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made” (Ps 33:6). This tells us that the world came
about as the result of a decision, not from chaos or chance, and this exalts it all the more. The
creating word expresses a free choice. The universe did not emerge as the result of arbitrary
omnipotence, a show of force or a desire for self-assertion. Creation is of the order of love. God’s
love is the fundamental moving force in all created things: “For you love all things that exist, and
detest none of the things that you have made; for you would not have made anything if you had
hated it” (Wis 11:24). Every creature is thus the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its
place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its
few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection. Saint Basil the Great described the
Creator as “goodness without measure”, while Dante Alighieri spoke of “the love which moves
the sun and the stars”. Consequently, we can ascend from created things “to the greatness of
God and to his loving mercy”.
78. At the same time, Judaeo-Christian thought demythologized nature. While continuing to
admire its grandeur and immensity, it no longer saw nature as divine. In doing so, it emphasizes
all the more our human responsibility for nature. This rediscovery of nature can never be at the
cost of the freedom and responsibility of human beings who, as part of the world, have the duty to
cultivate their abilities in order to protect it and develop its potential. If we acknowledge the value
and the fragility of nature and, at the same time, our God-given abilities, we can finally leave
behind the modern myth of unlimited material progress. A fragile world, entrusted by God to
human care, challenges us to devise intelligent ways of directing, developing and limiting our
79. In this universe, shaped by open and intercommunicating systems, we can discern countless
forms of relationship and participation. This leads us to think of the whole as open to God’s
transcendence, within which it develops. Faith allows us to interpret the meaning and the
mysterious beauty of what is unfolding. We are free to apply our intelligence towards things
evolving positively, or towards adding new ills, new causes of suffering and real setbacks. This is
what makes for the excitement and drama of human history, in which freedom, growth, salvation
and love can blossom, or lead towards decadence and mutual destruction. The work of the Church
seeks not only to remind everyone of the duty to care for nature, but at the same time “she must
above all protect mankind from self-destruction”.
80. Yet God, who wishes to work with us and who counts on our cooperation, can also bring good
out of the evil we have done. “The Holy Spirit can be said to possess an infinite creativity, proper
to the divine mind, which knows how to loosen the knots of human affairs, including the most
complex and inscrutable”. Creating a world in need of development, God in some way sought
to limit himself in such a way that many of the things we think of as evils, dangers or sources of
suffering, are in reality part of the pains of childbirth which he uses to draw us into the act of
cooperation with the Creator. God is intimately present to each being, without impinging on the
autonomy of his creature, and this gives rise to the rightful autonomy of earthly affairs. His
divine presence, which ensures the subsistence and growth of each being, “continues the work of
creation”. The Spirit of God has filled the universe with possibilities and therefore, from the
very heart of things, something new can always emerge: “Nature is nothing other than a certain
kind of art, namely God’s art, impressed upon things, whereby those things are moved to a
determinate end. It is as if a shipbuilder were able to give timbers the wherewithal to move
themselves to take the form of a ship”.
81. Human beings, even if we postulate a process of evolution, also possess a uniqueness which
cannot be fully explained by the evolution of other open systems. Each of us has his or her own
personal identity and is capable of entering into dialogue with others and with God himself. Our
capacity to reason, to develop arguments, to be inventive, to interpret reality and to create art,
along with other not yet discovered capacities, are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the
spheres of physics and biology. The sheer novelty involved in the emergence of a personal being
within a material universe presupposes a direct action of God and a particular call to life and to
relationship on the part of a “Thou” who addresses himself to another “thou”. The biblical accounts
of creation invite us to see each human being as a subject who can never be reduced to the status
of an object.
82. Yet it would also be mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary
human domination. When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious
consequences for society. This vision of “might is right” has engendered immense inequality,
injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the
hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this
model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus. As he said of
the powers of his own age: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their
great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great
among you must be your servant” (Mt 20:25-26).
83. The ultimate destiny of the universe is in the fullness of God, which has already been attained
by the risen Christ, the measure of the maturity of all things. Here we can add yet another
argument for rejecting every tyrannical and irresponsible domination of human beings over other
creatures. The ultimate purpose of other creatures is not to be found in us. Rather, all creatures
are moving forward with us and through us towards a common point of arrival, which is God, in
that transcendent fullness where the risen Christ embraces and illumines all things. Human
beings, endowed with intelligence and love, and drawn by the fullness of Christ, are called to lead
all creatures back to their Creator.
IV. THE MESSAGE OF EACH CREATURE IN THE HARMONY OF CREATION
84. Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the
fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe
speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it
were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places
which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those
memories does us much good. Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to
drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to
recover something of their true selves.
85. God has written a precious book, “whose letters are the multitude of created things present in
the universe”. The Canadian bishops rightly pointed out that no creature is excluded from this
manifestation of God: “From panoramic vistas to the tiniest living form, nature is a constant source
of wonder and awe. It is also a continuing revelation of the divine”. The bishops of Japan, for
their part, made a thought-provoking observation: “To sense each creature singing the hymn of its
existence is to live joyfully in God’s love and hope”. This contemplation of creation allows us to
discover in each thing a teaching which God wishes to hand on to us, since “for the believer, to
contemplate creation is to hear a message, to listen to a paradoxical and silent voice”. We can
say that “alongside revelation properly so-called, contained in sacred Scripture, there is a divine
manifestation in the blaze of the sun and the fall of night”. Paying attention to this
manifestation, we learn to see ourselves in relation to all other creatures: “I express myself in
expressing the world; in my effort to decipher the sacredness of the world, I explore my own”.
86. The universe as a whole, in all its manifold relationships, shows forth the inexhaustible riches
of God. Saint Thomas Aquinas wisely noted that multiplicity and variety “come from the intention of
the first agent” who willed that “what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine
goodness might be supplied by another”, inasmuch as God’s goodness “could not be
represented fittingly by any one creature”. Hence we need to grasp the variety of things in their
multiple relationships. We understand better the importance and meaning of each creature if
we contemplate it within the entirety of God’s plan. As the Catechism teaches: “God wills the
interdependence of creatures. The sun and the moon, the cedar and the little flower, the eagle and
the sparrow: the spectacle of their countless diversities and inequalities tells us that no creature is
self-sufficient. Creatures exist only in dependence on each other, to complete each other, in the
service of each other”.
87. When we can see God reflected in all that exists, our hearts are moved to praise the Lord for
all his creatures and to worship him in union with them. This sentiment finds magnificent
expression in the hymn of Saint Francis of Assisi:
Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong”.
88. The bishops of Brazil have pointed out that nature as a whole not only manifests God but is
also a locus of his presence. The Spirit of life dwells in every living creature and calls us to enter
into relationship with him. Discovering this presence leads us to cultivate the “ecological
virtues”. This is not to forget that there is an infinite distance between God and the things of
this world, which do not possess his fullness. Otherwise, we would not be doing the creatures
themselves any good either, for we would be failing to acknowledge their right and proper place.
We would end up unduly demanding of them something which they, in their smallness, cannot
V. A UNIVERSAL COMMUNION
89. The created things of this world are not free of ownership: “For they are yours, O Lord, who
love the living” (Wis 11:26). This is the basis of our conviction that, as part of the universe, called
into being by one Father, all of us are linked by unseen bonds and together form a kind of
universal family, a sublime communion which fills us with a sacred, affectionate and humble
respect. Here I would reiterate that “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we
can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species
as a painful disfigurement”.
90. This is not to put all living beings on the same level nor to deprive human beings of their
unique worth and the tremendous responsibility it entails. Nor does it imply a divinization of the
earth which would prevent us from working on it and protecting it in its fragility. Such notions would
end up creating new imbalances which would deflect us from the reality which challenges us.
At times we see an obsession with denying any pre-eminence to the human person; more zeal is
shown in protecting other species than in defending the dignity which all human beings share in
equal measure. Certainly, we should be concerned lest other living beings be treated
irresponsibly. But we should be particularly indignant at the enormous inequalities in our midst,
whereby we continue to tolerate some considering themselves more worthy than others. We fail to
see that some are mired in desperate and degrading poverty, with no way out, while others have
not the faintest idea of what to do with their possessions, vainly showing off their supposed
superiority and leaving behind them so much waste which, if it were the case everywhere, would
destroy the planet. In practice, we continue to tolerate that some consider themselves more
human than others, as if they had been born with greater rights.
91. A sense of deep communion with the rest of nature cannot be real if our hearts lack
tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings. It is clearly inconsistent to
combat trafficking in endangered species while remaining completely indifferent to human
trafficking, unconcerned about the poor, or undertaking to destroy another human being deemed
unwanted. This compromises the very meaning of our struggle for the sake of the environment. It
is no coincidence that, in the canticle in which Saint Francis praises God for his creatures, he goes
on to say: “Praised be you my Lord, through those who give pardon for your love”. Everything is
connected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow
human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society.
92. Moreover, when our hearts are authentically open to universal communion, this sense of
fraternity excludes nothing and no one. It follows that our indifference or cruelty towards fellow
creatures of this world sooner or later affects the treatment we mete out to other human beings.
We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not
be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any
creature is “contrary to human dignity”. We can hardly consider ourselves to be fully loving if
we disregard any aspect of reality: “Peace, justice and the preservation of creation are three
absolutely interconnected themes, which cannot be separated and treated individually without
once again falling into reductionism”. Everything is related, and we human beings are united
as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of
his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river
and mother earth.
VI. THE COMMON DESTINATION OF GOODS
93. Whether believers or not, we are agreed today that the earth is essentially a shared
inheritance, whose fruits are meant to benefit everyone. For believers, this becomes a question of
fidelity to the Creator, since God created the world for everyone. Hence every ecological approach
needs to incorporate a social perspective which takes into account the fundamental rights of the
poor and the underprivileged. The principle of the subordination of private property to the universal
destination of goods, and thus the right of everyone to their use, is a golden rule of social conduct
and “the first principle of the whole ethical and social order”. The Christian tradition has never
recognized the right to private property as absolute or inviolable, and has stressed the social
purpose of all forms of private property. Saint John Paul II forcefully reaffirmed this teaching,
stating that “God gave the earth to the whole human race for the sustenance of all its members,
without excluding or favouring anyone”. These are strong words. He noted that “a type of
development which did not respect and promote human rights – personal and social, economic
and political, including the rights of nations and of peoples – would not be really worthy of
man”. He clearly explained that “the Church does indeed defend the legitimate right to private
property, but she also teaches no less clearly that there is always a social mortgage on all private
property, in order that goods may serve the general purpose that God gave them”.
Consequently, he maintained, “it is not in accord with God’s plan that this gift be used in such a
way that its benefits favour only a few”. This calls into serious question the unjust habits of a
part of humanity.
94. The rich and the poor have equal dignity, for “the Lord is the maker of them all” (Prov 22:2).
“He himself made both small and great” (Wis 6:7), and “he makes his sun rise on the evil and on
the good” (Mt 5:45). This has practical consequences, such as those pointed out by the bishops of
Paraguay: “Every campesino has a natural right to possess a reasonable allotment of land where
he can establish his home, work for subsistence of his family and a secure life. This right must be
guaranteed so that its exercise is not illusory but real. That means that apart from the ownership of
property, rural people must have access to means of technical education, credit, insurance, and
95. The natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the
responsibility of everyone. If we make something our own, it is only to administer it for the good of
all. If we do not, we burden our consciences with the weight of having denied the existence of
others. That is why the New Zealand bishops asked what the commandment “Thou shall not kill”
means when “twenty percent of the world’s population consumes resources at a rate that robs the
poor nations and future generations of what they need to survive”.
VII. THE GAZE OF JESUS
96. Jesus took up the biblical faith in God the Creator, emphasizing a fundamental truth: God is
Father (cf. Mt 11:25). In talking with his disciples, Jesus would invite them to recognize the
paternal relationship God has with all his creatures. With moving tenderness he would remind
them that each one of them is important in God’s eyes: “Are not five sparrows sold for two
pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God” (Lk 12:6). “Look at the birds of the air: they
neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Mt 6:26).
97. The Lord was able to invite others to be attentive to the beauty that there is in the world
because he himself was in constant touch with nature, lending it an attention full of fondness and
wonder. As he made his way throughout the land, he often stopped to contemplate the beauty
sown by his Father, and invited his disciples to perceive a divine message in things: “Lift up your
eyes, and see how the fields are already white for harvest” (Jn 4:35). “The kingdom of God is like
a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all seeds, but
once it has grown, it is the greatest of plants” (Mt 13:31-32).
98. Jesus lived in full harmony with creation, and others were amazed: “What sort of man is this,
that even the winds and the sea obey him?” (Mt 8:27). His appearance was not that of an ascetic
set apart from the world, nor of an enemy to the pleasant things of life. Of himself he said: “The
Son of Man came eating and drinking and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard!’” (Mt 11:19).
He was far removed from philosophies which despised the body, matter and the things of the
world. Such unhealthy dualisms, nonetheless, left a mark on certain Christian thinkers in the
course of history and disfigured the Gospel. Jesus worked with his hands, in daily contact with the
matter created by God, to which he gave form by his craftsmanship. It is striking that most of his
life was dedicated to this task in a simple life which awakened no admiration at all: “Is not this the
carpenter, the son of Mary?” (Mk 6:3). In this way he sanctified human labour and endowed it with
a special significance for our development. As Saint John Paul II taught, “by enduring the toil of
work in union with Christ crucified for us, man in a way collaborates with the Son of God for the
redemption of humanity”.
99. In the Christian understanding of the world, the destiny of all creation is bound up with the
mystery of Christ, present from the beginning: “All things have been created though him and for
him” (Col 1:16). The prologue of the Gospel of John (1:1-18) reveals Christ’s creative work as
the Divine Word (Logos). But then, unexpectedly, the prologue goes on to say that this same Word
“became flesh” (Jn 1:14). One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in
his lot with it, even to the cross. From the beginning of the world, but particularly through the
incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole,
without thereby impinging on its autonomy.
100. The New Testament does not only tell us of the earthly Jesus and his tangible and loving
relationship with the world. It also shows him risen and glorious, present throughout creation by his
universal Lordship: “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to
reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his
cross” (Col 1:19-20). This leads us to direct our gaze to the end of time, when the Son will deliver
all things to the Father, so that “God may be everything to every one” (1 Cor 15:28). Thus, the
creatures of this world no longer appear to us under merely natural guise because the risen One is
mysteriously holding them to himself and directing them towards fullness as their end. The very
flowers of the field and the birds which his human eyes contemplated and admired are now
imbued with his radiant presence.
THE HUMAN ROOTS OF THE ECOLOGICAL CRISIS
101. It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of
the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the
serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this? At this stage, I
propose that we focus on the dominant technocratic paradigm and the place of human beings and
of human action in the world.
I. TECHNOLOGY: CREATIVITY AND POWER
102. Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a
crossroads. We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam
engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern
medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics,
biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by
the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology
are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”. The modification of nature for useful
purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning; technology itself “expresses the
inner tension that impels man gradually to overcome material limitations”. Technology has
remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel
gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and
communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who
have provided alternatives to make development sustainable?
103. Technoscience, when well directed, can produce important means of improving the quality of
human life, from useful domestic appliances to great transportation systems, bridges, buildings
and public spaces. It can also produce art and enable men and women immersed in the material
world to “leap” into the world of beauty. Who can deny the beauty of an aircraft or a skyscraper?
Valuable works of art and music now make use of new technologies. So, in the beauty intended by
the one who uses new technical instruments and in the contemplation of such beauty, a quantum
leap occurs, resulting in a fulfilment which is uniquely human.
104. Yet it must also be recognized that nuclear energy, biotechnology, information technology,
knowledge of our DNA, and many other abilities which we have acquired, have given us
tremendous power. More precisely, they have given those with the knowledge, and especially the
economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the
entire world. Never has humanity had such power over itself, yet nothing ensures that it will be
used wisely, particularly when we consider how it is currently being used. We need but think of the
nuclear bombs dropped in the middle of the twentieth century, or the array of technology which
Nazism, Communism and other totalitarian regimes have employed to kill millions of people, to say
nothing of the increasingly deadly arsenal of weapons available for modern warfare. In whose