A Very Quick Critique of the Pope’s Message on Climate Change

Original report for NBC by Tony Dokoupil (edited by me. My critique below)

Pope Francis stood before the United Nations General Assembly to issue a soft-spoken but thunderous call for the world to address global warming, connecting the issue to the wider pursuit of equality, security and justice for all.  But the liveliest, most eloquent passages dealt with his twinned concern with poverty and environmental destruction.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 25: Pope Francis addresses the United Nations General Assembly on September 25, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/FilmMagic)

September 25, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/FilmMagic)

He laid the blame for both on a kind of run-amok capitalism, a system that rewards “a selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity.” For the global elite, this system is a garden of plenty. But His Holiness is concerned with the global underclass, “the vast ranks of the excluded.”

He argued for a clear “right of the environment,” premised on the unusually beautiful and non-bureaucratic idea that “we human beings are part of the environment” and must abide by its “ethical limits.” He ran with that logic, connecting the fate of the human body – shaped as it is by physical, chemical and biological elements – with the fate of the earth.

Then he hammered those who have said that the Bible directs mankind to exercise dominion over nature.  On the contrary, Francis said, “We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”

Image courtesy of Vectorolie @ Freedigitalphotos.com
Image courtesy of Vectorolie @ Freedigitalphotos.com

He highlighted two historic signs of hope:

There’s the UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals, which should be adopted on Sept. 25, setting the agenda for the world for the next 15 years. And there’s the UN’s Paris conference on climate change, scheduled for December, where world leaders will gather to forge an agreement to reduce the emissions that cause global warming, compound environmental destruction, and ramp up inequality.

He said he was “confident” of the success of both efforts, but he also reminded the room of the price of failure.

“The ecological crisis, and the large-scale destruction of biodiversity, can threaten the very existence of the human species,” Francis said. “Consequently, the defense of the environment and the fight against exclusion demand that we recognize a moral law written into human nature itself.”

My Comments

The Pope highlighted what I consider to be three important points:

Firstly, the injustice that permits such an unequal distribution of the earth’s bounty

Secondly, he challenges the centuries-old belief that God gave Man dominion over creation

And thirdly, that we human beings are part of the environment, not separate from it

What saddens me though, is that this is still a very anthropocentric view of the world. I was so happy that upon his election as Pontiff he took the name of my favourite saint, Francis.

Image courtesy of Lijoalw @ Wikimedia Commons
Image courtesy of Lijoalw @ Wikimedia Commons

But I wish he had used his several recent speeches to emphasise that humans are not the only beings that are a part of the environment. Not a mention of the myriad of non-human animals, just as important a part of the environment we all share, the earth.

Another important point that Francis failed to mention was the massive part that meat and dairy production play in the emission of greenhouse gases and climate change.

The surprising fact needs publicising that the meat and dairy industries emit more GHGs than the whole of the world’s transport, land, sea and air, put together.

Image courtesy of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project @Flickr.com
Image courtesy of Socially Responsible Agricultural Project @Flickr.com

Even reducing meat and dairy consumption would make a difference. Ultimately, a plant-based diet is the ideal, for the planet, for our health, and for the animals.

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