Tag Archives: Environment

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 5

In Laudato Si, art. 53, the pope draws an analogy between oppression of the poor and extreme misuse of the environment. As the former is a sin that cries to heaven (for vengeance), so in its own way is the latter:

53. These situations have caused sister earth, along with all the abandoned of our world, to cry out, pleading that we take another course.

Although many in the world recognize that there is a problem and that things cannot go on the way they are, without serious environmental debts to be paid in the future, few if any act, change. Art. 55:

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.

What on earth can we do, then? Tear down our houses and start again? But that would of course cost quite a bit. Obviously, solutions will be difficult, and painful, to identify and implement. One thing the pope points to is the use of Air Conditioning. The implication of his mention of it seems to be the call, in the spirit of detachment, at least to lessen our use of it.

He contends, art. 57, that if men do not change their habits and curb their passion for acquisition, wars may erupt:

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.

This thought is biblical:

What causes wars, and what causes fightings among you? Is it not your passions that are at war in your members? You desire and do not have; so you kill. And you covet and cannot obtain; so you fight and wage war (Ja 4:1-2).

What causes such passions? Friendship with the world. The irony! True love of the environment places it in its place, with man as steward who has an everlasting end and with the things of the world as signs of God’s bounteous beauty and gifts for man’s prudent and just use. So what is “friendship with the world”? It is to set one’s end on the things of the world, to pursue pleasure at the cost of justice, to indulge in luxury at the expense of temperance, to grow soft with delicacies at the expense of fortitude, to measure the good by my pleasure, at the expense of prudence. It is the rot of the moral life. Pollution as its sign, Pollution as its sacrament.

Such “friendship” with the world, or lust of the flesh, leads men to seek the means to gratify it. It leads to that kind of love of money which is greed. The love of money is the root of sin because the possession of it enables one to act sinfully, as one perversely desires. Hence, those who fattened themselves in this life, are sewing their own judgment:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten…. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter (Ja 5:1-2, 4-5).

The pope’s call to simplicity is not unlike James’s. Nor is it unlike the final judgment scene, the terrifying scene in Mt 25, where the poor and downtrodden are those by the neglect of whom neglect we neglected Jesus Christ our God.

Nor is this analysis of the pope unlike the preaching of the great Doctor and Saint, John Chrysostom. In meditating on the “Rich young man” episode, John demonstrates that the love of wealth is its own punishment. For the poor man who loves wealth but cannot obtain, is therefore in a state of dissatisfaction. The rich man can never slake his thirst, for if the thirst is for wealth, more can always be desired. If the cake is what I desire, its possession is its consumption, its destruction. Once I recover from satiety, I shall rise again to desire. But next time, more, and more. Unless I am chastened by moderation. Covetousness is endless. It grows pointlessly, pointlessly grows. He concludes:

“Therefore that we may not have superfluous sorrows, let us forsake the love of money that is ever paining, and never endures to hold its peace.”

Yet, John does not simply give us a negative. Nor does he simply – in Epicurean fashion – bid us be moderate vis-a-vis the things of the world. No. He bids us convert and turn to the True God, to the One Who Alone is Good. The One in whom alone we can have happiness, for whom our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee, O Lord: Your Great Doctor bids us turn to You, My God!

“Let us remove ourselves to another love, which both makes us happy, and hath great facility, and let us long after the treasures above.”

It would be fruitless to counsel someone to moderation without pointing him to the True God and the one true way to the true God, Jesus Christ and the religion he inaugurated. Short of this, preaching could be moralizing, as has been insightfully noted in a comment box. Just as no wise counselor would instruct a porn-addicted teen to “just not open the magazine.” One needs to give the teen things to do, alternatives. Similarly, we can’t just “not eat the second ice-cream cone”. We have to do so for a reason. We have to devote ourselves to other activities. Ultimately, we need to love our true and only Final End.

This brings St. John to another point: The love of the world – of pleasures disordered in themselves or ordered but immoderately pursued, of goods evaluated perversely (God as second, God in a corner of my life) – is its own hell, before the final hell that it deserves:

“Besides hell, and before that hell, even here it [love of wealth] casts thee into a more grievous punishment. For many houses hath this lust overthrown, and fierce wars hath it stirred up, and compelled men to end their lives by a violent death; and before these dangers it ruins the nobleness of the soul, and is wont often to make him that hath it cowardly, and unmanly, and rash, and false, and calumnious, and ravenous, and over-reaching, and all the worst things.” (Chrysostom, Homily on Matthew LXIII; Nicene-Post Nicene Series, p. 390).

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 4

In Laudato Si, Pope Francis registers a critique of badly thought out City Planning together with an “enclavish” mentality:

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.

“Enclaves” where the rich have their homes sealed from others by walls and guards are not – abstractly considered – blights and problems. After all, the King should have his gardens. But how many kings there are! And note a problem. Whereas in fact there are no kings in this country of the USA, and all are citizens (more or less) of the same, yet these enclaves involve separation from common areas. They involve – or are concomitant with – the loss of recreational spaces of public good. There are still some parks. What justifies them? The common public good. A place for many to meet, to rub shoulders, to bump into one another. It is good in the major cities to have such places, accessible to all. But with the money being poured into enclaves, is there sufficient strength left, capital, to keep up the infrastructure of places of common public good? My own city, Irving, TX, has its enclaves. And without doubt that is where much of the tax money comes from. Yet, where is the money being spent? In the south part of town, where the Latinos and blacks live? Not so much. These parts of town are slowly languishing.


Art. 48 registers a truth most crucial to the success of the Pope’s effort to alleviate the problem of our treatment of the environment:

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.

However, the pope does not, at least here in this part of the letter, deliver. As readers have rightly noted, a juncture such as this demands the believer’s lament. We must return to the Great pope Leo XIII in his Au Milieu des Sollicitudes, art. 6:

Now, morality, in man, by the mere fact that it should establish harmony among so many dissimilar rights and duties, since it enters as an element into every human act, necessarily supposes God, and with God, religion, that sacred bond whose privilege is to unite, anteriorly to all other bonds, man to God.

Why is God at the basis of all morality?

The idea of morality signifies, above all, an order of dependence in regard to truth which is the light of the mind; in regard to good which is the object of the will; and without truth and good there is no morality worthy of the name. And what is the principal and essential truth, that from which all truth is derived? It is God. What, therefore, is the supreme good from which all other good proceeds? God. Finally, who is the creator and guardian of our reason, our will, our whole being, as well as the end of our life? God; always God.

And now the Great Pope Leo XIII turns to the matter of religion, which is crucial to the relationship with God.

Since, therefore, religion is the interior and exterior expression of the dependence which, in justice, we owe to God, there follows a grave obligation. All citizens are bound to unite in maintaining in the nation true religious sentiment, and to defend it in case of need, if ever, despite the protestations of nature and of history, an atheistical school should set about banishing God from society, thereby surely annihilating the moral sense even in the depths of the human conscience. Among men who have not lost all notion of integrity there can exist no difference of opinion on this point.

And not just the individual but the state must acknowledge the One True Religion, as he states in Immortale Dei, art. 6:

Since, then, no one is allowed to be remiss in the service due to God, and since the chief duty of all men is to cling to religion in both its reaching and practice—not such religion as they may have a preference for, but the religion which God enjoins, and which certain and most clear marks show to be the only one true religion—it is a public crime to act as though there were noGod.

So, if we are to take care of the environment, as but part of our moral obligation to live a responsible life, and we are so to do, we must do so with God as our final end and the True Religion as our way to God and guide to what is and is not in accordance with nature. If we were to try to map our way in nature – regarding some segment of natural law, say, the environment – and to do so without God as our guiding light, we would necessarily enter a path to perdition. Rather, we would steer from one path to perdition (exploitation, greed, belching out fumes of unnatural reactions) to another path (godless contemplation of natural cycles, etc.).

Pope Francis makes a good point when he notes that often the poor themselves are not really known by the thinkers and decision makers. The experience of the poor is often not known. The remedy would be real encounter. I recall the testament I heard in Church of a Catholic who went to live for a week in Haiti. His speech was truly moving. The people there live lives of utter destitution, unimaginable for us in the affluent areas. But should we become like that man, and live even for a little way (an afternoon) with some who are even remotely like those in Haiti, we might think differently. Our “human ecology” might mature:

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 (art. 49.

The pope rejects the calls of anti-life people to seize control of population growth. These have missed the mark in their diagnosis. Interestingly, these people uphold precisely the immoderate sense of consumerism that is partial culprit in the environmental problem:

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 (art. 50).

The pope means: The response to these people is not to say that everyone should consume the way we westerners are currently consuming. Just universalize the American lifestyle! That is not the solution. The solution must include our simplification of lifestyle. We must stop living as we have been in many ways. Will this be uncomfortable? Will this cost us? This is our cross of responsibility. I know a very good woman, a mother of five, who for instance has taken up a cross. A small one to be sure, in the greater scheme of things, but a real one. A manageable one, though one that could be found “disgusting” and “oh how gross!” But it is not really all that bad: CLOTH DIAPERS. Cloth diapers vs. the Ever Increasing Mounds of Disposable Diapers. That is one very concrete, often readily implementable lifestyle change that people can achieve. And what people? Precisely those who are – according to godless atheists – having too many children. Another thing about big families: They are often schools of moderation. No, there is only 2 pounds of meat tonight kids. That’s for everyone. First eat your rice and beans and veggies. Then have a burger. You’ll be full then. This is a school of moderation. A simple, pro-life school.

It was stated in a Comment Box that the Third World is often worse in polluting than the First World. I will not contest that statement, but I will note a relevant remark by Pope Francis:

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 (art. 52).

The rich have the responsibility to help form the mentality of the third world with regard to these issues. Further, to help the third world deal better with these issues. They must “get off the ground” and they need help to do this. A question might be – not how a 1st World company compares with a 3rd World company on pollution in the 3rd World – but how the same 1st World company would cover its ecological tracks if it were in the 1st World vs. how it actually covers its tracks in the 3rd World. That is the more salient question. We are all tempted to “get away” with things.

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 3

Art. 30 registers a Magisterial teaching on the right of access to water. This teaching is by no means something one can “dodge” because the Pope isn’t a scientist:

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.

But someone will object: If this were true, our infrastructure and laws would have to change. Exactly!

Art. 33 laments the human-induced loss of species:

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.

Amen! The “book of nature” is, as St. Bonaventure taught, the first revelation of God to man. We are enabled to read the “Book of Scripture” only because we first have access to the “book of nature” written both on the tablets of our hearts and also in the face of the world.

I hope good Catholics who may work at companies such as Monsanto will read and take to heart art. 34:

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.

Does any of this have to do with moral teaching? Indeed it does. Art. 36:

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.

The pope is indeed making a multi-faceted theological argument against all of this Big Corporation and greed based devastation of the environment. The first is that God gives things natures, so that each thing has its natural tendencies (ends) and its elemental constitution (atomic and molecular, etc., ingredients). When we “sculpt” these through our artistry, we must do so in such a way as to draw out, harmoniously with these natures, those possibilities that add beauty to the world and render service to us – the noblest creatures and those for whom the world was made. If we think very narrowly with our artistry, we might ignore these natures and bend certain properties to our seeming advantage, while in the end setting these things on a course of destruction. How much prudence must be exercised before any attempts at Genetic Modification is undertaken! And how little prudence actually is exercised. The second is that the multifarious hierarchies in the order of creation attest to the glory of God. They sing his praises. The biologist who catches a glimpse of these is invited to see God “through a mirror darkly,” as I (the layman) am invited to see God darkly in the Grand Canyon. Nor is human provision opposed to these two God-endowed marvels. The opposite. Good human grooming of the environment adds another dimension: For man, cooperating with God, brings the world to an even greater beauty. God, through man, renders glory to God in the gardens, in the farms well maintained (with proper bio-diversity and complementarity).


But someone objects: None of this has anything to do with the Gospel!

Response: On the Contrary! Christ cares about man. Christ came to give life to man, and the Glory of God is man fully alive. No that was not a modernist theologian. That was St. Irenaeus of Lyons! The pope teaches:

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.

We have settled for this. We have settled into this. We are like frogs boiling in the stew of our own unwitting device. Yet we were not meant for this. WHO that has worked in a nature program, that has seen inner-city boys go out to a marvelous camp in Wisconsin or Wyoming or Colorado, and seen them de-stress, de-tox, grow calmer and more natural – I say WHO that has seen this can possibly contend with the pope when he protests:

We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature (art. 44).

Indeed, we were not! O Lord – a healthy world is not our salvation. And yet, a sick world is our devastation. It brings no glory to you to see a planet sooted with the greed of tyrants. And should one of them, should one of the CEO’s ruling a mega-corporation that has its footprint on this environment, like a boot to the neck of a poor, downtrodden man, should I say such a one read the pope’s prophetic lament: May he repent of his company’s ills, and take firm measure to change them!

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si – Part 2

Art. 23 lists sundry forms of pollution. Art 25 states:

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.

There will of course be well informed people who take issue with this or that statement, even with the general thrust of some specific concern of Pope Francis, such as that articulated here: Climate change as one of the worst (environmental) problems facing us. It goes without saying, in theological hermeneutics of magisterial texts, that the Pope has no competence to teach bindingly on what environmental problem is worst. Nor is he claiming to do so. The practical diagnoses and prognoses offered by the Holy Father are not binding magisterial teachings; to consider them such is to cheapen ecclesial currency and to falsify it!

That said, who could possibly be so insane as not to recognize that we are ruining our own home, trashing the bedroom that is our earth? It is as though we are urinating in a corner, amassing unusable debris in a corner, which grows daily, slowly allowing darker water to come through the tap, darker and less wholesome, allowing the air in the home to become sooty, in both obvious ways (think back to London back in the coal days) and less obvious ways (chemical trails in the air, anti-life and anti-male Estrogen in the water, tyrannical pesticides from Big Agri giants that don’t care about the future but only profits, tyrannical crop-reproduction from Big Agri giants who have arrogated to themselves the right to sell annually crop seed that will yield only non-seed-bearing fruit (thus enslaving whole populations to their greed and American hegemony), darker and obscurer waters in the state parks, even Yellowstone is much less magnificent now than it was when I was a child – significantly, etc.). Who could be so insane as not to realize that the bio-hazard trash from medical waste is mounting without any plan in sight for a cure?

It is one thing to look at a recent magisterial text, or non-magisterial word of a pope or bishop, that is ambiguous (or worse) on some doctrine, and to go back to Tradition with the clarifying light of previously laid out dogmas so as to un-confuse those who are being confused. To do that is to join in the effort to baptize all nations, to teach the One Truth Jesus handed to his One Church. But to go on the defensive against basic sanity of the pope on the problem of pollution – and for what reason? Why do we do this? Because our dad is in Big Oil and we resent that our inheritance is being overshadowed? Because we are in Big Oil and are fracking the hell out of the earth? Because we think America should kick ass in the Middle East, drop bombs on Russia, and then drink a Piña Colada on one of the remaining fine beaches in Hawaii (sorry, Maui; sorry, Lanai – maybe one of the only really clean ones left)? Because we think no one should do any planning to get smaller cars and simpler lives going, while the third world starves? Because we are on vacation and why should we have to wash dishes at all, when in fact they are right there in the cupboard? We have the right to use paper and plastic. And what of paper diapers – not just here and there but everywhere, all the time. Heck! Why not use paper and plastic every day of the week? Life is tiring, after all!

Such would be a low motivation! Our god is your belly (Gal 5-6). I am just as challenged as any on these questions. We all need to be challenged. And yes these challenges issue from the Gospel Itself! For all these systems have effects, leaving the wake upon the poor:

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. (art. 25)

But you will object: Technology has fed billions. We would not have been able to grow the population unless we could feed it through Big Agri chemicals and massive machines, and highly technological farms, and the destruction of small farmers and farmlands.

Ah! That is an interesting objection. There is some truth to it. But it is caught up in a lifestyle of accumulation and therein its logic works. In short, the alternative of a more natural, hobbit-like way of life, each with a small farm, or gathered together in a village with the set of farms on the outskirts (old style Romania!), or something analogical, that is not an option for the world – in your mind. So, we need our SUVs to keep plowing ahead, and meanwhile, we can suck the marrow out of the soil with Big Agri methods and supplies, leaving it bereft of nutrients for the future, so as to feed the billions, most of which live in an increasingly less self-sufficient manner, while we pilot our yachts.

I have long been a Romantic. And that is why I am weak. Because it is in the mind, in dreams. But nothing great ever comes without a thought. And some thoughts start only with dreams of those too lame to execute any plan and too imprudent to lay any out.

But we know from our own intelligent eyes that the world is going to hell in the social and moral realms. Gay Marriage, Abortion, Masturbatory Porn, Bored Teens Shooting up Churches (they sense no meaning in life; they needed real love, not a sugar-daddy reading of a God who really doesn’t care; they really wanted, and needed, firm – though always just – discipline at home, not pills that shut them up and enabled others to get them to get off their backs), etc etc. The Geo-Political story is just as terrifying. Anyone who investigates just a little under the hood of the sundry “terror attacks” in the past couple of decades is up for a rude awakening into the co-conspiracies that are evidently operative (the usual narrative is so paper-thin as to be a complete joke, like the Penguin throwing money at the parade of mindless idiots in the first attempt at Batman), even if not evidently identifiable (who, what, why?).

Have I gotten off track? Perhaps. In short, we can see the rot if we look at the moral realm. But it is just as easy to look at the realm of nature and see the rot. These two stenches, these two fetid ulcers are related, states the pope:

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. (art. 2)

Indeed, the groundwork on social teaching has been laid for some 1.5 centuries. JPII rightly laid down a firm and irremovable foundation: The social / systemic ills are rooted in human sin, in the individual sinful choices of the individual human person. One cannot hope to cure systemic problems except on the cure of the foundation of the root. Without that, all systemic efforts to combat systemic problems will be driven by sin (greed, lust, and the libido dominandi!).

When I visit a state park and remark at how clean the lake is, but still find it rather dirty, I know something is wrong. We all know something is wrong with the human heart. But modern philosophy yielded the new methods in world-view and in technology by which the sickness in our hearts is now projected into the world. Now we see that sickness written large. The environmental catastrophe is a “sacrament” of sin. If you cannot see it, you have no eyes to see; you have no ears to hear; you are a blind guide. Chances are high that those who dispute that the world is being polluted and destroyed have got something in the game:

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.

Again, I am not talking about details. I have no idea what’s doing what. But we all know something’s doing something. So-and-so is sick all the time; allergic reactions right and left. So-and-so has cancer. O and this person. And that. See how many retired US soldiers are suffering from sundry ailments. When sickness is rampant, we know that something is doing something. This encyclical, for whatever its weaknesses, is a call to something so obviously needed it would be idiocy or malice to ignore it.

Cursory Reflections on Laudato Si: – Part 1

A several part treatment begins today.

The end of art. 3 reads:

In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.

This may be a hermeneutical key informing us that the encyclical is less of an authoritative teaching than a beginning of dialogue and reflection. Nevertheless, the Encyclical is still an authoritative act of the Magisterium:

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.

Art. 5 follows JPII in stating:

Accordingly, our human ability to transform reality must proceed in line with God’s original gift of all that is.

Here, we see an absolute norm: Our development of the world must be (this is a moral ought, replete with consequences) in conformity with God’s wisdom, with the viable possibilities inherent in the world. By “viable” I mean: Possible and life-giving.

Art. 6 registers very important remarks from Pope Benedict. Francis comments:

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”

The danger of a “tyranny of relativism” threatens both the human good, society, and the environmental good, which itself is, obviously, ordered to our good. This is clear in Francis’s citation of Patriarch Bartholomew’s words:

For “to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and a sin against God”.

Art. 12 reflects on St. Francis and urges us towards a non-reductively utilitarian view of the world, really, towards a contemplative view.

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.

Again, art. 13:

Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

Such a view is in clear contrast with that of modernity. We can think only of Bacon and Descartes, who mapped out the world precisely so as to plunder it. Even if with good intentions! Even if for the physical good of the poor and downtrodden! If the view of the world is one of mapping reductively and exploiting technologically, the result will be a denial of substantial forms (natures!) and the imposition of artistic forms without norms (technology gone awry, without prudence guiding it) – that is, GMOs etc. If the physical stuff is nothing but homogenous “matter”, then we have no substantial forms (natures!) to respect.

Could we say that there is an implicit: Back to Aristotle! Back to metaphysics! in this encyclical?

The pope calls everyone in the world to reflect on this problem of the devastation of the environment, for this problem affects us all:

We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all (art. 14)

In art. 20, we see a great and crucial dig at the likes of Big Oil At Any Cost and also at Big Agri At Any Cost.

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.

Who could possibly disagree with the pope that

The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth (art. 21).

The pope is calling us back to nature, to respect the Natural Law of the cycle of life:

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 (art. 22).

If we attempted, in culture and technology, to imitate this kind of patter, we would make considerable progress. Amen to that!

Art. 23 turns to the climate:

23. The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.

It should be noted that there are two senses of “common good”. The first, and more excellent, is that good which exceeds the parts and which is the goal of the parts. For instance, peace among men is that “tranquility of complex order” that is the goal of society, just as the “harmonious melody” emergent from the many singers is the goal of the chorus. The second, foundational but less excellent, is that good which is resource to many. Indeed, water is a common resource to many, but it is not the good at which we aim. Rather, we desire to have healthy water so that we might live and the chorus of living things as well, with the rhythmic backdrop of the flow of water.

Clearly, then, the climate is not the first kind of common good. It is only the second kind of common good. It is not our goal but our common resource and niche / habitat. That does not mean it is for “exploitation” and trampling of feet. Instead, it means that it is elemental, ingredient, to a balanced human life lived in a pilgrim way on our home planet.

With these two sense of common good, further, we can rightly interpret the two different kinds of goods at stake: The human social good (good of society) and the natural environmental good. The latter is crucial, ingredient, to the thriving of the former. It is fundamental. It is not, however, an “excelling” good. The human society is the excelling good. We could say, we must say, to bring both together, that the human society thriving in the context and in the created chorus of the inanimate and animate but non-rational world – that this is the yet greater good. Bring in the angels and we have that over which God said, “It is very good”. But best of all, and the only end the loss of which is essentially and eternally tragic, is the salvation of each person and the communion of all the saved.