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).