“We are slapping nature”: Francis, the ecological pope and his invaluable environmental legacy

The climate crisis, youth, environmental pollution, water and the modes of consumption and production that have led humanity to this crisis relationship with nature are protagonists in the manifestations that the Pope Francisco has done in these 10 years of Pontificate.

Because Francis is a political Pope and he is the catastrophe in which the planet Earth is plunged, the one that is present in each message, in each homily, in each meeting with heads of state the one he uses to call for action. To the solidarity and humanitarian action, every day more necessary, with nature and with the other.

The turning point that marked this path was definitely the first encyclical which he wrote in its entirety three years after being elected to the highest prelature: Laudation Yeswhich was published in May 2015. In what is known as “green encyclical”Francisco identifies the pressing modern ecological problems: environmental pollution and climate change, the issue of water, the loss of biodiversity, the decrease in the quality of human life and the destruction of society and global inequality.

Regarding climate change, the Pope emphasizes that “the climate is a common good, of all and for all. There is a very consistent scientific consensus that we are facing a worrying warming of the climate system due mainly to human activity.

In what is known as the “green encyclical”, Francis identifies the pressing modern ecological problems: environmental pollution and climate change, the issue of water, the loss of biodiversity and the decline in the quality of human life.

The encyclical also highlights that the climate crisis “is a global problem with serious environmental, social, economic, distributional and political dimensions, and poses one of the main current challenges for humanity. The worst impacts are likely to fall in the coming decades on developing countries and the poor.

The papal document not only describes reality and its causes, but fundamentally calls for action: “The development of policies has become urgent and imperative so that in the coming years the emission of carbon dioxide and other gases highly polluting is drastically reduced, for example, by replacing the use of fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy”.

And he goes further when he points out that ecological degradation should not be blamed on population growth but on “selective and extreme consumerism.”

new concern

However, Francisco had not always been so concerned with environmental issues. He told it himself, in an interview with the Télam agency last year: “I am going to tell you a personal experience: in 2007 I was on the writing team of the Aparecida Document and then the proposals of the Brazilians arrived talking about the care of nature. ‘But these Brazilians, what do they have in their heads?’, he asked me at the time, he didn’t understand any of this. ”

Pope Francis called for concrete decisions regarding climate change (AFP)
Pope Francis called for concrete decisions regarding climate change (AFP)

Years later, an opportunity would come that did not stop happening and that was a turning point, a great impulse to reach the most important climate treaty signed to date: the Paris Agreement. “Over the years, when I traveled to Strasbourg the president François Hollande sent his minister of the environment to receive me, who at that time was Segolene Royale. At one point he asked me: ‘Is it true that you are writing something about the environment?’ When I said yes, he asked me: ‘Please publish it before the Paris Conference.’ So, I met again with the scientists who gave me a draft, then I met with the theologians who gave me another draft, and thus came the Laudation Yes. It was a demand to create awareness that we are slapping nature. And nature is going to collect it. He is charging it ”, he continued in the same report.

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The Pope in Aparecida, Brazil (Reuters)
The Pope in Aparecida, Brazil (Reuters)

“I note that Pope Francis is the world leader who most harshly and insistently puts the issue of climate change on the world agenda. Because? Because he assumes himself as the custodian and promoter of Good in all its expressions. In his interest and commitment to the environmental crisis and climate change, some permanent characteristics of his pontificate are evident: the wish of good for all human beings -whether or not they are Christians, adhere to a religion or not-; a realistic and intelligent look at this one,” he told infobae Silvina Premat, a journalist who covered Church issues during the years in which Jorge bergoglio He presided over the Argentine episcopate and author of several books on religious themes.

The austere life and the consumption model

Among those who have written about the life of Francis is also mentioned austerityfundamental commitment of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. However, his own friends, those who had their first experiences with him in the Society of Jesus, recognize that his option for the poor goes far beyond his vow of austerity. “That to Jorge comes from home. He is like that. He doesn’t like to splurge. In his house there were no necessities, but he did not have anything left over either.

That passion and militancy for austerity did not come only from the Jesuits but from his family. The parents arrived as immigrants and with a lot of effort they made a place for themselves. He nurtured the Catholic faith in his family but at the same time the austere style, because there were five brothers and the money was not enough. The children of other immigrants rebelled against this lifestyle, which forced them, for example, to eat everything “with enough bread to make it.” Thus, the next generation was much more consumerist. But George no. He embraced that austere style of his house, where managing resources very well was the only option so that what he had achieved would be trusted by a personal friend of Bergoglio, who has known him since his adolescence, ”he details to infobae Evangelina Himitian, biographer of the Pope and co-author of the book Consumed Desirewritten together with the journalist Soledad Vallejos.

Pope Francis participated in the 2021 meeting
Pope Francis participated in the 2021 meeting “Faith and Science: Towards COP26” with other religious leaders before the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) that was held in the United Kingdom (REUTERS) (VATICAN MEDIA /)

From the perspective of consumption and production models, these 10 years of papacy can also be analyzed. The Aparecida document, that of 2007, mentions some key points to understand Francisco’s thought on consumerism and the culture of accumulation. “According to the Social Doctrine of the Church, the object of the economy is the formation of wealth and its progressive increase, in terms not only quantitative, but also qualitative: all of which is morally correct if it is oriented towards the global development and solidarity of man. and the society in which you live and work. Indeed, development cannot be reduced to a mere process of accumulating goods and services. On the contrary, pure accumulation, even if it were for the common good, is not a sufficient condition for the realization of authentic human happiness”, she points out.

And he adds: “Hedonic and individualistic consumerism, which puts human life in function of immediate and unlimited pleasure, obscures the meaning of life and degrades it. (…) The Lord, who invites us to value things and progress, also warns us about the obsession to accumulate”.

Pope Francis participated in a lunch with the poor in the Vatican, on November 13, 2022 (REUTERS)
Pope Francis participated in a lunch with the poor in the Vatican, on November 13, 2022 (REUTERS) (Remo Casilli /)

Francis also leads by example, not just with the vow of poverty. Last year the Vatican made a decision that would have seemed crazy at another time: it signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty. Although the title may seem like just another advertisement, this means that neither more nor less than millions of dollars that Catholic congregations invest in securities and bonds cannot favor the expansion of the oil and gas industry.

The institutions of faith represent the 35% of the divestment commitments in fossil fuels by 2021according to the Invest/Divest report for that year.

Mindful of the contribution of fossil fuels to the climate crisis, in 2020, the Vatican requested to divest from these companies. Following various calls by the Holy See, 35 institutions in six different countries, which together have a net worth of $1.25 million in assets, have made a $500 million divestment from this industry. A year later, in 2021, 250 Catholic institutions had divested from fossil fuel companies. According to the cited report, of the 1,485 institutions committed to divestment, 521 are faith-based organizations (not just Catholic, this number includes other religious denominations).

“It’s enough. All new exploration and production of coal, oil and gas must cease immediately, and existing fossil fuel production must be phased out urgently. This should be a just transition for affected workers to green alternatives. The proposal for the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Fossil Fuels is very promising to complement and improve the Paris Agreement”, commented the cardinal Michael Czernyprefect of the dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development of the Vatican.

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Fossil fuel pollution causes 1 in 5 global deaths (EFE)
Fossil fuel pollution causes 1 in 5 global deaths (EFE) (Sashenka Gutierrez /)

Pope Francis considers this time as an opportunity to make a global ecological conversion. The Pontiff expresses that the poorest are those who receive the greatest impact from disasters. He also comments that people from the native villages have lost their homes and have had to move. In this sense, he has even called for rethinking the mechanisms for collecting debts from developing countries with multilateral credit organizations.

“We are indebted to nature itself, as well as to the people and countries affected by human-induced ecological degradation and biodiversity loss. In this regard, I believe that the financial industry, which stands out for its great creativity, will show itself capable of developing agile mechanisms to calculate this ecological debtso that developed countries can afford it, not only by significantly limiting their consumption of non-renewable energy or by helping poorer countries enact sustainable development policies and programs, but also by covering the costs of the innovation required to do so,” he wrote. Francisco to the IMF and the World Bank for their meeting when the world began to emerge after the pandemic.

  Last year the Vatican made a decision that would have seemed crazy at another time: it signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (REUTERS)
Last year the Vatican made a decision that would have seemed crazy at another time: it signed the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty (REUTERS) (VATICAN MEDIA /)

Two years later, at the next European spring meeting, the organizations will meet with an agenda proposed by developing countries led by Mía Motley, Prime Minister of Barbados.

Francisco and his actions collaborated to plant that seed and those discussions and debates that humanity owes itself. Especially to visualize that the crisis in which humanity is plunged can only find the window of opportunity with genuine solidarity, recovering concern for the other. And Francisco shows that this way out is collective, but that it is not just about good intentions, a new political and economic action is necessary for the new paradigm that humanity must adopt. That is the great legacy of him.

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