With the publication of Laudato si, Pope Francis has made a significant and timely intervention on ecology, creation and sustainability. His words carry particular importance for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, Christians more widely and those of other faiths. However, it is the major wealth-generating cities around the globe that should also take heed of Pope Francis’ message.
The title of the Pope’s Encyclical, one of the highest forms of Papal edict, is taken of course from the Canticle of the Sun, composed by St Francis when he was all but blind - but when he had come to see with the inner eye the unity of all creation with dazzling clarity.
In the Canticle of the Sun, St Francis points to a radical extension of a merely anthropocentric concept of neighbour love. Love for Francis is nourished by the treasury of images in Scripture which refer to the presence of Christ in the natural order.
The new Encyclical is the first from any Pope to address environmental matters. It prompts us all to consider how we choose to use the planet’s resources, ensuring that they are sufficient for people around the world today and for future generations.
Environmental issues are part of a complex pattern of national and personal choices. We are not the owners of this planet, we are merely its temporary leaseholders and its stewards. Equally, we cannot forgot that the economy is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the environment – if we fail to look after it, there will be a very bleak future for the human race. The whole notion of long-term sustainability has become so vital as we recognise that we are all together on a planet with such resource scarcity.
We have suffered greatly from short-termism in the recent past, both economic and environmental. At least in terms of the latter, the science is now well and truly settled and there is a global consensus over the accelerating threat of climate change and the risks it poses to humanity.
Cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a moral and religious imperative: without it, we cannot create a future of sufficiency and quality for the world’s poorest and for future generations.
There is a huge groundswell, both in the UK and around the world, of people demanding answers to the challenges of climate change. I saw it myself when I spoke at last year’s climate march in London, when tens of thousands turned out in the streets to call for action. In a global opinion survey published last week across 75 countries, 80 per cent of people said they were very concerned about climate change and only 2 per cent unconcerned. 80 per cent want their Government to take action even if no others do, and 66 per cent see tackling climate change as a means of bettering their lives.
In London, I see a city of extremes, both wealth and poverty; and through its people, the businesses based here and the way in which the city is run, it has the potential to be deeply influential. It is also a centre of the scientific, economic, legal and business expertise that is necessary for the world to build a more secure future. The Papal Encyclical should instill a vital thought in anyone in business: leave something for the next person and the next generation.
London also shows how environmental initiatives can benefit all people. The investments that London is making to boost cycling and low-carbon vehicles, are examples of actions that carry multiple benefits, from tackling pollution to boosting health and well-being. In our own churches, the Diocese of London has been installing renewable energy systems and insulating to reduce energy waste, which save us money and cut carbon emissions.
The timing of Pope Francis’ Encyclical is no accident, as this year sees a major UN Summit taking place in Paris that we hope can produce a new global agreement to reduce carbon emissions.
Politicians are the ones who will gather in Paris, in the face of opportunity and bearing that responsibility; but all of us have our role to play. Desire for movement on climate change is shared across people of all religious faiths and none, across rich and poor, in developed and developing nations.
We should see the Encyclical as a message of hope: we can tackle climate change effectively, and in so doing we will improve the lives of all people, in current and future generations. We are all journeying together on a Great Ark. Those in the first-class cabins will not stay dry for long, as the tide rises up through the lower decks.
The Rt Rev and Rt Hon Richard Chartres is Bishop of London
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