Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home by Pope Francis

Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

Laudato Si': On Care of Our Common Home by Pope Francis

Article excerpt

Laudato si, mi Signore, per sora nostra matre Terra, la quale ne sustenta et gouerna . . .?

-Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun (1241)


The importance of the second encyclical of Pope Francis cannot be overstated. Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home marks what portends to be the Roman Catholic Church's full pastoral engagement on issues related to climate change, biodiversity, environmental protection, water and natural resource rights, and ethical technology.1 Yet, it is also much more than that-and much, much more than the encyclical's general depiction as a pious but worthy contribution to the climate change debate. It is a sweeping assessment of how the contemporary world's understanding of the meaning and purpose of human life in relation to creation and the Creator has gone astray, and the consequences of that straying for our home and life in that creation. It presents a compelling moral and religious imperative for limits to growth, the responsibilities of government, and the regulation of the economy in light of humanity's covenant with God to care for creation. Laudato Si' ("Praise Be to You," in medieval Umbrian) is the most important social encyclical of the Catholic Church since the first: Rerum Novarum in 1891. Yet, while it signals a new activism for the church, the teachings at its heart are as ancient as the faith itself and the essential change that it preaches is an inner transformation of the human person.

Drawing deeply from Christianity's and Judaism's earliest scriptures, frequently referencing documents and pastoral letters from past Catholic bishops' conferences around the globe, and prominently reiterating the environmental teachings of Benedict XVI, Saint John Paul II, and Saint John XXIII, Laudato Si' emerges from a hermeneutic of continuity and is not a revolutionary manifesto. Its very title hearkens to Saint Francis of Assisi's 13th century Canticle of the Sun. The encyclical is a compelling retelling of traditional Catholic theology about creation as God's artwork and the moral covenant that obliges us as its caretakers. It places at center stage the church's call to transform humanity's relationship with the natural world by recognizing that creation is luminous with the message of its Creator. The encyclical is breathtaking in its boldness and the pontiff's prophetic voice may be unsettling to many modern ears. But, Laudato Si' is not new theology and its provenance in continuity lends powerfully to the document's gravity and significance.


The encyclical's analysis of our moral shortcomings as creation's caretakers is unsparing. With "hundreds of millions of tons of waste" generated each year, the pontiff laments that "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."2 Rejecting the arguments of climate change deniers, he insists that a "disturbing warming of the climactic system" is occurring-a crisis that is "mainly as a result of human activity."3 "Climate change," he writes, "is a global problem with grave implications" for sustaining the planet's eco-systems, for our social, political and economic order, and especially for our poorest and most vulnerable populations.4 Fresh water resources are threatened across the globe, although access to "safe drinkable water is a basic right and universal human right."5 Extinctions of plant and animal species are accelerating and "[b]ecause of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God . . . ."6 The overfishing of the seas and reefs, the industrialized clearing of tropical forests, monocultural agriculture, and all in conjunction with widespread pollution and rising air and ocean temperatures, are devastating the divinely ordained biodiversity of life.

This widespread corruption of the natural order, moreover, comes with enormous human costs, especially for the most vulnerable, poor, and oppressed among us. Climate change, resulting in drought, storms, and rising sea levels, impacts all but more greatly impacts the marginalized, impoverished, and powerless who have little recourse for either remedy or escape. …

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