Climate Change Archives - Page 2 of 7 - Earth Charter

Celebrating EC+15 with a climate change walk in Kenya

On September 25th, 2015, the Green Belt Movement, Earth Charter Affiliate in Kenya, celebrated the 15th anniversary of the Earth Charter with a Climate Change walk in Kitale town, parallel to Professor Wangari Maathai’s fourth memorial anniversary walk in Nairobi.  This event was organized in collaboration with Green Cross Sweden.

The walk aimed at mobilizing communities to raise their voice on climate change and engage local leaders to address this global issue. Individuals and organizations were also called upon to endorse the Earth Charter, which calls for a global partnership for a just, sustainable and peaceful world. More than 300 people endorsed the Earth Charter and 2000 flyers about the Earth Charter were distributed.

Continue Reading

Earth Charter Opinion article by Climate Ethicist, Don Brown

In a few weeks, nations of the world will meet in Paris for the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as COP21. This Convention emerged out of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, just like the Earth Charter did, and has been one of the most interesting, successful, and also not successful international agreements. The ethical perspective of sustainability, which is the central focus of the Earth Charter, should play a larger role in government policy making, and this is apparent when looking at the climate change challenge. In his essay, Don Brown looks at several of these issues, using an ethical lens to dissect the climate change discourse, and urges governments and policy makers to include ethics specialists when forming climate change responses and policies.

You can download the essay here.

Earth Charter International is grateful that Don Brown has offered this essay to us for publication in our virtual library and we extend him our heartfelt thanks for his excellent work on ethics and his lifelong commitment to making the world a better place.

Continue Reading

Earth Charter invitation to webinar on Earth Community and Global Citizenship

EC+15 Webinar
The Way Forward: Earth Community and Global Citizenship

On November 17th, 2015, ECI will host its sixth and last webinar in a series that began in February to celebrate the Earth Charter’s 15th anniversary, to look back, observe the current issues of relevance to the Earth Charter, and to look ahead to the future of sustainability work and ethics. We will be joined on November 17th by Nigel Dower, a senior academic specializing in the ethics and philosophy of development, environment, and international relations, and by Prue Taylor, an expert in environmental law and ethics.

This webinar will air at the end of a very important year for sustainable development and international relations. 2015 has already seen the agreement to the Sustainable Development Goals, strong ethical statements including the Pope’s Encyclical, and is about to witness the much-discussed climate conference in Paris to begin at the end of November. What does all this mean for the future of the Earth Community and the human place in it? The two speakers will explore these issues and look to the future possibilities from the Earth Charter and sustainability perspectives in light of this year’s important sustainability processes.

Following both of the speakers’ interventions, there will be a question and answer period.

The webinar will take place on November 17th, 2015 at 18:00 UTC, 12:00 Costa Rica time, 07:00 Auckland time November 18th.

Join the webinar through the following link.

If you want to participate, make sure your computer meets system requirements:

Guest speaker: Nigel Dower is Honorary Senior Lecturer in Philosophy, University of Aberdeen and Academic Consultant. In June 2004, he took early retirement in order to pursue his interests in ‘exploring ethics in a globalized world’ through teaching, lectures, writing, and consultancy. His main research interests are in the field of the ethics/philosophy of development, environment and international relations. He taught for many years two special subjects relating to his research, one on the ethics of international relations, covering normative theories, war and peace, theories of justice/human rights and global citizenship, and the other on the ethics of development, environment and technology. He has also taught various other courses on the ethics of sustainable development.

Guest speaker: Prue Taylor received her legal qualifications from Victoria University, New Zealand and Tulane University, USA. She currently teaches environmental and planning law at the School of Architecture and Planning. She is the Deputy Director of the New Zealand Centre for Environmental Law and an elected member of the IUCN Commission of Environmental Law and its Ethics Specialist Group. Prue’s specialist interests are in the areas of climate change, human rights, environmental governance, ocean law and policy, property rights and environmental ethics. She has authored numerous books and articles in these areas. Her current research projects involve the following topics: local government and climate change; climate change ethics; common heritage of mankind and legal strategies for the commons.

Continue Reading

Earth Charter Plus 15 Webinar: COP21 Paris and Climate Change Policy

Earth Charter +15 Webinar
Thursday, 5th November

From Rio ‘92 to COP21 Paris: Challenges and Opportunities
for Climate Change Politics and Policies

This webinar will be the fifth in a series of webinars in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the Earth Charter. We will be joined by former Dutch Development Cooperation Minister and Former Minster for Environment Jan Pronk, a hands-on leader in the Kyoto Protocol negotiations.

In the lead-up to the 21st Conference of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, guest speaker Mr. Pronk will offer his perspectives on the state of climate change policy and insights on the conference in Paris at the end of November. He will also discuss past successes and stumbling blocks, the potential of the COP21, and the future of climate policy. Climate change is one of the most important global issues and efforts to address climate change illustrate the intention of the Earth Charter +15 slogan, “One Earth Community, One Common Destiny”.

This webinar will be broadcast from Earth Charter International’s learning center in Costa Rica and will welcome live guests from the community of the University for Peace.

Following Mr. Pronk’s presentation, there will be a question and answer period.

The webinar will take place on November 5th, 2015 at 18:15 UTC, 12:15 Costa Rica time, 1:15PM New York time, and 7:15PM Amsterdam time.

Join the webinar through the following link.

If you want to participate, make sure your computer meets system requirements:

Guest speaker: Jan Pronk is former Minister of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment (1998-2002) and former Minister for Development Co-operation (1989-1994) of The Netherlands. Pronk was also the Chairman 6th Conference of Parties UN Convention on Climate Change (2000-2001) and Special Envoy Secretary General United Nations for the World Summit on Sustainable Development (2001-2003). He is now a Special Advisor to the Earth Charter International.

Continue Reading

Theologian Leonardo Boff reflects on the linkages between the Earth Charter and the Pope’s Encyclical

Similarities between the Encyclical Laudato si’: “On Care for our Common Home” and the Earth Charter, “Earth, Our Home”

By Leonardo Boff

The encyclical, Laudato sí’: On Care for our Common Home and The Earth Charter are two documents of worldwide relevance that coincidentally have many commonalities. They deal with the degradation of the Earth and life in its many forms, departing from the conventional vision expressed through environmentalism. They subscribe to a new relational and holistic paradigm, the only one, perhaps, which is still capable of giving us hope.

The Earth Charter is echoed in the encyclical, which, in one of its most fundamental passages, proclaims, “I dare to propose again this precious challenge: as never before in history, the common destiny calls on us to seek a new beginning.” (p. 207). That new beginning is being undertaken by Pope Francis.

Let us enumerate, among others, some of the similarities between the two documents.

In the first place, one sees the same spirit running through the two texts: in their analytical form, gathering the best scientific data; in their critical form, denouncing the present system that puts the Earth out of balance; and in their hopeful form, offering solutions. They do not surrender to resignation, but rather trust in the human capacity to create a new lifestyle and in the renewing actions of the Creator, “Lord who lovest the living” (Wis. 11, 26).

They have the same starting point. The Earth Charter states, “The dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species.” (Preamble, 3). The encyclical repeats, “…we need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair…the present world system is certainly unsustainable from a number of points of view…” (p. 61).

They make the same proposals. The Earth Charter affirms, “Fundamental changes are needed in our values, institutions, and ways of living.” (Preamble, 4). The encyclical emphasizes, “Every effort to protect and improve our world entails profound changes in ‘lifestyles, models of production and consumption, and the established structures of power which today govern societies.’” (p. 5).

A great innovation, central to the new cosmologic and ecological paradigm, is the following affirmation in the Earth Charter, “Our environmental, economic, political, social, and spiritual challenges are interconnected, and together we can forge inclusive solutions.” (Preamble, 4). The encyclical echoes this assertion: there are some threads that run through the entire document, “…the intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet, the conviction that everything in the world is connected, the critique of new paradigms and forms of power derived from technology, the call to seek other ways of understanding the economy and progress, the value proper to each creature, the human meaning of ecology, the need for forthright and honest debate, the serious responsibility of international and local policy, the throwaway culture and the proposal of a new lifestyle.” (p. 16). This suggests solidarity among all, shared sobriety and replacing “…consumption with sacrifice, greed with generosity, wastefulness with a spirit of sharing…” (p. 9).

The Earth Charter mentions the “spirit of human solidarity and kinship with all life (Preamble 5). Similarly, the encyclical affirms, “Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.» (p. 92). That is the universal Franciscan fraternity.

The Earth Charter emphasizes that it is our duty to “Respect and care for the community of life. Respect Earth and life in all its diversity.” (Pillar 1 and Principle 1). The entire encyclical, starting with its title, “On Care for Our Common Home”, makes a sort of refrain from this mandate. It proposes “a more passionate concern for the protection of our world.” (p. 216) and “‘a culture of care’ which permeates all of society.” (p.231). Here caring emerges not as mere perfunctory benevolence but as a new paradigm, a loving of life and of all that exists and lives.

Another important affinity is the value assigned to social justice. The Earth Charter maintains that there is a strong relationship between ecology and “social and economic justice” that works to “protect the vulnerable, serve those who suffer…” (9. c). The encyclical reaches one of its highest points when it affirms that “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (p.49).

Both The Earth Charter and the encyclical go against the current thinking in emphasizing that “…every form of life has value regardless of its worth to human beings.” (1. a). Pope Francis reaffirms that “…all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” (p. 42). In the name of this understanding, the Pope strongly criticizes anthropocentrism (pps. 115-120), because it views humanity’s relationship with nature as using and devastating her, forgetting that human beings are a part of nature and that humanity’s mission is to be her guardian and protector.

The Earth Charter devised one of the best definitions of peace that has come from human reflection, “…the wholeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part.” (16. f). If peace, as Pope Paul VI was accustomed to say, is “the equilibrium of movement” then the encyclical says that it is “ecological equilibrium, establishing harmony within ourselves, with others, with nature and other living creatures, and with God.” (n.210). The result of that process is the perennial peace so desired by all peoples.

These two documents are beacons that guide us in these somber times, and that are capable of returning to us the much-needed hope that we still can save our Common Home and ourselves.

Leonardo Boff is an ecotheologian and author of the book Ecology: Cry of the Earth – Cry of the Poor, Orbis 2002.

Continue Reading

Climate Change: too late for 2 degrees? Presentation of IPCC scientist

Dr. Thomas Stocker, Co- Chair of IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)  Working Group 1 and candidate for the IPCC Presidency, visited Costa Rica to meet with Government officials and gave a public presentation on 14 August 2015 at the Costa Rican Lawyers Bar Association. This event was organized by the University for Peace, the Swiss Embassy in collaboration with the Costa Rican Lawyers Bar Association, the Earth Charter International Secretariat, and Costa Rica Limpia.

Dr. Stocker is a physicist and head of the department of Climate and Environmental Physics at the University of Bern, Switzerland. The focus of Dr. Stocker’s research is the development of models of climate change based on, among others, the analysis of ice cores from the polar regions. He significantly contributed to creating the “hockey stick graph” that shows a growing increase of global mean temperatures in recent times.

In his presentation, Dr. Stocker shared the latest findings on the global climate change situation, which are incorporated in the synthesis report that the IPCC publishes for policy makers. He mentioned that there was an effort to include simple and easy to understand statements about the current situation, showing that global warming is unequivocally occuring and that it is due mainly to burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

This first graph shows evidence from analyzing the ice cores of Antartica, where the levels of CO2 have fluctuated in the last 1,000 years but in very clear boundaries, except the last 100 years during which the increase has exceeded the previous limits.  

Taking a closer look, one can see that there has been a 65% increase of the levels of CO2 in the last 20 years, since the Rio 1992 Summit.

One of the most important contributions of the IPCC report is to establish a link between the increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere and its effects on the oceans, water cycle, increasing the likelihood of extreme natural events, global mean sea level, sea ice, decreasing ice sheets, and increased land temperature.

For Costa Rica, one of the biggest impacts will be on the water cycle, where projections show there will be a decrease in precipitation.

The Report presents two scenarios, one, where we continue with business as usual, no changes are made, therefore an estimated 4.5°C increase in the global temperature will be expected. The other scenario is that the increase in global temperature will be of 2°C if measures are taken.

For this scenario, the carbon budget is 790 bill t C. But by the end of 2014, we had already used 545 bill t C. In 2014 alone, we emitted 10.1 bill t C. So, there is a lot of pressure to reduce greenhouse gases now, or else in 20 years we may have reached a point where scientists are not sure whether the conditions for life on Earth would be feasible.

Continue Reading

Steven Rockefeller on Laudato Si' and the Earth Charter

Laudato Si and the Earth Charter, by Steven Rockefeller

Laudato Si, the new encyclical issued by Pope Francis, is to a large extent a carefully crafted Christian theological discourse in support of ethical and spiritual values that are also fundamental to the Earth Charter.  Pope Francis, therefore, chose to include a quotation from the Earth Charter in the encyclical, the first and last sentences of “The Way Forward”:

As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning….Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening
of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life.

Even though some Earth Charter supporters will question the position of Laudato Si on certain issues, Pope Francis’ strong endorsement of ideals and values that are central to the Earth Charter vision is something to celebrate. 

Both Laudato Si and the Earth Charter recognize that there is an ethical and spiritual dimension to the world’s social and environmental crises that must be addressed, if the human family is to find its way to a just and sustainable future.  In this regard, the Earth Charter stresses the urgent need for a relational spirituality that involves an ethic of respect and care for the community of life as a whole.  The major theme of Pope Francis’ encyclical is “care for our common home.”  He laments the increasing degradation of Earth’s ecosystems and the loss of natural beauty.  Like the Earth Charter, the encyclical rejects the widespread and problematical view in industrial-technological civilization that the natural world apart from humanity has utilitarian value only and is just a collection of resources that exist for human exploitation.  The imperative to care for creation in the Pope’s theological vision is inspired by a deep sense of the intrinsic value and interdependence of all beings—of plants, animals, forests, mountains, rivers and oceans. 

Pope Francis emphasizes throughout Laudato Si the unique and equal dignity of each and every human being, but the encyclical also makes clear that people are an interdependent part of nature.  With this interdependence and humanity’s special abilities and powers goes the responsibility to protect Earth’s biosphere.  Pope Francis understands the great risks for present and future generations that are created by climate change, and he endorses the view of the vast majority of scientists that climate change is being caused by the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities.  He gives special attention to the interconnections between ecological degradation and the suffering of the poor. 

Caring for our common home according to Pope Francis requires a radical cultural transformation.  It means ending poverty and advancing social and economic justice together with ecological restoration and protection.  He urges us to develop a new appreciation of the interrelationship between the world’s spiritual, ethical, social, economic and environmental challenges and to adopt holistic thinking and integrated planning.  He calls for a new global partnership of all nations and peoples infused with a spirit of cooperation and a readiness to share equitably the benefits of development.  To all of this the Earth Charter movement can only say Amen.  Laudato Si is a courageous and prophetic statement that will hopefully have a far-reaching impact as governments gather to make critical decisions regarding the human future in the months ahead. 

                                Steven Rockefeller
                                Member, Earth Charter Commission
                                June 25, 2015

Continue Reading

The Encyclical Laudato Si’ and the Earth Charter

Earth Charter International joins the millions of people and organizations that have congratulated Pope Francis and are hopeful about the release of the highly anticipated Laudato Si’ Encyclical Letter on Care for Our Common Home, which significantly echoes the ethical vision proposed in the Earth Charter.

This encyclical has generated great expectations and commentary around the world. World leaders are expressing their satisfaction with this document and the social doctrine of the Catholic Church, which will have great influence at the COP 21 climate change negotiations in Paris later this year, but also in the transition to a new paradigm of human coexistence with the environment. The document calls for the cultivation of responsible care for creation, with special attention to the poorest who suffer most from environmental damage.

For the global Earth Charter network this document is paramount, as Pope Francis makes an explicit reference to the Earth Charter reference in paragraph 207 of Chapter Six on Ecological Education and Spirituality:

P. 207. The Earth Charter asked us to leave behind a period of self-destruction and make a new start, but we have not as yet developed a universal awareness needed to achieve this. Here, I would echo that courageous challenge: “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life”.

Central messages

The encyclical highlights the ethics of care that is central to the Earth Charter, as well as emphasizes several important Earth Charter principles including universal responsibility, interdependence, the common good, economic and social justice, and the precautionary principle, among others. These are principles that should underlie a new global consciousness, as stated in the Sixth Chapter Ecological Education and Spirituality: “Many things have to change course, but it is we human beings above all who need to change. We lack an awareness of our common origin, of our mutual belonging, and of a future to be shared with everyone. This basic awareness would enable the development of new convictions, attitudes and forms of life. A great cultural, spiritual and educational challenge stands before us, and it will demand that we set out on the long path of renewal.” (P. 202)

According to the press release of Radio Vaticana, a central question in Laudato Si’ is, “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” The Pope addresses these in P.160, “This question does not have to do with the environment alone and in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal”. This leads us to ask ourselves about the meaning of existence and its values at the basis of social life: “What is the purpose of our life in this world? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? … Unless we struggle with these deeper issues, I do not believe that our concern for ecology will produce significant results.”

What are Encyclical Letters and what is their significance?

Encyclicals are public and formal letters of the Pope expressing his teachings on matters of great importance (ref. According to Mary Evelyn Tucker, co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University, the Encyclical letters are the most important documents of Catholic Church teaching. As such, Laudato Si’ will have great influence not only for the 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, but also for billions of Christians of other denominations. Encyclicals, when dealing with social, economic or political issues, are commonly addressed not exclusively to Catholics but to all men and women of the world, especially world leaders, regardless of religion. This is the first time that an Encyclical addresses the issues of environment and sustainability, and for this reason and the great popularity of Pope Francisco, the document has generated great expectations.

In various statements, several published in the New York Times, Pope Francis has made clear that he expects that this Encyclical will influence energy and economic policies, as well as encourage a global movement for sustainability, calling on people to put pressure on politicians for change.

At Earth Charter International, we will continue to analyze the background of this Encyclical, and how we can join forces to raise awareness of the ethical and moral dimensions of environmental challenges and sustainability issues humanity faces, and how we can find solutions to change the global paradigm towards a more just, sustainable, and peaceful society.

Find the full text of the Encyclical Letter Laudato Si’ here:

Links to other articles on the Encyclical:


Continue Reading

Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp comments on the Pope’s Encyclical

SoetendorpTaking in the extraordinary message of the Pope word by word I am reminded of two seemingly contradictory commentaries on how the Jewish People received the Ten Commandments. In the first, the wandering tribe of Jews expressed their willingness to receive and implement them out of free choice. In the other commentary, the Jewish people refused to accept them, as had all other peoples, because they were too demanding. G-d brought the Jewish people to Mount Sinai. He then lifted the mountain above their heads and declared, “When you choose to accept the commandments you will live. If you don’t accept them I will drop the mountain on you and this will be your grave.” Pope Francis points to the overwhelming scientific evidence, coupled with our own local and global experiences, that we, by our own wrong and egocentric choices, have lifted the mountain of waste and neglect above our own heads.

Yes, this can become our grave. But, thank G-d, we still have the choice of preserving our Mother Earth, our home with all its sublime beauty. All we have to do is to recognize our inner knowledge that, as the Earth Charter states in the first paragraph of the Preamble, “…we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.”

However, according to Pope Francis, destiny is not only a lofty ideal but a concrete plan of action. In it we should put the poor, the neglected into the center of our concern, the ones who would suffer most when their more affluent brothers and sisters persist in pursuing their isolated self-interests. Part of the solution suggested is that we must value being more over having more.

Everyone and everything is interconnected. This principle of interconnectedness forms the core of the Earth Charter. The Encyclical urges us to heed the wisdom and the warnings of indigenous peoples. I remember well the cri de coeur of our beloved mother of the Maoris, Pauline Tangiora, who stood up during the last session of the Earth Charter consultations in Paris in the year 2,000. She related that all our efforts would be useless if we did not understand the meaning of the tribe, the natural feeling of belonging and responsibility. When we do not relate in peace and compassionate harmony to nature we will not relate in love and responsibility towards each other as humans. And when we don’t relate in love and responsibility towards each other as humans we will not be able to relate with peace and compassionate harmony towards nature.

In a paradoxical way climate change appears to me as a blessing in disguise. The imminent threat to our common existence will bring us together by necessity, and cooperation is the key. My father Jacob, of blessed memory, wrote from his hiding place during the Second World War to a boy hidden in a chicken farm, “Be always aware G-d created the human to perfect creation in the way he wanted it to be, a world filled with cooperation, love, and righteousness.” To me the words of the pope reflect this meaning and point to the hopeful quiet revolution that is taking place. More and more leaders, from different spiritual traditions and including humanism, realize that we desperately need each other to fulfil our common goal.

Thus, Pope Francis is our common brother and teacher. His call to love our Mother Earth and all living beings resonates with all of us. It gives the urgent appeals from other spiritual traditions and interfaith manifestos of recent years higher visibility. Out of the margin into the center. He takes us on a hazardous road full of obstacles from negation and paralyzing fear towards the indomitable energy of hope.

Fifteen years ago we gave expression to our existential notion that we stood at a critical time in Earth history, a time when humanity must choose its future. These were not wasted years. On the contrary an ever stronger alliance of prophetic pioneering global citizens and the growing political will of governments brought about the never-expected success of the Millennium Development Goals. The record shows that humanity has averted moral bankruptcy. Yes, it is only a beginning, and we have to harness much more will and readiness to put ourselves in the position of the other. The Encyclical letter opens our eyes and our hearts to the overwhelming tasks ahead.

The Sustainable Development Goals, which the world community is asked to reach, are aimed at eradicating shameful poverty within fifteen years. This will only be possible when a responsible climate agreement is signed in Paris and implemented in the same fifteen years. The failure of negotiations in Johannesburg and Copenhagen is not the full story. Under the surface the soft powers gained momentum. The hundreds of thousands who marched in unison to achieve change in the streets of New York in September last year were the impressive avant garde of a growing massive protest. And the decision of the court in the Netherlands in favor of Urgenta, opens a new legal avenue to force governments to truly protect their citizens regardless of borders.

The Encyclical letter will have a crucial influence on the negotiations in Paris provided we all, and in particular spiritual traditions, support it fully and massively. It is my personal opinion, corroborated by many spiritual leaders in recent years, that an extra effort is required from each and every one of us. All our spiritual traditions require us to donate a part of our wealth to care for those less fortunate. In this spirit, an extra share of at least 0.1 percent to help alleviate abject poverty and sustain the earth would be in order.

It is moving for us who are part of the Earth Charter community that Pope Francis chose to quote the last paragraph of the Charter. We are each only a small instrument, each offering dedication and purpose beyond self-interest, so we repeat our collective hope and promise to the next generations. “Let ours be remembered a time remembered for the awakening of  a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace and the joyful celebration of life.”

And together with Pope Francis our mentor, I pray to G-d:

…Pour out upon us the power of your love
That we may protect life and beauty
Fill us with peace that we may live
As brothers and sisters harming no one.

Awraham Soetendorp

Continue Reading

Mary Evelyn Tucker: Climate Change Brings Moral Change

Pope Francis is clearly one of the most popular people on the planet at present. With his love for the poor, his willingness to embrace the outcaste, and his genuine humility he has captured the hearts of millions – Christian and non-Christian alike. He has inspired minds as well by his willingness to take on difficult issues such as ecology, economy, and equity, which he sees as inextricably linked. Indeed, these three interwoven issues are at the heart of his Papal encyclical released this week. An encyclical is a letter to the Bishops and all Church members. It is the highest level of teaching in the Catholic Church and this is the first encyclical on the environment in the history of the Church.

First, he addresses ecology. Pope Francis, following in the tradition of Francis of Assisi, celebrates the natural world as a sacred gift. He does this with his reference to St Francis’ “Canticle of Brother Sun, Sister Moon” in the title of the encyclical “Praised Be”. The kinship with all creation that St Francis intuited we now understand as complex ecological relationships that have evolved over billions of years. For Pope Francis these relationships have a natural order or “grammar” that need to be understood, respected, and valued.

Second, he speaks about the economy. Within this valuing of nature, the Pope encourages us to see the human economy as a subsystem of nature’s economy, namely the dynamic interaction of life in ecosystems. Without a healthy natural ecology there is not a sustainable economy and vice versa. They are inevitably interdependent. Moreover, we cannot ignore pollution or greenhouse gases as externalities that are not factored into full cost accounting. This is because, for Pope Francis, profit over people or at the expense of the planet is not genuine profit. This is what has happened with fossil fuels causing climate disruption.

Third, he highlights equity. From this perspective, working within the limits of nature’s economy can lead to thriving human societies. In contrast, exploiting the Earth and using oil and gas without limits has led to increased human inequities. Ecosystems are being undermined by climate change and the wealthy most often benefit. The Pope recognizes that such an impoverished economic system results in impoverished and unjust social systems. Thus, for him, the poor must be cared for as they are the most adversely affected by climate change.

In all of this the encyclical is not anti-modernity, but hopes to reconfigure the idea of progress. “Not blind opposition to progress but opposition to blind progress” as John Muir said. The Pope refers to this perspective when he speaks of a throwaway economy where humans are saturated in materialism. He sees the need for genuine progress where the health of both people and the planet can be fostered. Thus as the head of the Pontifical Academy of Justice and Peace, Cardinal Peter Turkson, has said, “We need to learn to work together in a framework that links economic prosperity with both social inclusion and protection of the natural world.” This linkage of ecology, economy, and equity is what is being called an “integral ecology” and is central to the encyclical.

Such an integral ecology clearly requires interdisciplinary cooperation as we find our path forward on a planet of more than 7 billion people. We need to understand more fully the challenges the world is facing in terms of economic development and environmental protection. These are not easy to reconcile. Indeed, the international community has been seeking answers since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992 set forth a framework for sustainable development. The world is ever more in need of an integral ecology that brings together a fresh understanding that people and the planet are part of one interdependent life community. Such an integral ecology affirms the cooperation of science and ethics, knowing that our problems will not be solved without both. It is clear that climate change is requiring moral change.

The Papal encyclical, then, represents a new period of potential cooperation. In the Yale Forum on Religion and Ecology we have been working for two decades with hundreds of scholars to identify the cultural and religious grounds in the world’s religions for a more diverse environmental ethics to complement environmental sciences. Between 1995-2004 we organized ten conferences at Harvard and published ten volumes to examine how the world’s religions can contribute their varied ethical perspectives for a sustainable future. At Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies we have been broadening this dialogue and building on the work of environmentalists, policy makers, and economists. The Papal encyclical will be a fresh inspiration for these and numerous other efforts that are bringing together ecology and ethics for the flourishing of the Earth community. To this end we look forward to working together with the Center for Process Studies which, in addition to numerous publications, has convened conferences in both the US and China to advance the goals of ecological civilization.

Continue Reading