Religion and Spirituality Archives - Earth Charter

Faith leaders, the Earth Charter and sustainable leadership

kelly-ngetiThis article was written by Kelly Ngeti, a member of the Earth Charter Young Leaders Programme. Kelly Ngeti, from Mombasa, Kenya, is passionate about working with and for the community, particularly in the areas of the environment, peace and stability. He is a core member, volunteer, and the Regional Coordinator at Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa, a pan African NGO that brings catholic youth to care for and protect the environment. Kelly is also an organizer with the Miritini Peace Initiative which was established amid the 2007-2008 post-election violence in order to promote peace and sustainable leadership. He is a former Mombasa diocesan youth chairperson, and an actor and writer with Big Dreams Productions. Kelly has diplomas in Sales and Marketing, Journalism, and Community Development and is pursuing a degree in Development Studies.

Editor: Josephine Schrott, Earth Charter Young Leader

On August 9th – 12th 2016, I was part of the team that was selected to travel to Same, Tanzania for a forum with faith leaders dubbed FLEAT, meaning Faith Leaders Environment Advocacy Training. The program is run by SAFCEI, the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute, and organized by Hope for Tanzania, an NGO that advocates for climate justice in Tanzania. Hope for Tanzania Director Rev. Elisa Murutu was one of the FLEAT participants.


A series of forums has been scheduled throughout this year under the FLEAT program, with the agenda of engaging with faith leaders through advocacy and through their institutions to help promote eco-justice and sustainable development.

FLEAT is of the notion that even with the efforts made by lay people in advocating for climate justice and protection and conservation of our environment for the common good, the pace of impact is slow. Faith leaders can speed up the flow of information since many people believe instantly in what their spiritual leaders say. The objective is to advocate for faith leaders to take up a more leading role in advancing the environmental sustainability agenda forward.

I was able to present to this audience of faith leaders from different religious backgrounds and of different positions in their respective institutions. In the forum, there were a total of 70 participants with representatives from the Presbyterian Church of East Africa; pastors, ministers and the bishop of the Lutheran Church and the Pentecostal Church; priests and bishops of the Same, Tanzania diocese of the Catholic Church; representatives from the Islam religion and lay people.

The Earth Charter and Sustainable leadership were my two topics of engagement. With regards to the Earth Charter, I shared the history and its objectives then perused through the principles. It was amazing and encouraging how well the participants connected with the principles of the Earth Charter, each acknowledging their importance in protecting our environment and our earth. For further reading and endorsements, I left a link of the Earth Charter and urged participants to read it through, endorse it and then ask others in their respective institutions to do the same. I further urged them to make the Earth Charter their tool and point of reference in advocating for sustainable development, eco-justice and lobbying.

My second session focused on sustainable leadership. I specifically chose this topic as a point of reference to showcase how good leadership impacts action. I knew it would be exciting and very interesting to hear from the faith leaders their perspectives on good leadership, and what they have been practicing. Because they are leaders themselves with huge number of followers from their institutions, I had a feeling it was going to be an interactive session.


I shared on the traditional versus modern models of leadership which I had learnt about in the “Leadership, Ethics and Sustainability” course I took with the Earth Charter. True to my instincts, the session turned out to be very interesting and provoked leaders to discuss more on the leadership of Tanzania and their own leadership ways. It was so encouraging how the modern model of leadership was picked up as a realistic resolution to leadership crises in all institutions. It ended with the majority of participants asking for the presentation so that they can disseminate it to their respective members.

My organization, the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (, continues to host and lead advocacy meetings and will carry this initiative forward in Kenya and the larger region.



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New book “Thomas Berry in Italy: Reflections on Spirituality & Sustainability” addresses the Earth Charter

book photo


ECI is pleased to announce the release of a new book titled ¨Thomas Berry in Italy: Reflections on Spirituality and Sustainability” edited by Elisabeth M. Ferrero and published by Pacem in Terris Press.

This book, organized in 33 chapters by different authors, offers a rich and diverse collection of tributes to the memory of Thomas Berry. Contributors to this book were participants in the Assisi conferences on “Spirituality and Sustainability” or participants in the Study Abroad for Earth programmes held from 1991 to 2000 in Assisi, Italy.

The featured speaker and resource person for these conferences and programmes was the late Thomas Berry. A scholar in world religions, protégé of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, and a great contemporary ecological thinker, Thomas Berry became the leading intellectual figure, in cooperation with scientist Brian Swimme, for an important school of thought known as the “New Cosmology.”

Part IV of the book offers Chapters that have a special focus on the Earth Charter:

– ¨The Earth Charter: An Ethical Framework of Spirituality and Sustainability¨ by Richard Clugston;
– ¨The Earth Charter as a New Global Ethic¨ by Elisabeth M. Ferrero & Joe Holland;
¨Tribal Link and the Sacred Map¨ by Pamela Kraft, and
¨A Unique Community of Life” – The Earth Charter in Assisi. A German View in a Global Context¨ by Frank Meyberg.

Here are some excerpts of the book in reference to the Earth Charter:

¨The Earth Charter, as a document and the focus of a social movement, is making a catalytic contribution accelerating our transition to sustainable ways of living…¨ (The Earth Charter: An Ethical Framework of Spirituality and Sustainability¨ by Richard Clugston).

¨The Earth Charter is an important document proposing a new way of thinking, living, and being as a paradigm based on a sustainable ecological vision of global ethics for all beings, institutions, governments and nations on Earth¨ (¨The Earth Charter as a New Global Ethic¨ by Elisabeth M. Ferrero & Joe Holland).

¨The Charter is seen by many as a vision of hope and a call to action; within its focus areas it promotes special attention to the rights of indigenous peoples…¨ (¨Tribal Link and the Sacred Map¨ by Pamela Kraft).

¨Berry´s thoughts are at the foundation of the Earth Charter process, both in the preamble and other parts of this visionary text…¨ (“A Unique Community of Life” – The Earth Charter in Assisi. A German View in a Global Context by Frank Meyberg).

Click here for more information or to purchase this publication.

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Theologian Leonardo Boff speaks at the Earth Charter Center

On Friday, February 12th, Brazilian theologian and Earth Charter Commissioner Leonardo Boff gave a speech at the Earth Charter Center for Education for Sustainable Development in Costa Rica, Mr. Boff gave an inspiring and insight talk in Spanish about the moral aspects of sustainability, the Pope’s Encyclical, and the Earth Charter.

“Something interesting that can be found in the encyclical and in the Earth Charter is the emphasis on not only using instrumental reason, which is analytical, but also kind leonardo-boff-charla-carta-de-la-tierra-sembra-arbolreason… the pain of the earth has to be considered our pain, the pain of people must be our pain …. we need to articulate the cry of the earth with the cry of the poor … the pain of the people must be our pain …. Modern culture is cynical and merciless, does not know how to cry (feel) because it has no compassion. Compassion means putting oneself in the place of others, to feel with the other, from the other …. compassion has two dimensions, the first is respecting each other and not to invading the space of others, and the second is picking up those who have fallen and helping them…”

The talk was attended by approximately 100 people with several more listening in online. You can watch the speech (in Spanish only) belowplaca-conmemorando-visita-de-leonardo-boff-carta-de-la-tierra.

The event was followed by a tree planting ceremony to commemorate the occasion and to launch the 2016 ECI Communication slogan “Sowing a Culture of Peace”. The tree planted was a Roble Sabana or Savannah Oak, a neotropical tree found from Mexico to Ecuador.

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Earth Charter Affiliate in the Netherlands publishes book in English

Brigitte van Baren, Earth Charter Affiliate with InnerSense of the Netherlands, and Johannes Witteveen, former Dutch Finance Minister and former Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, have collaborated on a book called “Heart for the Earth, Heart for Yourself”. Professor Witteveen is a scholar of Sufism and is still engaged in the Sufi movement. Brigitte van Baren is a Zen teacher, coach, and author. The book was launched in Dutch in September and the electronic English version is available after November 23rd, in advance of the Paris COP21 Climate Conference.

Find more information in the attached press release.
Press release Heart for the earth

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EC+15 event at the Parliament of the World’s Religions

On Sunday October 18th, during the Parliament of the World´s Religions held in Salt Lake City in Utah, USA, a seminar entitled “The Earth Charter and the New UN Development Agenda” took place with the participation of three speakers including Mary Evelyn Tucker (co-director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University), Kusumita Pederson (professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College New York), and Rick Clugston (ECI Advisor and Director at the Center for Earth Ethics).

Here is a summary of the key points they brought to this session.

-Mary Evelyn Tucker  Watch the video here.

Ms. Tucker briefly explained the process that took place to draft the Earth Charter. She emphasized that the Charter is a civil society document and the fact that the initial idea emerged during the preparatory process to the Earth Summit in 1992.

The contents of Earth Charter are ethical principles that join practical and policy issues. The Charter shows the relationship between ecology, justice, and peace. It provides a new perspective on the connection between people and the planet. The language of the Charter is inclusive and inspiring. The Earth Charter International Secretariat office was set up at the University for Peace in Costa Rica for guiding this movement. She said “the earth is alive” and recalled that at the 1997 Rio Conference, when the first draft was discussed, the indigenous people participating at that occasion were weeping because their world view was included in an international document for the first time.

Ms. Tucker suggested that, “The Earth Charter represents and reflects a language of a movement from a declaration of independence to a declaration of interdependence”. The world needs a new shift, which is not just for individuals, but for the whole earth community, all humans, animals, and all life in the ecosystem. It is a new geological era and we are all in this great transition. People’s energy force and actions could make a change and help the earth flourish.

Ms. Tucker stated that people are having a new “migration”, like birds and turtles finding their home. With the Earth Charter, we need to find the way home, back into the earth community.

– Kusumita Pederson Watch video here.

Dr. Kusumita Pedersen is Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis College in New York. She presented the Earth Charter in the larger context of global ethics. Like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which emphasizes human dignity, the Earth Charter also did the broad research necessary to find universally applicable ethics.

Dr. Pederson explained that people have different worldviews: the way one sees things and what one believes is real. For instance, some people may believe that certain groups of people or beings are less valuable than other groups.

The Earth Charter is distinctive because it honors all living communities, including different groups of human beings and different forms of life. This is a paradigm shift. Although it did not mention God, the Earth Charter does use the language of spirituality. For example, the Preamble states, “The protection of Earth’s vitality, diversity, and beauty is a sacred trust.”

Environmental problems have the potential to affect people’s worldviews and cause wars and conflicts. Killings and genocide often happen when there is a resource or food scarcity crisis (such as the droughts in the Middle East and ecological factors in the Rwandan genocide), and when some people are told that other people are less important than they are as a result. The Earth Charter was the first international document that used the word love. It represents the opposite worldview from genocide and all kinds of discrimination. The central ideas of the Earth Charter are justice, peace, and sustainability.

Dr. Pederson also echoed Ms. Tucker’s thought that civil society strategy is very deliberately adopted in the Earth Charter and the Charter is accepted by the UNESCO.

– Rick Clugston  Watch video here.

Rick Clugston gave a brief description of the evolution and negotiation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and used the Earth Charter as an assessment framework to look at the SDGs. Launched in 2000, the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) focused on helping people address disadvantages and poverty, improving their living conditions, education, health, and income within 15 years.

The MDGs achieved some successful results, however, at the Rio +20 Conference in 2012, people knew that the MDGs were not sufficient to address many challenges and that global society needed to create new development goals. The central question is: how can we create a world that allows development for all and the flourishing of the ecological system? Over 2013 and 2014, governments and civil society intensely negotiated on the SDGs. The SDGs affirmed that we need a fundamental shift from the present economic paradigm to a new sustainable worldview to protect the whole Earth community.

Mr. Clugston quoted Klaus Bosselmann, a renowned environmental law scholar who has been promoting the Earth Charter for many years:

“The Earth Charter provides a strong definition of sustainable development, recognizing the three standard pillars: social, environmental and economic, but organizing them in a particular way. ‘Environment’ is not merely the resource base for human consumption, not just one of the three factors to be considered. Rather, it incorporates the greater community of life including human beings and the life-support systems on which we all depend. This shift to a broader life-centered perspective marks one key difference between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ sustainability. Furthermore, the social dimension (articulated in the Earth Charter in terms of principles for economic and social justice, democracy, non-violence and peace) represents a set of pre-requisites and goals for sustainable development rather than negotiable or merely optional considerations.”

The Earth itself and the whole community of life have inherited values. Mr. Clugston concluded that we are shifting from an inequitable fossil fuel based world to a better one that is more in line with the vision of the Earth Charter.

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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.

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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

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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:


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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

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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.

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