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