THE wealthy and powerful are mostly concerned with masking the
destruction of the planet, and regard its impact on the poor as
"collateral damage", Pope Francis has said, in an encyclical that
calls for a cultural revolution to protect the Earth.
In the UK, the Pope's message was launched on Thursday morning,
by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent
Nichols, on the rooftop of an RC primary school in Poplar, east
London. Speaking against the dramatic backdrop of Canary Wharf's
tallest skyscrapers, Cardinal Nichols did not seem surprised to be
asked whether this oasis of wealth was the "real enemy" of the
It contained, he admitted, enough to "disquiet some people
Encyclical Laudato si [God be praised]: On the Care of Our
Common Home was welcomed by environmental activists as a
"welcome rebuke to climate-change deniers", and a condemnation of
the "iniquitous" repercussions of Western consumption.
The Cardinal described it as "a critique of economic and
political programmes that undermine the dignity of the person".
At 179 pages long, the document takes in everything from city
planning to GM foods and the digital media. Although the Pope
describes it as "joyful", it rivals the Old Testament prophets in
its stern, apocalyptic words of warning.
"Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or
disdain," the Pope writes. "We may well be leaving to coming
generations debris, desolation and filth."
In its opening pages, he warns that the Earth "cries out to us
because of the harm we have inflicted on her . . . We have come to
see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at
Those who hold worldly power come under heavy fire, and the
document returns constantly to the theme of inequality.
"Many of those who possess more resources and economic or
political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the
problems or concealing their symptoms, simply making efforts to
reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change," the Pope
Although he acknowledges that business is a "noble vocation,
directed to producing wealth and improving our world", and asserts
that he is not anti-modernity ("Nobody is suggesting a return to
the Stone Age"), he is scathing about the bail-out of the banks and
"short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and
The most one can expect of this powerful group, he writes, is
"superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy, and
perfunctory expressions of concern for the environment, whereas any
genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is
viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to
The problems of the poor are treated as "collateral damage", he
writes. "They frequently remain at the bottom of the pile."
Singled out for scrutiny is the "growing tendency" to privatise
water, a "basic and universal human right".
In resource-rich developing countries, "access to ownership of
goods and resources for meeting vital needs is inhibited by a
system of commercial relations and ownership which is structurally
Although the document states that the Church "does not presume
to settle scientific questions", the Pope refers to a "very solid
scientific consensus" about global warming, and to studies
suggesting that it is mostly caused by human activity.
Fossil fuels must be "progressively replaced without delay".
He gives short shrift to those who would prescribe population
control: "To blame population growth instead of extreme and
selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing
to face the issues."
While he pays tribute to the work of the ecological movement,
and acknowledges that some progress has been made, the Pope is
frank about the failure of global summits to deliver change. This
is owing, he writes, not only to "powerful opposition" but to
attitudes that range from "nonchalant resignation" to "blind
confidence in technical solutions".
He is unstinting in his critique of modern ills, including a
prevalent "throwaway culture" and "rampant individualism". He makes
several pleas for a new "sobriety", which could be "healthy",
"liberating", and "happy".
His call for a "bold cultural revolution" encompasses actions
large and small, from the saying of Grace before and after eating,
to the need for a legal framework that can take on the power
structures he criticises.
Greenpeace's international executive director, Kumi Naidoo,
called the encyclical "a welcome rebuke to climate-change deniers
and the interests that seek to thwart progress . . The Pope's
words should jolt heads of government out of their complacency, and
encourage them to bring in tough laws in their own countries to
protect the climate, and to agree a strong climate protocol in
Paris at the end of this year."
The Church of England's lead bishop on the environment, the
Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, described it as a
"major contribution to tackling climate change", which "highlights
the iniquitous way in which the enormous consumption of some
wealthy nations has repercussions in the poorest places on the
planet." There was, he said, "significant ecumenical and interfaith
convergence on climate change".
The venue chosen for the UK launch was Our Lady and St Joseph's
Catholic Primary School, which opened in September and has been
constructed from timber and brick and uses solar energy. It is one
of the most deprived parts of the country, a ten-minute walk from
Canary Wharf and the country's financial epicentre.
The school had been chosen, Cardinal Nichols said, because of
the Pope's concern for "what sort of world we want to leave to
those who come after us". Among the pupils were some "from many of
the countries that suffer real poverty today".