Nature is God’s most basic form of diversity, and Pope Francis, in his encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, calls for the entire global community to engage in dialogue about the care of our Common Home. He details an “integrated ecology” between nature and humanity and establishes our unique place as citizens of the world, highlighting our symbiotic relationship with our surroundings. Pope Francis writes that “the earth cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the good with which God has endowed her.” The harm we do to our planet affects us intimately, for, as humans are created in God’s image, we are not outside of the natural world, but rather deeply embedded within it.
Despite our role within creation, we often find ourselves increasingly disconnected from nature. As naturalist Richard Louv explains, “Too often we think of nature as something wholly separate from us, sequestered in national parks, forests, and seaside beaches that require organized trips. But nature is all around us, in backyards, schoolyards, gardens, and empty lots, relentlessly thrusting skyward through sidewalk cracks.” We have been entrusted with stewarding and sustaining our Common Home for all of our neighbors: people from every land, the birds of the air, the plants of the earth, and the fish of the sea.
Forgetting our role within nature creates broad ripples across our Common Home, and Pope Francis identifies five areas in need of immediate attention:

List of 5 items.

  • Pollution & Climate Change

    Pope Francis warns of the damage caused by pollution, which impacts our air, water, and soil; is generated by multiple sources, including industry, agriculture, and transportation; most significantly harms the poor; and is linked to our disposable, “throwaway culture.” Further, while Pope Francis declares the climate as a “common good,” he recognizes human activity as the primary cause of recent global climate change; warns of the dangers of climate change, which he calls “one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day;” notes that deforestation exacerbates the problem of greenhouse gases; and urges changes in policy that promote “clean and renewable energy.”
  • Issues of Water

    As Pope Francis notes, of the natural resources that humans, especially those in the developed world, consume at an unsustainable rate, clean water is a vital one that is often overlooked, but is dangerously diminishing. Water supplies that are overused; contaminated by waterborne illnesses; or polluted by mining, agriculture, or industry can cause devastation to humanity, especially the poor. People in Africa are especially hard hit as poverty and drought compound the problem. The Pope states that “our world has a grave social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water.” Further, he warns against the privatization of water, stating that “safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right.”
  • Loss of Biodiversity

    According to Pope Francis, another critical environmental concern worthy of investment, research and advocacy is the loss of biodiversity. The extinction of species, which is occurring at an alarming rate, is caused primarily by “human activity,” such as deforestation, pollution, human expansion into the natural world, the destruction of natural habitats and uncontrolled fishing. The true cost of the loss of biodiversity is “incalculable.” We lose food resources, potential cures to diseases, and vital resources for “regulating environmental problems,” such the species found in “those richly diverse lungs of our planet...the Amazon and the Congo basins, ...the great aquifers and glaciers,” and the “coral reefs...that shelter approximately a million species, including fish, crabs, molluscs, sponges and algae.” Further, Pope Francis argues that all creatures, large and small, have great worth to an ecosystem: “It may well disturb us to learn of the extinction of mammals or birds, since they are more visible. But the good functioning of ecosystems also requires fungi, algae, worms, insects, reptiles and an innumerable variety of microorganisms. Some less numerous species, although generally unseen, nonetheless play a critical role in maintaining the equilibrium of a particular place.” While recognizing the importance of all species is key, the Pope cautions that “It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.” Every species has the right to “give glory to God by their very existence.”
  • Decline in the Quality of Human Life and the Breakdown of Society

    Pope Francis asserts that “human beings too are creatures of this world” and have a right to experience and enjoy nature. Particularly concerning to the Pope is the quality of life for those who dwell in cities, given that “many cities . . . have become unhealthy to live in, not only because of pollution caused by toxic emissions, but also as a result of urban chaos, poor transportation, and visual pollution and noise. Many cities are huge, inefficient structures, excessively wasteful of energy and water.” Pope Francis also notes that what green space is available in urban spaces is often privatized, and access is restricted.

    Further, concerned with the health of society, the Pope cautions that “when media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously.” Of particular concern is the impact technology has on our relationships to one another and our natural world. The Pope does recognize “the exciting possibilities” and power for social good offered by technological advances; however, he contends that it is important to balance technology with face-to-face human interaction and a grounding in nature.
  • Global Inequality

    Pope Francis draws a connection between the deterioration of human and natural environments, and he asserts that both disproportionately hurt the poor. The depletion of fishing reserves, drought, water pollution and rising sea levels lead to increased suffering for those with no choice but to stay, and in order to fix environmental problems, we must also fix “human and social degradation.”
    Imbalances in population density are a concern, but he identifies the primary problem as “extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some.” Inequity affects not only individuals, but entire countries, and an “ecological debt” exists between the global north and south. Poor countries, often rich with natural resources, fuel the development of richer nations. For this reason, Pope Francis asserts that nations have “differentiated responsibilities” when it comes to climate change. He warns that “we need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family. There are no frontiers or barriers, political or social, behind which we can hide, still less is there room for the globalization of indifference.”

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  • Photo of Darci Sanders

    Ms. Darci Sanders 

    Nature-Based Learning Coordinator
    (440) 473-8000 x6136
An independent, Catholic, coed, day and boarding school in the Holy Cross tradition. Toddler-Grade 12.