“The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change.”
Pope Francis, 2015
“I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” is one of the beginning lines of the Pope’s encyclical, released by the Vatican yesterday at noon. Traditionally the encyclical is a letter from the Pope to the Bishops about Catholicism, but it has evolved into an open letter to society discussing the Pope’s insights and concerns on a particular matter. Pope John XXII (1963) was the first, to my knowledge, to address society in general in his efforts to reform the Catholic Church.
Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for our Common Home” is the first to discuss the concern for the environment as a core issue and to call for urgent action. In his reflections he not only reviews the work that his predecessors have made in their efforts to raise awareness for care of the environment, but also draws on scientific research to support his argument. As a result, the Pope’s encyclical is not only a spiritual and moral call for action, but also a scientific one, analyzing both the symptoms and root causes of the environmental crisis.
The environmental literature is characterized by several landmark events that have shifted the course of environmental thought and action. In 1963, Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” highlighted the thinning effect of the pesticide DDT on eggshells, which resulted in a spring season without birdsong, as the eggshells were too weak to support the weight required for incubation. “Limits to Growth,” a 1972 novel by Donella Meadows and colleagues, challenged the Cornucopian view of unlimited earth resources and assimilation capacity. “Our Common Future,” in 1987 also known as the Brundtland Report, coined the concept of sustainable development and called for joint efforts between the Global South and North.
I believe Pope Francis’ encyclical will be held in the same regard as these previous landmark works as literature able to transcend time, marking a before and an after. Pope Francis’ “On Care for our Common Home” has the ability to transform the thought process of the masses, especially Christians, and to incite a bottom up revolution of our current consumer and disposable practices. This encyclical is destined to have a significant impact, not only due to its appeal to both spiritual and scientific minds, its integrative vision, and Pope Francis’ widespread popularity, but also because the Church has a strong structure, which will reproduce and amplify his powerful message.
* The author is a researcher at INESAD and Ph.D. candidate in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy at the State University of New York at the college of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF), email@example.com – firstname.lastname@example.org.