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Francis puts environment above short-term politics

  • 19 June 2015

Sometime in April 1226, lying acutely ill in the grounds of St Clare’s San Damiano convent, St Francis of Assisi wrote the Cantico di fratre sole, the Canticle of Brother Sun.

Nowadays we sing it as ‘All Creatures of Our God and King’. It is a cosmic hymn of praise to God in which the whole natural world joins. Pope Francis encyclical, Laudatio si (‘Praise Be’), quotes it at length (87).

Francis’ biographer, Thomas of Celano, says that all God’s creatures ‘filled Francis with wondrous and unspeakable joy as he beheld the sun, or raised his eyes to the moon, or gazed on the stars, and the firmament...Even towards little worms he glowed with exceeding love... he used to pick them up...and put them in a safe place, that they might not be crushed.’

Conscious of his own approaching death, the saint sings: ‘Praise to thee, O Lord, for our sister mortal death, from whom no one may escape.’ Francis, ‘that active and compelling figure’ (10) is omnipresent in Laudatio si.

The encyclical is an extraordinary document addressed to ‘every living person on this planet’ about ‘care for our common home’ (3) and it is essentially a reflection on life in the contemporary world. Francis places himself in a papal tradition of concern for the environment from Paul VI in 1971 to Benedict XVI. He also highlights the work of Orthodox Patriarch Bartholomew who says ‘to commit a crime against the natural world is a sin against ourselves and...against God’; the attached footnote mentions John Chryssavgis, an Australian-born Orthodox priest, who is theological/environmental adviser to Bartholomew.

Laudatio si gives no comfort to global warming deniers. Based on the scientific consensus he says that ‘most global warming...is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases...released mainly as a result of human activity’ (23). This results from ‘current models of production and consumption’ (26) and the worst impact will ‘be felt by developing countries in coming decades’ (25) through destruction of ecosystems, shortage of fresh water (29) and sea level rise. There is no comfort either for technologies ‘based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal’, which need ‘to be progressively replaced without delay’ (165)

He is particularly critical of the loss of biodiversity: ‘The great majority [of plants and animals] become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by