These New Quotes From Pope Francis Could Change The Debate On Climate Change


What is believed to be an Italian-language draft of the pope’s encyclical on the environment leaked yesterday, sending climate and religion journalists scrambling to translate sections of what looks to be the most comprehensive statement on the environment ever produced by the Catholic Church.

The Vatican has condemned the leak, and still plans to release the finalized version on Thursday. But in the meantime, ThinkProgress has trolled the internet and consulted with two Italian speakers (who asked not to be named) to muster a few translations of some of the most interesting sections.

Here are a few (we’ve included the section numbers, so you can look them up on your own if you want):

“Science and religion … can enter into an intense and productive dialogue with each other”

The mere fact that Pope Francis devoted resources to an encyclical on climate change implies that the Catholic Church is willing to accept science. But the encyclical itself takes that idea a bit further. According to our translator’s take, Francis’ draft remarks say science and religion can work together and even complement one another. And that idea isn’t just for Catholics — the draft encyclical implies that all people of faith can have a relationship with science, and that nonreligious people can learn from faith as well.

“I am aware that some people strongly refute the idea of a Creator on political or intellectual grounds, or consider it irrelevant,” the draft’s passage 62 reads. “They even consider irrational the richness that religions can offer for a complete ecology and for the full development of humankind. Sometimes they suppose religions constitute a subculture that must simply be tolerated. However, science and religion, which offer different approaches to reality, can enter into an intense and productive dialogue with each other.”

“There is a very consistent scientific consensus”

There is a surprising amount of scientific language in the leaked draft encyclical. If the New York Times translation of passages 23 and 24 is accurate, Francis’ remarks will not only say climate change is real and caused by humans, but will explain how that happens according to the vast majority of scientists.

“There is a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are in the presence of a disturbing heating of the climate system,” the Times’ translation reads. On the cause of this heating, the passage goes on:

It is true that there are other factors (such as volcanism, the changes in the orbit and the axis of the Earth, the solar cycle), but numerous scientific studies indicate that most of the global warming in recent decades it is due to the large concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxide and others) mainly emitted due to human activity. Their concentration in the atmosphere prevents the heat of the solar rays reflected from the Earth to be dispersed in space. This is especially enhanced by the model of development based on the intensive use of fossil fuels, which is at the center of the global energy system. It is also affected by the increase of the practice of changing land use, mainly by deforestation for agricultural purposes.

“Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries”

The draft remarks prepared for Pope Francis seem to have a firm understanding of how bad things have gotten for the environment by way of human-caused climate change. Indeed, average carbon dioxide levels in the global atmosphere are higher than they’ve ever been in recorded history, bearing similarity to the carbon levels of 15 million years ago. Those changes have been shown to pose severe threats to the world’s oceans, its agriculture, and its poorest populations.

“Never have we mistreated and offended our common home as we have in the last two centuries,” a translated version of the encyclical’s passage 53 reads.

In passage 61, the draft notes “a great deterioration in our communal home. … There are areas already particularly at risk and, catastrophic predictions aside, it is certain that the world’s current system is unsustainable from several points of view, since we have stopped thinking about the results of human actions: ‘Unfortunately, if we scan the regions of our planet, we immediately see that humanity has disappointed God’s expectations.”

Climate change is “caused by the enormous consumption of some wealthy nations”

The leaked encyclical draft does not tiptoe around who it asserts it responsible for environmental degradation. It specifically calls out “rich countries” not only for polluting the environment, but doing it in ways that can impact the poor elsewhere.

“The warming caused by the enormous consumption of some wealthy nations has repercussions in the poorest places on the planet, especially in Africa, where the increase in temperature together with drought has disastrous effects on crop yields,” a translated version of passage 51 reads.

“It is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption”

Stemming excessive consumption by wealthy nations seemed to be a key theme of the draft encyclical. In passage 50, it cautioned against blaming “population growth” for the environmental problems of the world, instead calling out “extreme and selective consumerism … in which a minority believes it has the right to consume at a rate that would be impossible on a general scale.”

“We know that it is impossible to sustain the current level of consumption in the more developed countries and the wealthiest parts of society, where the habit of waste and of throwing things away is reaching unprecedented levels,” passage 27 reads. “Already we have exceeded certain limits of exploiting the planet, without solving the problem of poverty.

“The environment is a common patrimony of all humanity”

Building on the idea that people of faith and people of science can compliment one another, Pope Francis is expected to say that Catholics aren’t the only ones responsible for maintaining the environment — and that, whether we’re of faith or not, degrading it will weigh on our consciences.

“The environment is a common patrimony of all humanity and is everyone’s responsibility,” a translated version of passage 95 reads. “Whoever possesses a part of it should merely administer it for the common good. If we do not do this, our conscience is burdened with the weight of denying the existence of others.”

“A truly ecological social approach should integrate justice in discussions about the environment”

It’s not uncommon for environmental groups in the U.S. to break from their strictly environmental causes to support other social justice movements. According to the draft encyclical, Pope Francis will advocate taking a similar approach.

“[T]oday we cannot fail to recognize that a truly ecological social approach should integrate justice in discussions about the environment by listening to the cry of the earth just as much as the cry of the poor,” a translated version of passage 49 reads.

Of course, Francis is widely expected to talk about climate change as a moral issue surrounding poverty, as increased drought, flooding, and sea level rise caused by climate change is expected to hit developing countries much harder than wealthy nations. But according to the New York Times’ translation of passage 25, the draft encyclical also notes that immigration issues should be taken into consideration as the impacts of environmental degradation force populations to abandon their homelands — something that is already happening around the world.

“The increase of migrants fleeing the misery compounded by environmental degradation, who are not recognized as refugees in international conventions and who carry the burden of their lives abandoned without any protection of the law is tragic,” it says.

“The Church … must listen and promote honest debate among scientists”

In this translated passage, Pope Francis is expected to explain the need for the Vatican to listen to scientists and not have the “final word” on most scientific matters.

Although Catholicism has clashed with science at times, that idea is actually in line with the Church’s surprisingly long history of endorsing scientific study: the Big Bang Theory was developed by a Georges Lemaître, a Catholic priest, the Church has been open to evolution since 1950, and the Vatican even employs its own astronomer.

“On many practical matters, the Church is not justified in offering the final word and should realize that it must listen and promote honest debate among scientists, respecting differences of opinion,” passage 61 reads.

“It is urgent to develop policy”

Perhaps the most noteworthy part of the draft encyclical is that it acknowledges the inherently political aspects of climate change, and advocates for strong political action. Without comprehensive international policies, the document says, climate change will continue to threaten the poorest and most vulnerable populations on the planet.

In passage 26, Pope Francis is expected to say that policies should actually fix the symptoms of climate change, and not just focus on adaptation to its impacts. That should be done by cutting the use of fossil fuels and developing renewable energy, the document says.

“Many of those who possess more resources or economic or political power focus mainly on masking problems or hiding symptoms, seeking only to reduce some of the negative impacts of climate change,” a translated version reads. “But many signs indicate that these effects could worsen if we continue with current models of production and consumption. Therefore it is urgent to develop policy so that in the coming years, we drastically reduce carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gas emissions, by, for example, replacing fossil fuels and developing renewable energy sources.”

“Heal our life, so we protect the world”

The draft encyclical also includes a “Prayer for our Land.” Roughly translated, this one is pretty darn nice.

UPDATE JUN 18, 2015 8:48 AM

The final version of Pope Francis' encyclical on the environment was released Thursday morning. According to the New York Times, it "almost exactly matched" the leaked version.

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