The revolutionary narrative of Laudato si’
Pope Francis’ encyclical letter Laudato si’: on care for our common home” addresses for the first time in Christian history the theme of the protection of the environment in face of the risks of climate change and of the depletion of resources. In doing so, it embraces the environmental with the social, economic and cultural dimensions of this crisis, looking in particular at the problems of poverty and social injustice, and also adding a spiritual dimension, the “mystical move” – as it says - which motivates our individual and communal action.
This encyclical letter is the most innovative among the many proposals put forward by world leaders in recent years on the road to a binding decision on climate change at COP21 and on the road to the definition by the United Nations of the Post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.
A universal message
Pope Francis has raised the level of the debate, forcing secular leaders to do the same. The encyclical struck a cord across the denominations, and policy-makers and civil society welcomed it.
The Pope’s message, coming from the highest authority of a religion counting more than one billion followers, has the potential of generating a tremendous impact worldwide. His message is addressed to all people on earth, and also thanks to Pope Francis’ moral standing and communication capacities is heard by many more people, believers of all religions and non.
Pope Francis showed leadership, and was able to draw a new and very powerful narrative. He affirmed the beauty of the challenge in front of us, which gives humanity a unique occasion of showing what it is capable of doing. Because humankind has developed outstanding capabilities in science and technology – and as well in societal and institutional settings – , it can also prove itself capable of using its huge capacities for doing the good and heal the planet, acting as a "cooperator of God in the work of creation".
Enthusiasm and encouragement
This approach reverses the current narratives, such as the catastrophist one of several environmentalist movements, which may lead to surrender. It certainly presents a huge economic and ecological challenge – says the Pope, but it is good that mankind can be challenged at such a high level that it has to show its best. This reversal of the discourse is capable of giving enthusiasm and encouragement to people.
We are no longer discussing if and how much climate change or resource depletion is due to human activities. This has been thoroughly assessed by science (and the Pope’s acknowledgment of the scientific consensus is a further innovation of this Letter). We have to decarbonise the planet and we have to do it rapidly. We have to stop the destruction of the planet’s natural capital. Let us do it, with the joy of knowing that it will be a beautiful collective effort that beyond saving our home will make all of us become better human beings.
Because the ecological crisis is also a social one and a crisis of values, and the way out requires an engagement of responsibilities that will lead to a deep change not only in our relationship with the natural environment, but also in our social relationships, in our solidarity towards the less well off, and ultimately in the awareness of the meaning of our life.
A moral push for citizens
One critical remark advanced in some of the commentaries on the Encyclical recently published is that the powerful and pervasive technocratic paradigm cannot be defeated just through a cultural change. The argument has only some validity. First the encyclical, with its capacity to reach billions of people at every level of decision capacity, may have both a direct and an indirect influence on policy-making. Secondly, changes in history have always their roots in ideas, and in the digital era ideas circulate faster and are a very powerful means of transforming society.
This encyclical even helps bridging science with policymaking, providing the arguments and the moral push that may help citizens to become actors of change.
Religious communities have opportunities and responsibilities for their capacity of influencing people’s convictions, because still today religion remains a major channel for ethical education, for the transmission of values. Pope Francis’ encyclical is a key step towards this end and beyond, because it is a universal message.
There is a spiritual and ethical void, an absence of scope in today's technocratic society that needs to be filled, and this encyclical has contributed to fill this void.
Writer and Philosopher
Disclaimer: All views expressed herein are entirely of the authors, do not reflect the position of the European Institutions or bodies and do not, in any way, engage any of them.