Pope Francis' Climate Change Encyclical Denounces Mankind's Treatment of Nature as 'Completely at Odds' With Jesus' Teachings

(Photo: Reuters)Pope Francis frees a dove in Madhu, Sri Lanka, on Jan. 14. The Catholic leader told reporters Thursday that he believes humans are mostly to blame for climate change.

Several evangelical groups have praised Pope Francis' major encyclical on the environment released on Thursday, which warns that climate change is real and is impacting all of God's creation, including impoverished people in different corners of the world. Francis said that it's wrong to treat nature and other living creatures as "mere objects" for "human domination."

"We are grateful that the pope has joined with over 300 Evangelicals like Rick Warren, Rich Stearns, and Bill Hybels, and other Christian leaders who understand climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time and the greatest opportunity for hope. It's time to make hope happen by fueling the unstoppable clean energy transition, stopping the ideological battles, and working together," said in a statement Rev. Mitch Hescox, president & CEO, Evangelical Environmental Network.

"Creating a new energy economy that benefits all and addresses climate change is not about a political party but living as a disciple of Jesus Christ. We urge all people of good will, especially fellow Christian conservatives, to read and study these timely words from Pope Francis."

The 184-page "Laudato Si,'" or "Praise Be to You," tackled several issues concerning the effects climate change has on the world, including the damage it inflicts on the poorest populations.

"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. The Creator does not abandon us; He never forsakes His loving plan or repents of having created us," Francis writes.

"Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world's poorest. Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded. "

Francis talked about humankind's treatment of other living creatures, and said that it's "mistaken to view other living beings as mere objects subjected to arbitrary human domination."

"When nature is viewed solely as a source of profit and gain, this has serious consequences for society," he said.

"This vision of 'might is right' has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all. Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus."

He added that just as each human being is created in the image of God, each creature has its own purpose in this life.

"The entire material universe speaks of God's love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. The history of our friendship with God is always linked to particular places which take on an intensely personal meaning; we all remember places, and revisiting those memories does us much good," the Roman Catholic Church leader said.

"Anyone who has grown up in the hills or used to sit by the spring to drink, or played outdoors in the neighbourhood square; going back to these places is a chance to recover something of their true selves."

In another chapter Francis talks about the "human roots" of the ecological crisis, and says it is important to acknowledge that humans have played a big role in many of these problems.

"A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us. Should we not pause and consider this?" he asked.

The Vatican leader warned that technology based on fossil fuels, in which he included coal and oil, needs to be "progressively replaced without delay."

The pontiff outlined many of the ways in which environmental degradation poses severe challenges, and said that exposure to atmospheric pollutants "produces a broad spectrum of health hazards, especially for the poor, and causes millions of premature deaths."

"People take sick, for example, from breathing high levels of smoke from fuels used in cooking or heating. There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general," he continued.

The pope said that politics and business leaders "have been slow to react in a way commensurate with the urgency of the challenges facing our world."

"Although the post-industrial period may well be remembered as one of the most irresponsible in history, nonetheless there is reason to hope that humanity at the dawn of the 21st century will be remembered for having generously shouldered its grave responsibilities," he noted.

In his conclusions, Francis looked toward the future, when he said all people will find themselves "face to face with the infinite beauty of God (cf. 1 Cor 13:12), and be able to read with admiration and happiness the mystery of the universe, which with us will share in unending plenitude."

He added: "Even now we are journeying toward the sabbath of eternity, the new Jerusalem, toward our common home in heaven. Jesus says: 'I make all things new' (Rev 21:5). Eternal life will be a shared experience of awe, in which each creature, resplendently transfigured, will take its rightful place and have something to give those poor men and women who will have been liberated once and for all."

The encyclical has been hailed by various religious and secular groups, as well as by scientists, who said earlier this week that the pope's message could have an "unbelievable" impact on over one billion Catholics worldwide.

Other evangelical organizations, such as the The Lausanne Movement, representing evangelical Christians in almost 200 countries, have also shared their gratitude for the "Laudato Si.'"

"While there are small marginal groups within evangelical Christianity who are often quoted in the press in opposition to climate change action, almost all major global evangelical bodies including the Lausanne Movement have declared their commitment to care for God's creation and to serve the poor affected by climate change impacts," said Ed Brown, director of the Creation Care Network within Lausanne.

The full encyclical can be read on the Vatican's official website.