Creation helps us to recognize our human dignity and God’s love.
Integral human development is closely linked to the obligations which flow from man’s relationship with the natural environment. The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations. (# 2)
Seeing creation as God’s gift to humanity helps us understand our vocation and worth as human beings. With the Psalmist, we can exclaim with wonder: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4-5). Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which “moves the sun and the other stars”.1 (# 2)
There exists a certain reciprocity: as we care for creation, we realize that God, through creation, cares for us. (# 13)
We have failed to carry out our role as steward.
The Book of Genesis, in its very first pages, points to the wise design of the cosmos: it comes forth from God’s mind and finds its culmination in man and woman, made in the image and likeness of the Creator to “fill the earth” and to “have dominion over” it as “stewards” of God himself (cf. Gen 1:28). . . . But the true meaning of God’s original command, as the Book of Genesis clearly shows, was not a simple conferral of authority, but rather a summons to responsibility. . . Biblical Revelation made us see that nature is a gift of the Creator, who gave it an inbuilt order and enabled man to draw from it the principles needed to “till it and keep it” (cf. Gen. 2:15).2 Everything that exists belongs to God, who has entrusted it to man, albeit not for his arbitrary use. (# 6)
We have misused the earth’s resources and broken the covenant.
Man’s inhumanity to man has given rise to numerous threats to peace and to authentic and integral human development – wars, international and regional conflicts, acts of terrorism, and violations of human rights. Yet no less troubling are the threats arising from the neglect – if not downright misuse – of the earth and the natural goods that God has given us. (# 1)
Our choices have impacted our brothers and sisters across the globe.
Sad to say, it is all too evident that large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment. The Second Vatican Ecumenical Council reminded us that “God has destined the earth and everything it contains for all peoples and nations”.3 (# 7)
There is an urgent moral need for solidarity with creation and those affected by climate change.
Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions? Can we disregard the growing phenomenon of “environmental refugees”, people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat to forsake it – and often their possessions as well – in order to face the dangers and uncertainties of forced displacement? Can we remain impassive in the face of actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources? All these are issues with a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the right to life, food, health and development. (# 4)
We have a responsibility to future generations.
The goods of creation belong to humanity as a whole. Yet the current pace of environmental exploitation is seriously endangering the supply of certain natural resources not only for the present generation, but above all for generations yet to come.4 (# 7)
A greater sense of intergenerational solidarity is urgently needed. Future generations cannot be saddled with the cost of our use of common environmental resources. “We have inherited from past generations, and we have benefited from the work of our contemporaries; for this reason we have obligations towards all . . . This is a responsibility that present generations have towards those of the future, a responsibility that also concerns individual States and the international community”.5 (# 8)
Natural resources should be used in such a way that immediate benefits do not have a negative impact on living creatures, human and not, present and future; that the protection of private property does not conflict with the universal destination of goods;6 that human activity does not compromise the fruitfulness of the earth, for the benefit of people now and in the future. (# 8)
Our current model of development must be re-evaluated.
It should be evident that the ecological crisis cannot be viewed in isolation from other related questions. . . Prudence would thus dictate a profound, long-term review of our model of development, one which would take into consideration the meaning of the economy and its goals with an eye to correcting its malfunctions and misapplications. . . Humanity needs a profound cultural renewal; it needs to rediscover those values which can serve as the solid basis for building a brighter future for all. Our present crises – be they economic, food-related, environmental or social – are ultimately also moral crises, and all of them are interrelated. They require us to rethink the path which we are travelling together. Specifically, they call for a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while rejecting those that have failed. (# 5)
The ecological crisis offers an historic opportunity to develop a common plan of action . . . I would advocate the adoption of a model of development based on the centrality of the human person, on the promotion and sharing of the common good, on responsibility, on a realization of our need for a changed life-style, and on prudence, the virtue which tells us what needs to be done today in view of what might happen tomorrow.7 (# 9)
We must develop cleaner technologies and assist developing countries in utilizing them.
There is a need to encourage research into, and utilization of, forms of energy with lower impact on the environment and “a world-wide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them”.8 . . . Encouragement needs to be given, for example, to research into effective ways of exploiting the immense potential of solar energy. Similar attention also needs to be paid to the world-wide problem of water and to the global water cycle system, which is of prime importance for life on earth and whose stability could be seriously jeopardized by climate change. Suitable strategies for rural development centered on small farmers and their families should be explored, as well as the implementation of appropriate policies for the management of forests, for waste disposal and for strengthening the linkage between combating climate change and overcoming poverty. (# 9, 10)
Individuals, families, communities, and the Church have a role to play.
It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our life-style and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view. We can no longer do without a real change of outlook which will result in new life-styles, “in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments”.9 (# 11)
I readily encourage efforts to promote a greater sense of ecological responsibility which . . . reaffirm the inviolability of human life at every stage and in every condition, the dignity of the person and the unique mission of the family, where one is trained in love of neighbor and respect for nature.10 (# 12)
The Church has a responsibility towards creation, and she considers it her duty to exercise that responsibility in public life, in order to protect earth, water and air as gifts of God the Creator meant for everyone, and above all to save mankind from the danger of self-destruction. (# 12)
The international community and nations have a duty to act.
The international community and national governments are responsible for sending the right signals in order to combat effectively the misuse of the environment. To protect the environment, and to safeguard natural resources and the climate, there is a need to act in accordance with clearly-defined rules, also from the juridical and economic standpoint, while at the same time taking into due account the solidarity we owe to those living in the poorer areas of our world and to future generations. (# 7)
Economic activity needs to consider the fact that “every economic decision has a moral consequence”11 and thus show increased respect for the environment. When making use of natural resources, we should be concerned for their protection and consider the cost entailed – environmentally and socially – as an essential part of the overall expenses incurred. (# 7)
Our relationship with the environment is connected to our relationship with God and one another.
“When ‘human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits”.12 . . . The book of nature is one and indivisible; it includes not only the environment but also individual, family and social ethics.13 Our duties towards the environment flow from our duties towards the person, considered both individually and in relation to others. (# 11)
The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. . . . Christ, crucified and risen, has bestowed his Spirit of holiness upon mankind, to guide the course of history in anticipation of that day when, with the glorious return of the Savior, there will be “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet 3:13), in which justice and peace will dwell forever. Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. (# 14)
Message text (c) 2009 Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Used with permission. All rights reserved. The entire statement can be found at vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/messages/peace/index_en.htm
- Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Paradiso, XXXIII, 145.
- Cf. Benedict Xvi, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 48.
- Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et Spes, 69.
- Cf. John Paul Ii, Encyclical Letter Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, 34.
- Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, 467; cf. Paul Vi, Encyclical Letter Populorum Progressio, 17.
- Cf. John Paul Ii, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 30-31, 43
- Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, S. Th., II-II, q. 49, 5.
- John Paul Ii, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 36.
- Cf. ibid., 28, 51, 61; John Paul Ii, Encyclical Letter Centesimus Annus, 38, 39.
- Benedict Xvi, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 37.
- Benedict Xvi, Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, 51.
- Cf. ibid., 15, 51.