Cheap Seats 2016
Laudato Si - 03/23
By Rich Trzupek
Since environmental issues are my particular field of expertise, a few people have asked my opinion of Laudato Si, the encyclical on the environmental that Pope Francis released last year. I’ve offered my opinion verbally, but heretofore not in print. With Easter a few days away, it’s time to remedy that.
Let’s start with the name, Laudato Si comes from a canticle authored by St. Francis of Assisi entitled Laudato Si, Mi Signore, which is translated as “Praise be to you, my Lord”. It’s a fitting title for a treatise that deals with the miracle of creation and man’s stewardship over it.
There is much that is good about Laudato Si, but from my perspective there is also much that I find troubling, both as a practicing Catholic and as a scientist. The troubling parts start with how the Holy Father researched the Climate Change issue.
Francis makes no pretense of being an issue on atmospheric chemistry or climatology. Thus, in researching the science that would form the technical foundation of Laudato Si he consulted with experts in the field. Initially, the list of experts invited included both alarmist scientists and skeptical scientists. Then, at the last minute and presumably at the urging of his more liberally-minded advisors, the skeptical contingent was disinvited.
That bothers me. It bothers me a lot. An uninformed person in a position of authority who is dealing with an issue that is supposedly of the most critical importance to the world has a moral obligation to understand all sides of that issue. By caving into the silly “consensus crowd”, Francis abandoned that obligation in favor of political correctness. That’s not what a Pontiff is supposed to do.
It also bothers me that Francis uses language that personalize the planet we live on. Ultimately, I believe that by doing so he weakens the far more important point that the inhabitants of this planet have a moral duty to take care of this remarkable part of God’s Creation.
In the first of the Ten Commandments God admonishes man to have no false gods before Him. As Christians, we believe that no part of God’s creation should be worshipped as a god, whether that be the golden calf that the Bible tells us Aaron created while Moses was receiving the commandments on Mt. Sinai, or the planet that yielded the gold.
Personalizing the planet, giving it human characteristics, calling it our “sister” may be OK when a mystic like St. Francis of Assisi uses such metaphors in his musings, but when the Holy Father uses that kind of language it sends exactly the wrong message to his flock. We should take care of the earth because, as he says, it is our common home and a gift from God. We should not do so for reasons approaching Gaia-worship, attributing this rocky orb with the ability to feel pain and pleasure, or to discern the difference between justice and injustice. It’s a planet, not a person.
There is also much good to be found in Laudato Si, good that tends to be drowned out by the sound of climate alarmists high-fiving each other because they enticed Francis to their side.
Francis points out that the further mankind drifts away from God and morality, the more damage we ultimately do to the environment and ourselves. He is critical of aspects of capitalism and surely there are things about capitalism that can be improved, but he also acknowledges the good things about the system, like mass production bringing more affordable goods to more people and how it is the one economic system proven to raise standards of living. He also speaks to an actual environmental crisis that we should actually be doing something about: the billions of people who live in the third world nations who do not have access to clean drinking water.
Laudoto Si is a mixed bag in other words. If it were possible, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss it more detail with the Holy Father, Catholic to Catholic, chemist to chemist. That’s a fantasy of course, for many obvious reasons and one troubling one: while I believe Francis is a good and holy man, his refusal to consider other points of view when preparing the encyclical suggests he would avoid such a discussion with me or anyone like me.