The Environment is a Moral and Spiritual Issue
The fact that the environment and environmental issues are moral and spiritual issues has been strongly reinforced by the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our CommonHome. Defining environmental questions in this way is not new, dating at least from the philosophical writings of Aldo Leopold in the United States and his famous “land ethic” essay, published in 1948. My own four earlier books in the last two decades, Embracing Earth, The Greening of Faith, Ecology andReligion, and Sustainability and Spirituality, have focused, in their entirety, on the moral, spiritual, and human values aspects of environmentalism, including the issues of intergenerational equity and social justice. But Pope Francis has raised the bar substantially on all such issues, and many around the world will now see climate change, biodiversity, agricultural practice, and other environmental questions in light of moral values and spirituality. Given the global spotlight on the encyclical, it is important to understand its content, point by point, in order to better understand its implications, as it begins to influence and perhaps even drive the global debate beyond narrower questions of science, economics, and politics. This chapter performs that task. Anyone who has never seen the environment as a moral and spiritual issue, now, thanks to Pope Francis, has a reason to—and a way to as well. The widely praised, somewhat reviled, and much discussed papal encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home, issued on June 18, 2015, and consisting of 184 pages, lays out a comprehensive and well-integrated approach, in fact the only realistic approach to addressing the environmental challenge at hand. The environmental challenge we face is daunting and complex, and the encyclical provides a method for approaching it that matches the magnitude of the challenge. The goal of this chapter was to introduce the encyclical to a wider audience and give the audience a taste of its content—as well as to make the point that the encyclical is now a central argument in our consideration of climate change in particular and environmental issues in general. The importance of this document should not be underestimated.
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