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Pope issues forceful environmental message

By Mick Sullivan - posted Thursday, 24 December 2009

Pope Benedict XVI has already earned a reputation as the “green pope” because of his repeated calls for stronger environmental protection, as well as gestures such as installing solar panels atop a Vatican audience hall and signing an agreement to make the Vatican Europe’s first carbon-neutral state.

Now he’s cemented that profile by issuing his most comprehensive document on environmental ethics to date titled If you want to cultivate peace, work for creation. It is his annual message for the World Day of Peace.

The World Day of Peace is an observance launched by the Catholic Church under Pope Paul VI in 1967. The day is actually celebrated on January 1, but the Vatican released the message December 15.


Strikingly, the document appeared as the nations of the world were meeting in Copenhagen to hammer out a deal on climate change - one of a host of environmental threats the Pope identified as an urgent moral priority.

The Pope’s language is forceful.

“How can one remain indifferent in the face of problems such as climate change, desertification, the degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in extreme weather, and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas?” he asked.

“How can one overlook the growing phenomenon of so-called ‘environmental refugees,’ meaning persons who, because of environmental degradation, have to leave - often together with their belongings - in a kind of forced movement, in order to escape the risks and the unknown? How can we not react to the conflicts already underway, as well as potential new ones, linked to access to natural resources?”

“These are all questions,” Benedict XVI said, “that have a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the rights to life, to food, to health and to development.”

Benedict accented a vision of the cosmos as a gift of God, which human beings have an obligation to “care for and cultivate.” In that regard, the Pope called for “a profound and farsighted revision of the model of development,” based not only on the needs of today’s “living beings, human and non-human,” but those of generations to come.


At the level of specific policy measures, Benedict XVI advocated:

  • a new mode of calculating the cost of economic activity, which would factor in environmental impact;
  • greater investment in solar energy and other forms of energy with a reduced environmental footprint;
  • strategies of rural development concentrated on small-scale farmers and their families; and
  • progressive disarmament, including “a world free of nuclear weapons”.

While saying that primary responsibility for taking action must fall to wealthy industrialised nations, Benedict pointedly added that less developed nations “cannot be exonerated from their own responsibility”. Exactly how much less developed nations should be expected to curb emissions, and to take other steps potentially limiting their economic growth, has been a major sticking point at the Copenhagen summit.

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About the Author

Mick Sullivan is a former member of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission - both Archdiocese of Brisbane and, earlier, Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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