Pope Francis’ second encyclical letter, Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, was released in 2015. Informed by principles and examples from the Judeo-Christian tradition, the encyclical letter offers a moral argument for the development of an “integral ecology” as a response to the global environmental crisis and the suffering of the poor and the marginalized. The encyclical letter is addressed to “every person living on this planet,” and in it the Pope expresses the wish to “enter into dialogue with all people about our common home” (sec. 3). Notable, for some, is Pope Francis’ embrace of climate science and his call for dialogue between religions and sciences to help solve the crises (see especially sections 199-201).
The first chapter is a resume of the environmental crisis and a description of how that crisis is concomitant with, as the title of one subsection indicates, the “decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society.” As he explains, “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (sec. 48). Chapter Two is an explication of the “Gospel of Creation,” beginning with the creation accounts in Genesis. People of faith may be motivated to work towards an integral ecology after coming to realize, as the creation accounts suggest, that “human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth itself” (sec. 66). Chapter Three is an argument about the “human origins of the ecological crisis” (sec. 101). The Pope contends that the crisis is enabled by a technoscientific paradigm and a distorted conception of the place of human beings and of human action in the world (we believe that our technology will allow us to solve all environmental problems [even those it creates] and, indeed, to master, to create and improve upon, life itself). The crisis is also financed by an economy that “accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings” (sec. 109). Chapter Four is an general outline of an “integral ecology” that seeks to acknowledge the interrelatedness of the environmental, economic, and social ecologies. Chapters Five and Six contain respectively a call for action and a reflection on the resources, the images and practices, from with the Christian tradition that can help positively transform our destructive ways of life. “Many things have to change course,” he writes, “but it is we human being above all who need to change”, but we are not without resources for understanding in what ways, just how, we should change (sec. 202).
The encyclical letter is rich with material that can help organize an ACS1001 syllabus and/or that can be linked up with other major themes and texts typically taken up in ACS1001. Chapter Three, on the “Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis,” could be read at the beginning of the semester and taken as a provocation: Will we read anyone/anything this semester that challenges the Pope’s claim that, "Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism which . . . continues to stand in the way of shared understanding and of any effort to strengthen social bonds’ (sec. 116)"? The encyclical offers a specifically Catholic Christian voice to debates about the environmental crisis; the meaning and role of technology in our lives (and it would work well when read with Shelley’s Frankenstein, Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, or any of several texts by Wendell Berry, etc.); the role and significance of capitalism (and neo-liberalism) in shaping the values of our contemporary consumerist society; and the consideration of various Modern religious and secular utopian visions, images of other and of better ways of life.
Laudato si’ is available for free via the Vatican’s website. You can download a pdf of the text here: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html. One book version of the encyclical letter that includes discussion questions is put out by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc. [$ 8.75; ISBN: 1612783864].