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Is climate change natural or man-induced? For Pope Francis, it’s both

By Elise Harris

Vatican City, Jun 15, 2015 / 01:05 am (CNA/EWTN News) - One of the most challenging scientific questions Pope Francis faces in his new encyclical on creation is that of climate change, which a source close to the document says the Pope addresses in a balanced perspective without taking sides.

“The great novelty which emerges from the encyclical is that it comes from a shepherd who’s thinking of all those who are his,” a source familiar the encyclical has said.

"(It) has a big overview, the capacity of helping us walk towards a more integral ecology that is all inclusive and comprehensive.”

No one ought to feel “left out” in the encyclical, he said, “No one should be able to say 'oh, the pope talked to this side or that side' and say 'I have a clean conscious because it’s not addressed to me.”

The encyclical will be published June 18. Its title, “Laudato Si,” means “Praised be You.” It is taken from St. Francis of Assisi’s medieval Italian prayer “Canticle of the Sun,” which praises God through elements of creation like Brother Sun, Sister Moon, and “our sister Mother Earth.”

One of the challenges Francis has faced with the encyclical is appreciating the scientific consensus on topics such as climate change.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that the encyclical itself acknowledges that “the scientific community is giving clear, consensual but complex answers” on climate change, and that “the causes are several.”

While these causes can be put in both ‘natural’ and ‘human’ categories, they mainly fall within the “human” sphere, he noted.

“Great natural forces are not under our control; human causes are. There is strong scientific evidence that the human factors are already having much impact and causing great damage not only to nature itself but also to the lives of people across the globe, especially the poor,” the source observed.

Because of this “it is morally imperative that we human beings take responsibility for what we are doing” and work to stop damaging trends while finding new ways to produce, distribute and consume products.

However for this to happen, there must be a change of heart so that humanity is more open developing these new trends, which aim to better care for our common home and those who live in it.

With this perspective, the source said, everyone will feel more impelled to act, whether they are passionate about saving trees or having drinkable water, or whether they are everyday people living in ordinary neighborhoods, someone who works on ecology policies in New York.

The source said that if the encyclical could be summed up in a tweet, it would be “Gated communities are over,” not because someone has pushed the gate down, but because “people are saying we cannot go on living like this.”

In his Sunday Angelus address Pope Francis himself spoke about the document, saying that “this encyclical is addressed to all.”

He invited the world to participate in its June 18 publication “with a renewed attention to environmental degradation, but also to recovery” of one's own territory.

He prayed that everyone “may receive its message and grow in responsibility toward the common home God has entrusted to us.”

In a recent editorial, the Rome-based, Jesuit-published magazine La Civilta Cattolica reflected on the encyclical’s importance and on the challenges facing the Pope in the area of scientific consensus, including climate change.

Debates about environmental responsibilities have consequences for the well-being of humanity, La Civilta Cattolica said. They are not simply campaigns to save a rare animal or plant, though these can be important. Rather, the debate is about how to ensure that “hundreds of millions of people have clean water to drink and clean air to breathe.”

“This is a serious moral responsibility which we can no longer remove ourselves from. Failure to respond would be a sin of omission,” the editorial said.

On the topic of climate change, La Civilta Cattolica said it is “not contested” that the planet is warming. It cited the “very stark” November 2014 Synthesis Report of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“Just like most of us, Pope Francis faces the challenge, in preparing his encyclical, of properly appreciating the scientific consensus about climate change, its causes and consequences, and the needed remedies,” the magazine continued.

At the same time, it said that even when those in environmental debates do not agree on some research findings, there are problems that are “obvious and need the attention of the faithful.” These include water pollution, “monocultures” that harm the ground and people’s livelihoods, and the extinction of plant and animal species.

The editorial countered the vision of “a moment of doom” in which human greed, stupidity, carelessness and pride have caused irreversible damage leading to self-destruction.

Rather, it suggested that this moment is an opportunity.

“For the first time, in a mature way, we have to exercise a common responsibility for the earth, our common home,” La Civilta Cattolica said.

With all global eyes turned toward Francis to set a moral tone on the topic of the environment, “the world’s leading religious leader will draw upon his faith, upon the teaching of the Church, and upon the best information and advice available, demonstrating how each of us can manage, gather and sift the information, to judge, to decide and, finally, to act,” the editorial said.

“His goal is not to speculate nor to support this or that theory, but to invite people of goodwill to consider thoroughly their responsibility for future generations, and to act accordingly.”

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