Choice is clear, pope says: Protect environment or destroy it

IMAGE: CNS/Paul Haring

By Cindy Wooden

NAIROBI, Kenya (CNS) — The international community is
facing a stark and serious choice, “either to improve or to destroy the
environment,” Pope Francis said, referring to the Paris Climate

“It would be sad, and I dare say even catastrophic,
were special interests to prevail over the common good,” the pope said
Nov. 26 during a visit to the headquarters in Nairobi of the U.N. Environment
Program and U.N. Habitat, an agency concerned with urban planning.

Under the auspices of the United Nations, the Paris conference
Nov. 30-Dec. 11 has the aim of achieving a legally binding and universal
agreement on measures to stem climate change and protect the environment.

Pope Francis spoke at length about the importance of the
conference during his visit to the U.N. offices, and his top aides had a meeting the
evening before with Kenya’s environment minister and other officials to discuss
their hopes and strategies for the Paris meeting.

On his way into the meeting with U.N. officials and
diplomats accredited to the two U.N. agencies, Pope Francis planted a tree.

While his speech contained ample quotes from his June
encyclical on the environment, the pope also referred several times to the significance of planting trees and borrowed several lines from a speech he made in
Bolivia in July to a variety of grass-roots movements advocating for justice for
the poor.

In fact, just as in the encyclical, “Laudato Si’,”
the pope insisted in Nairobi that there is a close connection between
environmental destruction and unjust economic and political policies that
penalize the poor.

“We are faced with a great political and economic
obligation to rethink and correct the dysfunctions and distortions of the
current model of development,” he said, especially because of their
emphasis on exploiting natural resources, but not sharing the benefits with
local communities.

Planting a tree, he said, is an “invitation to continue
the battle against phenomena like deforestation and desertification,” as
well as “an incentive to keep trusting, hoping and above all working in
practice to reverse all those situations of injustice and deterioration which
we currently experience.”

The Paris conference, the pope said, “represents an
important stage in the process of developing a new energy system which depends
on a minimal use of fossil fuels, aims at energy efficiency and makes use of
energy sources with little or no carbon content.”

Pope Francis told those gathered at Nairobi’s U.N. offices
that he hopes the Paris conference will result in a “global and
‘transformational’ agreement based on the principles of solidarity, justice,
equality and participation; an agreement which targets three complex and
interdependent goals: lessening the impact of climate change, fighting poverty
and ensuring respect for human dignity.”

To achieve a comprehensive and fair agreement, he said, real
dialogue is necessary among politicians, scientists, business leaders and
representatives of civil society, including the poorest sectors of those societies.

Pope Francis insisted that human beings are capable of changing
course, choosing what is good and making a fresh start. The key, he said, will
be to put the economy and politics at the service of people, who are called to
live in harmony with the rest of creation.

“Far from an idealistic utopia, this is a realistic
prospect which makes the human person and human dignity the point of departure
and the goal of everything,” he said.

A new respect for human dignity and for the environment are
part of the same attitude of giving value to all that God made, he said.

Pope Francis called for “the adoption of a culture of
care — care for oneself, care for others, care for the environment — in the
place of a culture of waste, a throwaway culture where people use and discard
themselves, others and the environment.”

The idea of a “throwaway culture” is not simply a
strong figure of speech, he said, pointing to “new forms of slavery, human
trafficking, forced labor, prostitution and trafficking in organs.”

“Many lives, many stories, many dreams have been
shipwrecked in our day,” the pope said. “We cannot remain indifferent
in the face of this. We have no right.”

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