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Pope Francis Calls For Urgent Action On Climate Change In Encyclical


Pope Francis has delivered a scathing indictment of the global economy. In his long-awaited encyclical on the environment, officially released today, he blames consumerism for the degradation of the planet. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli says the document is both a call for immediate action to stop global warming and a cry for justice for the poor.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Taking his cue from his namesake, Saint Francis, the pope refers poetically to the planet as, our sister, Mother Earth who sustains and governs us. But he uses blunt language to excoriate the damage done by humans who have turned the planet into an immense pile of filth. The first part of the document cites the most recent scientific studies that show that climate change is mostly due to human activity. John Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research was one of the speakers at the Vatican's presentation of the encyclical.

JOHN SCHELLNHUBER: And I can just testify that everything which is in the encyclical is in line with the scientific evidence, and this is very gratifying.

POGGIOLI: Francis describes the earth as mistreated and abused, and urges everyone - individuals, families, local communities, nations and the international community to listen to its groans. The greatest impact of the earth's ailments, Francis says, falls on the poorest. He focuses on the loss of biodiversity and the depletion of natural resources and calls access to safe drinking water a basic human right. Francis says growing poverty caused by environmental degradation is behind the tragic rise in migration. He writes...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) If present trends continue, this century may well witness extraordinary climate change and an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems with serious consequences for all of us.

POGGIOLI: Professor Schellnhuber said the encyclical brings together two strong forces in the world.

SCHELLNHUBER: Faith and moral, and on the other hand, reason and ingenuity because we are faced with a dual crisis on this planet. It's an environmental crisis certainly, but it's also a social crisis. And only, I guess, if faith and reason work together hand in hand, we can overcome this crisis.

POGGIOLI: In the encyclical, Francis lashes-out at both climate change skeptics and big business. He writes...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain. We may well be leaving to coming generations debris, desolation and filth. The pace of consumption, waste and environmental change has so stretched the planet's capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes.

POGGIOLI: Carolyn Woo, head of Catholic Relief Services and a former business school dean, also spoke of the document today.

CAROLYN WOO: The Pope asked us not just to rely on market forces or even on technology. Technology must be guided by moral energies and by human values, the commitment to serve all people, not just some people, and the ability to serve us fully as human beings and not just as consumers.

POGGIOLI: Francis wants this encyclical to trigger a dialogue between citizens and decision-makers ahead of critical U.N. climate talks later this year. He wants a radical change of course. He writes...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) This vision of might-is-right has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful - the winner takes all.

POGGIOLI: Perhaps what will anger conservatives even more than Francis's position on climate change is how the encyclical reflects the economic thinking of the first Latin American pope - his apparent disdain for the laissez-faire capitalism of the industrialized world. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.