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9 Things to Know about the Pope's Climate Change Encyclical (Including the Definition of Encyclical)

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One Planet

  1. An encyclical is a letter written by the Roman Catholic Church's Pope, addressed to the bishops and intended to be used as a teaching document for congregations worldwide (to an estimated 1.2 billion Catholics); its translation is "circular letter."
  2. It isn't just for Catholics. Pope Francis wants this to reach beyond the Catholic community, writing that he would like "to address every person living on this planet."
  3. The Pope paints a picture that isn't pretty. "The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth."
  4. The message is strong and clear on climate change: "Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day." Also very clearly stated is the need for accountability and the human influence on climate change: "There is a very consistent scientific consensus indicating that we are in the presence of a disturbing heating of the climate system... A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity."
  5. The "I'm not a scientist" excuse used by climate deniers will fall short here. Pope Francis has a background in science, with a degree in chemistry. He also consulted with the Vatican's Pontifical Academy of Sciences advisory group (which released a report, "Climate Change and the Common Good" in April 2015).
  6. Concern for the poor drives the church's push for change. "Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming," writes the pontiff. Also: "The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty."
  7. The encyclical ends with two prayers, including one titled "A prayer for our earth." A notable excerpt: "Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction."
  8. The timing of its release is deliberate. The Pope has made it clear that he would like this document to encourage followers to influence action on climate with effective policies, and he has plans to address the United Nations in advance of the next Conference of Parties (COP) set for December 2015 in Paris. He writes, "It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected."
  9. Its title, "Laudato Si" ("Praised Be"), is inspired by another holy Francis, St. Francis of Assisi, who is known as the patron saint of animals and the environment. Assisi's "The Canticle of the Creatures" hymn praises the sun, moon, stars, wind, water, fire, and earth (the so-called creatures). A portion of that hymn: "Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us."
  10.  

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