Aldo Leopold’s original piece on “the Land Ethic” in Sand County Almanac noted with regret the lack of attention paid by religion to the encroachment upon nature. He argued there that since most of us receive our initial moral sensibilities from our religion it was very regrettable that religions failed to address environmental issues at all. Much has changed since Leopold’s assessment; and secular thinkers (or at least not explicitly religious ones) like Leopold in many cases paved the way. But there have been great movements in religions of the East and West that have come to embrace the environmental cause. Yale’s Center for Religion and the Environment has been one leader in this, spearheading the publishing of numerous volumes on world religions and the environment.
The Catholic church has also by now issued numerous important documents on the relation between faith and environmentalism. John Paul II’s 1990 Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace was an early clear statement of the Catholic position on this. Benedict XVI added to this, installing solar panels to the Vatican, and turning it into the first carbon neutral polity in the industrialized world. This, along with numerous public statements, including the publication of the book, The Environment, led many to view Benedict XVI as the first green pope. The new encyclical by Pope Francis, Laudato Si’, is the most comprehensive view on the environment to be issued by the Catholic church. Given the 1 billion Catholics in the world who strongly value his views, this will prove an important document. Already, it has done much to spur conversation. And it seems poised to lead to a kind of ecological conversion for many, as indeed is its intent.
In the next few weeks I will blog on various aspects of the encyclical. I plan to blog on 3 distinct topics of the encyclical. 1) I start by examining some of the relevant issues related to philosophy of technology. 2) I will then examine the text as relevant to the critique of capitalism. 3) Finally I will analyze the document as contribution to the field of environmental ethics. I will likely change and update sections as I continue. The Vatican has made available an electronic copy of the encyclical.