In my introduction to Laudato Si’, we looked at what past Popes and Christian leaders had to say regarding the physical, moral, and societal destruction of the world. Now, as we go forward in our series, we see in Chapter 1, Pope Francis lays out for us what he believes is the current status of our “common home.”
He starts with an introduction in paragraphs 17-19 and uses this chapter to help us look at our current situation as groundwork for open discussion. Here, the Pope introduces us to the term “rapidification” and uses it to describe the results of the fast-paced changes in modern development and lifestyle and the resulting continued acceleration of the things that negatively affect our quality of life.
In these first paragraphs, he shares that although change and advancement is overall good, it is the speed and goal of our human activity that may be the most harmful to us. This speed of development is unsustainable in comparison to the slow change of the natural evolution of the earth itself and now we are becoming distressed and worried about the environment looking back.
Pope Francis boldly challenges us all “to become painfully aware” of our situation and “to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”
“Pollution, Waste & the Throwaway Culture”
In paragraphs 20-22, the Pope has us consider the dangers of environmental pollutants, toxins, garbage and the “throwaway” cultural mindset of the world. He talks about illnesses caused by air pollution, soil and water pollution from agriculture/business and the “immense pile of filth” and garbage we are creating that is taking over what was once beautiful land. He points out that all of these toxins and dangers are often ignored and allowed to cause irreversible damage to our health and environment before anything is done about it.
What Does It Mean for You and Me?
By pointing out the effects of the “throwaway culture” Pope Francis wants us to think about these resulting pollutants and look for ways, both as individuals and as a culture, to curb our need for constant consumption. He asks us work to “adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations”. A model of production where consumption, efficiency, reuse and recycling are all considered and deliberately made in order to counteract our destructive throwaway culture.
How Can We Make a Difference?
How can we make a difference to pollution, waste and the throwaway culture? Depending on your field of employment and situation in life, you might be able to do more to help create and influence a circular model of production, but all of us as consumers can make some immediate, yet difficult changes, starting with the very first and possibly most important step, changing our minds and our habits.
Changing our Minds about Consumption
When it comes to acquiring and buying “things,” we should think about what we want and what we really need, even if money is not holding us back.
- Do I really need a new phone right now or can I wait another year?
- Am I going shopping for entertainment or do I need new shoes because mine are worn out?
- Do I really need a new car or can I find a great pre-owned one?
- I’d love a cup of coffee, but can I wait until I get home?
- Do I need a new _____ (you fill in the blank) or can mine be repaired?
Changing our Minds about Waste
We also have to consider what we do with our things when we are finished with them.
- Do we throw our slightly worn things directly into the trash, or do we sell them in a garage sale or donate them to charity?
- When we buy carry out for dinner, do we throw everything in the garbage or do we take the time to wash out the containers and reuse or recycle them?
- Can I take my coffee with me in a reusable, stainless steel cup and avoid disposable cups completely?
- Where does our trash go after it leaves our house?
Changing our Minds about Pollution
Some pollution is more obvious than others. Material pollution is much easier to see, but we should take time to consider other types of damaging pollution too.
- If big business causes industrial and chemical pollution, how can I reduce it?
- When I buy a cleaning product for my bathroom that contains 15 toxic chemicals, what happens to the environment when I wash the cloth in the sink?
- I use chemicals and weed killer to keep my yard beautiful. How do those chemicals affect my health when we apply them. What about my children’s/pet’s health when they play in them?
- I love the way my laundry detergent cleans and how great it smells, but what happens to all the chemicals from the detergent after it’s drained out of the washer?
These are just a few questions to get us thinking and hopefully, as this encyclical strives to do, start a dialogue within ourselves, our families and others in our community. In this post, I have reduced the Pope’s thoughts into just a few sentences, but the conversations they start in us can be difficult. When it comes to consumption, waste and pollution, what do you find to be the most challenging to your thought process and habits?
In the next section we will spend some time understanding Pope Francis thoughts on the paragraphs he titles, “Climate as a Common Good.”