Mother Earth Cries Out & We Must Listen and Act Boldly – Reflecting on Pope Francis’s Encyclical on the Environment

Blog by Osprey Orielle Lake, WECAN International Co-Founder & Executive Director 

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Photo by Emily Arasim

Pope Francis’s new encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si, is a powerful tool for the climate movement, and has created a critical space inviting other world leaders to step up and take bold action to address the root causes of the crisis we face. We must recognize however, that this is not just a tool for the movement, but also a tool of the movement, with statements echoing years of peoples organizing worldwide.

Pope Francis calls not just for climate action, but also for climate justice, recognizing that human poverty and vulnerability is intimately tied to environmental degradation. He espouses an integral ecology that embraces the deep interdependence of the Earth, human society, and the economy. The encyclical is also a call for a fundamental shift in our collective consciousness and understanding of the world and our place in it- requiring movement from a global society of destruction and consumption, to one of care and connection to our collective home, our Mother Earth.

“This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted,” Pope Francis writes.

Critically, Francis explains that real change means bringing together three worldviews that have been divided for too long in modern societies: scientific knowledge, spirituality, and Indigenous understanding. He calls for the voices of the world’s Indigenous peoples to be at the center of all climate discussions and actions, recognizing that we have so much to learn from these cultures that have maintained their connection to the land. The Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network could not agree more, as we are advocating for action based on four Guiding Principles: Rights of Women, Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Rights of Nature and Rights of Future Generations.

Pope Francis does not waiver in his criticism of the corporate interests driving environmental degradation, nor the politicians facilitating their destruction. He calls for immediate action to keep fossil fuels in the ground, a bold transition to a clean energy future, and climate solutions free of inappropriate market mechanisms.

The encyclical opens the door further to addressing the urgency of global warming and touches on how this crisis is giving us the opportunity (or perhaps rather forcing us) to entirely redesign our economic systems and ways of living with the Earth and each other.

We humans invented our economy, we built it, and we can build it again in a very new way. In fact, we must if we want to survive and thrive. As we head into the redesign, we need to look at the very DNA of our economic and legal structures regarding nature in order to truly address systemic changes and root injustices.

Many climate justice leaders around the world are working to define a just, new economy, and we see many echoes of the key ingredients they have outlined within Pope Francis’ statements. The new economy must take into account social, gender, Indigenous, economic and environmental justice. It must transition out of the endless material growth paradigm that forms the foundation of the capitalist system, returning to a lifeway that is based on the carrying capacity of the Earth and the laws of Nature. Our new economic and social paradigm must be based on different concepts of wealth, development and well-being, and must take into immediate consideration the health and rights of frontline communities and the worlds most vulnerable peoples.

The Pope’s Laudato Si questions the belief that humans are here to control and dominate life on Earth, and in this we see an important opening for the implementation of the Rights of Nature worldwide. A Rights of Nature legal framework recognizes the Earth’s inherent right to exist and flourish, not as a resource for humans, but as a living entity in and of itself. Activities that harm the ability of ecosystems and natural communities to thrive and naturally restore themselves are thus illegal violations of the Earth’s rights, allowing for a depth and strength of action that decades of conventional environmental protection laws have yet to deliver.

While we applaud the Pope for his leadership and unwavering stance, as a women’s climate justice organization we must pause and stand firm in asserting that there is still much work to be done to address the patriarchal worldview that this encyclical still portrays, evident in the peppering of old paradigm comments on gender and sexuality. The document fails to make the connection that violence against Mother Earth begets violence against women, and that, until there is universal women’s equality and respect for women’s human rights, we will not resolve the existential crisis we now face. Women are the most negatively impacted by climate change and environmental degradation, yet they are key to solutions. Click here to read more in the Women’s Climate Action Agenda.

That said, this is the first time that a global figure of such authority has spoken so openly and directly about the depth of the climate catastrophe, false solutions, root causes, inequities, and systemic change,  and for this we truly commend him. Thank you Pope Francis!

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