On October 4, 2023, Pope Francis issued the apostolic exhortationLaudate Deum (LD) as a followup to his 2015 encyclicalLaudato Si’ (LS). The documents deal in depth with the theme of ecology and the care of our common home, the earth on which we all live.
Now the Pope has announced that he will attend the upcoming United Nations conference on climate change.
One of the key concepts of the Pontiff’s ecological documents is that of “integral ecology.” What does that expression mean?
In number 138, Laudato Si’ states that “ecology studies the relationship between living organisms and the environment in which they develop.” Therefore, the Pope’s warnings are about not only the deterioration of the environment, but also about the deterioration of society. The two are intertwined and are facing a shared crisis.
Among the social evils Pope Francis mentions are selfishness, consumerism, the throwaway culture, and relativism. But he also calls the world to value and respect every human life since its conception, addressing the value of work, and the problems of human exploitation, animal experiments, and genetic manipulation.
Pope Francis explicitly details the idea of integral ecology in depth in Chapter 4 of Laudato Si’, and they appear explicitly or implicitly in Laudate Deum. Here are five key ideas:
Humanity is part of nature, God’s creation
“We are part of nature, included in it and thus in constant interaction with it” (LS 139). Therefore, whatever affects the environment also affects our cultural, historical, and artistic heritage (LS 143). We must take care of both areas. This is what he calls “situated anthropocentrism” (human-centeredness): “human life is incomprehensible and unsustainable without other creatures.” (LD 67)
Wisdom from indigenous cultures
Indigenous cultures often have learned to maintain a “harmonious relationship” with nature (LD 27). They can provide important lessons, and their unique identity and cultural riches deserve to be protected, as they are often affected by agricultural or mining projects “undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture” (LS 146).
Quality of life for everyone, no exceptions
We must ensure the quality of life of people in both cities and rural areas (LS 151). There should be equal access to essential services (LS 154) and to areas “preserved and protected from constant changes brought by human intervention” (LS 151).
The dignity of every human being and the human body
We should recognize the dignity of every human being and accept our own body as a gift from God (LS 155), take care of it, and respect its fullest meaning, valuing its femininity or masculinity. Here, the Pope places the gender issues so much a part of today’s cultural debates in the context of care for creation, asserting that care and respect for creation also means care and respect for our own bodies, specifically in respecting the femininity or masculinity of our bodies as they were created.
The common good
It is vital to seek the common good, respecting the human person — especially the family, the basic cell of society, and those who are poorest, thinking of the world we will leave to future generations (LS 157-159, LD 60).
In conclusion, integral ecology refers to taking care of humanity and the natural world from which we are inseparable. This begins with respecting every human life, everywhere, from the moment of conception and throughout its various stages. It means embracing “sister earth” and undergoing an ecological conversion through which we abandon compulsive consumerism and we live in sobriety and humility.
This starts with small changes in our own daily lives, to create cultural changes (LD 71). We should give thanks before and after meals, and promote environmental education. We need to learn to love and care for life in all its forms (LD 62-65) as God’s creation, which “shows forth the inexhaustible richness of God.” And we need to free ourselves from accumulating endless quantities of material things, which “can baffle the heart and prevent us from cherishing each thing and each moment” (LS 222).