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Reflecting on integral ecology in Laudato Si’

The latest Working Notes, a regular position paper of the Jesuit Centre for Faith and Justice, is dedicated to integral ecology, the complex relationships and systems that bind humankind to all aspects of God’s creation. “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” wrote Pope Francis in Laudato Si’; “We are part of nature.” And it is with the fifth anniversary of Laudato Si’ in mind that Working Notes has turned its focus on this theme. The issue is edited by Ciara Murphy, Environmental Policy Officer with JCFJ.

Although most of the material for this issue would have been commissioned and written before the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, the letter of John Guiney SJ, JCFJ Director, and the editorial of Ciara Murphy, both placed at the front of the issue, help to frame the concerns of Laudato Si’ in terms of this sudden and severe crisis. For John Guiney, the Pope’s promotion of ‘integral ecology’ is made all the more essential by the pandemic. When the Pope notes the danger of what he calls ‘rapidification’, the acceleration of changes affecting humanity and the planet coupled with a more intensified pace of life and work, he describes perfectly, according to Fr Guiney, “the kind of ecosystem pressure that allowed what we now call Covid-19 to jump from its original source into the human population. “Integral ecology,” he continues, “is not just a framework that allows us to consider the relationship between decarbonisation and just transitions, but between markets in Wuhan province and nursing homes in Westmeath.”

In her editorial, Ciara Murphy also addresses the question of what difference the current pandemic context will make. Though she sees plenty of reasons for concern, overall she is optimistic: “Reflecting on Laudato Si’ during this time of uncertainty can help to illuminate a path to protect our common home with the type of communal action that, until now, has seemed impossible”. “During this global health crisis,” she adds, “we have experienced a much slower pace of life. The restrictions of movement we have placed on ourselves to slow the spread of Covid-19 could perhaps be a catalyst in our ‘ecological conversion'”.

The lead article, entitled ‘”Everything is Interconnected”: Laudato Si’, an Ethical Framework to Guide Environmental Policy?’, is by Irish Jesuit Gerry Whelan, Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. He dedicates a good portion of the article to the concrete proposals concerning ecology of German economist and climate politics expert Ottmar Edenhofer. Particular attention is paid to Edenhofer’s stress on ‘carbon pricing’, the need for the intervention of governments in the market mechanisms of modern economies so as to reduce carbon emissions and mitigate climate change. Gerry Whelan acknowledges that Laudato Si’ makes few concrete proposals but emphasises instead the need for improved processes of dialogue which might produce proposals, actions and results. Edenhofer’s ideas are a valuable contribution here. Fr Whelan notes, however, that Pope Francis also provides a specifically religious framework for understanding ecological concerns, especially by recalling the Christian sense of sacredness and the deeper meaning of Christ’s incarnation.

All of the contents of this issue of Working Notes may be accessed on the JCFJ website here »