Chapter 1: ENVIRONMENTAL VALUES & POLICIES

Pages 10-11: Pope Francis’s Environmental Encyclical

The text of the casebook mentions Pope John Paul’s January 1990 encyclical on “Peace with All Creation.”  On June 18, 2015, Pope Francis issued a new environmental encyclical entitled Laudato Si (Praise Be to You) On Care for Our Common Home.  The encyclical was published in eight languages.  A copy in English is available online at: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html.  When he was selected in 2013, Argentine archbishop Jorge Mario Bergoglio chose the name Francis to honor St. Francis of Assisi, “the patron saint of all who study and work in the area of ecology.” The encyclical reviews the history of the Catholic Church’s concern for the environment, noting Pope John XXIII’s concern over the testing of nuclear weapons in 1963, Pope Paul IV’s condemnation of environmental degradation in 1971, and statements of environmental concern by their successors.  Declaring that God has entrusted the world to humans, Pope Francis states that nature is misused when it is viewed as property we use for ourselves alone.  He notes that many religious traditions properly view activity that harms the environment as a sin.  The Pope urgently appeals “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet.”

The encyclical presents a solid discussion of the causes and consequences of climate change and it stresses the importance of shifting away from highly polluting fossil fuel energy sources to renewable energy, something that has caused great distress to the fossil fuel industry and the climate deniers it promotes. It stresses that access to safe drinking water should be considered a fundamental human right and it strongly emphasizes the importance of protecting wetlands and preserving biodiversity.  Importantly, the encyclical declares that the biblical reference in the book of Genesis to man having “dominion” over the earth has been incorrectly interpreted to permit unbridled development (“the Bible has no place for a tyrannical anthropocentrism unconcerned for other creatures”).  Rather, it argues that “our ‘dominion’ over the universe should be understood more properly in the sense of responsible stewardship” and that the right to private property is “not inviolable,” but rather subject to a “social mortgage.”


The gist of Laudato Si is that mankind has a strong moral obligation to protect the environment that has not been honored despite repeated global environmental summits.  As a result we face an “ecological crisis” that particularly harms the poorest and most vulnerable.  We must pursue intergenerational equity and hear “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (emphasis in original).  The encyclical emphasizes “how everything is interconnected” and that various factors such as loss of freedom, violence and corruption can undermine the effectiveness of legal institutions (“Laws may be well framed yet remain a dead letter. Can we hope, then, that in such cases, legislation and regulations dealing with the environment will really prove effective?”). Laudato Si praises the Montreal Protocol, the Basel Convention, and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  It endorses the precautionary principle and applauds the1992 Rio Declaration, but decries the scant development of global environmental norms since then. 


Significantly, Pope Francis stresses the importance of developing effective national environmental laws and regulations (“Society, through non-governmental organizations and intermediate groups, must put pressure on governments to develop more rigorous regulations, procedures and controls. Unless citizens control political power – national, regional and municipal – it will not be possible to control damage to the environment.”). He also notes the importance of continuity (“policies related to climate change and environmental protection cannot be altered with every change of government. Results take time and demand immediate outlays which may not produce tangible effects within any one government’s term. That is why, in the absence of pressure from the public and from civic institutions, political authorities will always be reluctant to intervene, all the more when urgent needs must be met. To take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics.”).  Pope Francis argues that laws, even when enforceable, will not alone bring about the necessary changes without ecological education that motivates individuals to change their behavior.


While Pope Francis has received high praise for Laudato Si, some parts of it have caused controversy even within the environmental community.  He criticizes carbon trading as a possible “ploy which permits maintaining the excessive consumption of some countries”. This led one prominent environmental economist to denounce Pope Francis as a representative of the views of “a small set of socialist Latin American countries that are opposed to the world economic order [and] fearful of free markets.”  The Pope does argue that market forces cannot adequately protect the environment and he identifies “the increasing use and power of air-conditioning” as an example of “harmful consumption.” He criticizes those who blame environmental degradation on population growth in developing countries and asserts that an “ecological debt” is owed by the “global north” to the “global south.” He argues for “redefining our notion of progress,” noting that “technological and economic development which does not leave in its wake a better world and an integrally higher quality of life cannot be considered progress.”  Pope Francis astutely observes that the term “sustainable growth” often is used as “a way of distracting attention and offering excuses” reducing “the social and environmental responsibility of businesses . . . to a series of marketing and image-enhancing measures.”


Pages 5-24:  ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

For Further Information on Environmental Justice

The American Bar Association has a very useful website that tracks developments in environmental justice litigation and advocacy.  It is located at: http://apps.americanbar.org/abapubs/environmental/ejupdates.html.

Environmental Justice Resource Center at Clark Atlanta University maintains one of the best and most comprehensive websites devoted to environmental justice issues. The website can be found at http://www.ejrc.cau.edu. It includes links to the latest news on environmental justice issues, downloadable reports and articles, and a calendar of events.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Compliance and Enforcement maintains information on environmental justice issues on its website located at: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/index.html. The website includes information on EPA's position on environmental justice issues and information on the activities of the agency's National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/nejac/index.html).

EPA's Office of Civil Rights maintains links to publications and fact sheets on Title VI issues at http://www.epa.gov/ocrpage1/t6docpub.htm#Frpub.

In February 1998, EPA issued Interim Guidance for Investigating Title VI Administrative Complaints Challenging Permits. In June 2000, EPA issued a revised draft of this guidance, 65 Fed. Reg. 39,650, which is available online at http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-GENERAL/2000/June/Day-27/g15673.htm


Links to various federal agencies’ policies, strategies and implementation plans for addressing environmental justice issues are available at: http://www.epa.gov/compliance/environmentaljustice/interagency/iwg-compendium.html


To read more about the Center for Progressive Reform's views on Environmental Justice visit http://www.progressivereform.org/perspEnvironJustice.cfm where you will find a comprehensive survey of modern environmental justice issues and the law written by Eileen Gauna, Catherine A. O’Neill, and Clifford Rechtschaffen.