Pope Warns Against Environmental Extremism

Published February 1, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI, in his January 1 World Peace Day message, emphasized humanity’s responsibility to provide environmental stewardship, while at the same time warning against extremism that elevates the environment to a superior or equal position relative to God or humans.

“We need to care for the environment: It has been entrusted to men and women to be protected and cultivated with responsible freedom, with the good of all as a constant guiding criterion. Human beings, obviously, are of supreme worth vis-à-vis creation as a whole. Respecting the environment does not mean considering material or animal nature more important than man. Rather, it means not selfishly considering nature to be at the complete disposal of our own interests, for future generations also have the right to reap its benefits and to exhibit towards nature the same responsible freedom that we claim for ourselves,” the Pope said.

“Humanity today is rightly concerned about the ecological balance of tomorrow. It is important for assessments in this regard to be carried out prudently, in dialogue with experts and people of wisdom, uninhibited by ideological pressure to draw hasty conclusions, and above all with the aim of reaching agreement on a model of sustainable development capable of ensuring the well-being of all while respecting environmental balances. If the protection of the environment involves costs, they should be justly distributed, taking due account of the different levels of development of various countries and the need for solidarity with future generations,” the Pope explained.

Cooperation Important

Pope Benedict emphasized the role of international dialogue and cooperation in providing responsible environmental stewardship. “In this regard, it is essential to ‘sense’ that the earth is ‘our common home’ and, in our stewardship and service to all, to choose the path of dialogue rather than the path of unilateral decisions,” said the Pope.

He continued, “Further international agencies may need to be established in order to confront together the stewardship of this ‘home’ of ours; more important, however, is the need for ever greater conviction about the need for responsible cooperation. The problems looming on the horizon are complex and time is short. In order to face this situation effectively, there is a need to act in harmony.”

“In the context of apocalyptic environmental prophesies which are frequently heard in this discussion, the Pope’s words exhibit a needed sense of balance, maturity, and authentic reverence for man and his environment,” said Rev. Robert Sirico, president of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty.

“In warning against ideological pressures and ‘hasty conclusions,’ the Pope is wise in reminding us that if the environment is going to be protected, human beings have to be at the center of the solution,” Sirico added.

James M. Taylor ([email protected]) is a senior fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of Environment & Climate News.