Pope Francis says unbridled greed is putting the Earth in unprecedented danger. Photo / AP
Pope Francis says unbridled greed is putting the Earth in unprecedented danger. Photo / AP

Pope Francis has blamed the rich and powerful for placing the planet in unprecedented danger as he demanded urgent and concerted global action against climate change.

The Earth is rapidly being turned into “an immense pile of filth” by unbridled greed, he warned in a critique of the “sin” of environmental destruction.

In a landmark papal encyclical, addressed to “every person living on this planet”, he said there was a “solid scientific consensus” that mankind was at least mostly responsible for global warming.

The document, which will become part of the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, demanded the phasing out of fossil fuels and urged the world to find a way to pay for the transition to green energy, with the rich shouldering the burden.

It castigated governments and hit out at climate change sceptics, whom it accused of being in “denial of the problem” and even, in some cases, responsible for a cover-up.

The Pope also deflected criticism that the Vatican was partly responsible for the environmental crisis through its opposition to birth control.

“To blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some is one way of refusing to face the issues,” he said.

The encyclical was applauded by environmentalists, aid agencies, religious leaders and politicians led by Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary General.

But the Pope’s assertions on the human causes of climate change pit him against powerful figures, including those on the United States Right, before a visit to America where he will address Congress.

While the encyclical will influence the political debate, its most powerful impact could come in its instruction to the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics through an “ecological conversion”, transforming their own lifestyles to cut waste and end the “throwaway culture”.

If taken as seriously as previous encyclicals, such as Humanae Vitae of 1968 which prohibited artificial birth control, it would mean millions of families committing themselves to cooking less food to avoid waste, switching off lights and recycling.

“Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way, to appropriate the positive and sustainable progress which has been made, but also to recover the values and the great goals swept away by our unrestrained delusions of grandeur,” the Pope said.

Professor John Schellnhuber, a German climate scientist who played a leading role in the drafting of the encyclical, said the document “brings together two strong powers in the world, faith and morals, and reason and ingenuity”.

Pope’s top 10 concerns

Pope Francis is calling for an “ecological conversion” for the faithful in his sweeping new encyclical on the environment.

In Laudato Si, or Be Praised (or Praised Be,) he warns of harming birds and industrial waste and calls for renewable fuel subsidies and energy efficiency. Here are some of the key passages people will read closely, everything from climate change and global warming to abortion and population control.

• Climate change has grave implications. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever,” he writes.

• Rich countries are destroying poor ones, and the earth is getting warmer. “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.”

• Christians have misinterpreted Scripture and “must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures”.

• The importance of access to safe drinkable water is “a basic and universal human right”.

• Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion”.

• Population control does not address the problems of the poor. “In the face of the so-called culture of death, the family is the heart of the culture of life.” And, “since everything is inter-related, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion”.

• Gender differences matter, and “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognise myself in an encounter with someone who is different”.

• The international community has not acted enough: “Recent World Summits on the environment have not lived up to expectations because, due to lack of political will, they were unable to reach truly meaningful and effective global agreements on the environment.” He writes, “The Church does not presume to settle scientific questions or to replace politics. But I am concerned to encourage an honest and open debate so that particular interests or ideologies will not prejudice the common good.” And, “there is urgent need of a true world political authority, as my predecessor Blessed John XXIII indicated some years ago”.

• Individuals must act. “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploit-ation and selfishness.” We should also consider car-pooling, planting trees, turning off lights and recycling.

• By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” he writes.

Telegraph Group Ltd, Washington Post