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St Mary's Academics Respond to Papal Encylical on Environment

St Mary’s University has formed an interdisciplinary group to study the ‘Laudato Si’ encyclical and to prepare for a conference at the end of the year.

St Mary’s University, Twickenham has formed an interdisciplinary group to study the ‘Laudato Si’ encyclical of Pope Francis (published on the 18th June) and to prepare for a conference on the encyclical at the end of the year. The Encyclical Study Group comprises St Mary’s academics in the fields of theology, philosophy, ethics, physics, geography, environmental, sustainability, political economy and the built environment. The Group has already met to explore the historical, challenging and many-sided papal document which precedes the Pope’s interventions at the U.S. Congress, and U.N. General Assembly and the Paris climate change conference in December. Comments from the Group in response to ‘Laudato Si’ can be found below. Dr Anthony Towey, Theologian and Director of the Aquinas Centre: “The goodness of creation is at the heart of Christian theology. It leads to contemplation of the divine (Wis 13:5-9, Matt 6:28-30, Rom 1:18-23) and the created order has been doubly ennobled by Jesus as the incarnate Word (John 1:14). Despite ancients deeming the physical world inimical to our best selves, the rugged patristic response was summed up by Boethius: omnia sunt bona – ‘all things are good’. Moreover, essentials of the Catholic theological tradition of human flourishing such as Natural Law and the ‘sanctity of life’ are rooted in this insight, likewise the poetry of cosmic intimacy exemplified by St Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Creatures. As a worldwide figure of unique importance, the encyclical of Pope Francis will raise awareness of the ecological implications of Christian thinking and potentially impact, personal, business and governmental decision-making.” Dr Pia Matthews, Lecturer in Healthcare Chaplaincy and Ethics: “In the tradition of Catholic Social Teaching, popes have often used the anniversaries of encyclicals and other writings of their predecessors as inspiration for their own response to particular pressing challenges. So perhaps it is no coincidence that twenty five years ago Pope John Paul II chose as his message on the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990 ‘Peace with God the Creator, peace with all of creation’. Before him Pope Benedict XVI used his message on the World Day of Peace 2010 to argue ‘if you want to cultivate peace, protect creation’. “According to Pope John Paul II the ‘earth is suffering’ and the root cause of this is human beings. Pope John Paul lists the kinds of human activity that have led to this lack of due respect for nature: the indiscriminate use of science and technology that imperils the balance of the ecosystem, the depletion of the ozone layer, excessive energy consumption, industrial waste, burning of fossil fuels, unrestricted deforestation, the use of certain pesticides, the production of toxic waste, pollution, and ‘a reckless exploitation of natural resources’ in the name of human progress. Moreover, Pope John Paul points to a particular scourge on the environment: the devastating effects of warfare that include not only the implications for ecology of chemical, bacterial and biological weapons, but also damage to land and vegetation and the displacement of populations.” Prof. Geoff Hunt, Director, Centre for Bioethics & Emerging Technologies: “Pope Francis is pointing to the need for greater ethical scrutiny of the motives and priorities of technology developments in the light of the enormous damage to the environment and those who can derive no benefit from globalised consumerism. Climate change has been caused by human use of now outdated ‘dirty technologies’, using fossil fuels (oil, coal, gas) as the energy source. Emissions of carbon dioxide and methane in particular have thickened the atmospheric blanket around the Earth, trapping the sun’s heat. While the old technologies were implicated in the planetary damage, now emerging technologies such as nanomaterials, solar and wind energy will help a transition to a low-carbon economy. Other new technologies that have emerged in the last decade - including super-computers and telecommunications - can now measure and transmit knowledge of the damaging impacts with greater predictability and accuracy than ever before. However, as the pope emphasizes, technology alone can achieve nothing. They can have an effect only if the moral and political will can be generated.” Dr Iain Cross, Lecturer in Environmental Geography: “Climate change is not a theoretical concept but an observed reality. Records show that environmental systems are already responding to increased atmospheric temperatures, such as the loss of polar sea ice, melting of glaciers and the increase in sea level. Evidence also shows changes in the timing of ecological processes and the occurrence of extreme weather events. Many of these changes cause cascading effects through the ecosystems and environments on which human wellbeing depends. Overwhelming scientific evidence suggests anthropogenic emissions of carbon and methane are the main drivers of contemporary environmental change, and that the risk of rapid, runaway temperature change remains very real.” Mr Stuart Oliver, Lecturer in Human Geography: “My specialism is human and cultural geography and my principal area of research is sustainability, a strong theme in the Encyclical. Climate change provides a fundamental imperative for sustainable development. By sustainability we mean the capacity to be resilient, so sustainable development as famously defined by the Brundtland Commission is development that ‘meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.” Dr Trevor Stammers, Programme Director for MA Bioethics and Medical Law: “Although in the temperate countries climate change may bring some initial health benefits such as fewer deaths from chest infections and influenza from milder winters, the overall impact of global warming in the long term is thought likely to prove adverse health overall. It will negatively impact health directly through heatwaves, reduced air quality from increased ground level ozone levels and weather related disasters such as flooding and forest fires; indirectly through food shortages due to reduced fish stocks as well as reduced land crop yields, and changes in the ecology of disease vectors such as mosquitos and increased bacterial reproduction; and also the psychological trauma of flood victims or those displaced by landslides or forest fires; and the effects of climate-related war and migration effects.” Dr Elisabetta Canetta, Lecturer in Applied Physics: “The main cause of climate change is the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’. The modern industrial world’s greenhouse gases (i.e., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and ozone) trap heat into the atmosphere and form a blanket surrounding the whole Earth. The mechanism is very similar to how a greenhouse works. The energy (e.g. light) from the Sun reaches Earth. Some of it is reflected back into space and some is absorbed by the land and water on Earth. The absorbed energy is then released from the Earth surface into the atmosphere as heat. However, the barrier formed by the greenhouses gases present in the atmosphere trap a large amount of this heat. Consequently, the temperature of the Earth surface increases. Greenhouse gases are produced by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels that cause the production of large quantities of carbon dioxide, and industrial agriculture which produces methane and nitrous oxide. Alternatives to fossil fuels have to be developed quickly.” Dr Peter Tyler, Programme Director, MA Theology: “In the encyclical Pope Francis refers to the saint whose name he bears as pope, Saint Francis of Assisi, known as Il Poverello . By beginning his encyclical with his great song of praise to creation, ‘The Canticle of the Sun’, His Holiness points to the saint as symbolic of the spiritual anthropology we are to develop as a necessary adjunct to our ecological awareness. As he says: ‘Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise’.  Pope Francis therefore urges us to be caught up in the love of creation that inspired the saint of Assisi, ‘the patron saint of those who study and work in the area of ecology’.” Dr Tarcisius Mukuka, Lecturer in Theology: “I was first introduced to Papal encyclicals during my undergraduate studies in theology in the late 1970s but I can honestly say I have never looked forward to the publication of a papal encyclical as much as I have done this one. As a biblical scholar and postcolonial critic I was looking for two things in particular: how the Pope would deal with the injunction to subdue the earth and to have dominion in Gen 1.28 and the developing countries and climate change. On both counts the Pope does not disappoint me. In par 67 the Pope tackles head on the hijacking of Gen 1.28 to support a poor hermeneutics of ecology, which “has encouraged the unbridled exploitation of nature by painting [humanity] as domineering and destructive by nature.”  “This,” as the Pope says, “is not a correct interpretation of the Bible as understood by the Church.” He continues, “Although it is true that we Christians have at times incorrectly interpreted the Scriptures, nowadays we 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.” As a postcolonial critic I am delighted to see the balance with which Pope Francis approaches the question of developing nations and climate change.” Information about the Encyclical Study Group is available from the Director of St Mary’s Centre for Bioethics & Emerging Technologies, Prof. Geoffrey Hunt:

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