It is one of the oddest things to try to make Pope Benedict a figure to combat environmentalists. Of course, as with all things, he seeks balance. He understands that environmental concerns have to be practiced by proper methods. However, to take a few statements of his out of context and to use them to suggest environmentalism is working against humanity is to do violence to the teachings of the Pope. To suggest that those who are concerned with climate change have it out against humanity must, in the end, say the Pope himself has it out against humanity. For he, among many others, find climate change to be a serious concern:
Preservation of the environment, promotion of sustainable development and particular attention to climate change are matters of grave concern for the entire human family. No nation or business sector can ignore the ethical implications present in all economic and social development (Pope Benedict, Letter to the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, Sept 7 2007).
While some might use the environment for an anti-human policy, this use can go two-ways. Some, of course, have no love for humanity, and have no concern with the harm they do to humanity for the sake of the environment. But many who complain about environmentalists, saying they hate humanity, show their own disdain for their brothers and sisters in many of the policies and activities they engage. Indeed, Pope Benedict has pointed out how modern, consumer societies can easily create an ideology of humanity as lord over nature and use that to ignore the stewardship humanity is to have over nature. That is, without God, the materialistic worldview ends up being dominated by selfishness, a selfishness which not only ignores, but cares less about the results of one’s own use of the world’s resources:
Bearing in mind our common responsibility for creation (cf. n. 51), the Church is not only committed to promoting the protection of land, water and air as gifts of the Creator destined to everyone but above all she invites others and works herself to protect mankind from self-destruction. In fact, “when “human ecology’ is respected within society, environmental ecology also benefits” (ibid.). Is it not true that an irresponsible use of creation begins precisely where God is marginalized or even denied? If the relationship between human creatures and the Creator is forgotten, matter is reduced to a selfish possession, man becomes the “last word”, and the purpose of human existence is reduced to a scramble for the maximum number of possessions possible (Pope Benedict, General Audience, August 26, 2009).
In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate, I noted that integral human development is closely linked to the obligations which flow from man’s relationship with the natural environment. The environment must be seen as God’s gift to all people, and the use we make of it entails a shared responsibility for all humanity, especially the poor and future generations. I also observed that whenever nature, and human beings in particular, are seen merely as products of chance or an evolutionary determinism, our overall sense of responsibility wanes. On the other hand, seeing creation as God’s gift to humanity helps us understand our vocation and worth as human beings. With the Psalmist, we can exclaim with wonder: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars which you have established; what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” (Ps 8:4-5). Contemplating the beauty of creation inspires us to recognize the love of the Creator, that Love which “moves the sun and the other stars” (Pope Benedict, Message For World Peace Day, Jan 1, 2010).
Denying our duty to God is sin, and encouraging others to sin is a grave mistake indeed. Let us not use the abuses and sins of others as an excuse to deny our own responsibility to creation.