As I finally get into the body of this encyclical on the environment, I can begin to see the typical agenda of the environmentalist, except perhaps with a few different twists. For one, the environmental health hazards of cooking over wood and coal certainly comes from the work of catholic relief agencies, and the same is true of potable water for the worlds poor. Both clean water and safe sources of cooking fuel are major obstacles for many developing nations. A tree hugging environmentalist might gripe about the damage wood fires are doing to the atmosphere, the pope puts his emphasis on the damage to the person.
Throughout the popes discussion on the environment, there is particular concern for the many poor of the world. Human suffering is as much a topic as is environmentalism, and that is unique in a document with an environmental agenda. Were it not for the constant mention of the poor, the environmental topics are common to most discussions on environment. Sure it is standard environmental rhetoric, but with a different attitude. It gives acknowledgement to at least some of the environmental work done by his flock over the past 50 years. That is commendable. Many secular environmentalists might not give credit to someone who digs a well to provide potable water, or a latrine for adequate sanitation. Many might not be quick to associate urban squalor with an environmental movement. Main stream environmentalism is more about wide open spaces.
I also find it commendable that there is an inclusion of every mainstream environmental issue that does not go against Catholicism. The decision to include these topics keeps the focus on issues of air, soil, water, climate, and animal populations. Though concern for the poor is carefully woven throughout the document, it does remain focused on the planet, environment, and wildlife. It does not become a campaign for relief agencies and social workers. Also notable is that it does not go against Catholic teaching, it does not preach population control.
While noticing the catholic perspective throughout this document, have to wonder at least a little about the pitting of the rich against the poor. I have to wonder , at least to some extent, why there is so much blame placed on the wealthier nations for the plight of those poorer regions of the world. Many of those nations of wealth have spent considerable time and money on addressing many of the environmental issue the Pope Francis mentions. They are the nations that place restrictions on industrial emissions, and who fought for fuel efficient cars. Many of the richer nations are the very same ones with progressive environmental standards. They are the ones that develop much of the technology that minimizes environmental impact. They are also often the nations that push for the developing nations to raise their environmental standards.
I wonder if some of the struggling nations might be better served with a technology transfer initiatives to solve some of their real problems rather than assigning blame? Much of the poor problems originate with their own governments. It is their governments that often ignore environmental programs in favor of those that bring in money. Political corruption and greed can be as much an enemy of the poor and their environment as a large carbon footprint. Rather than scolding the wealthy, perhaps some of the scolding should have been directed at the governments that benefit themselves rather than their citizenry. Poor countries are famous for having poor governments.
Concern for the environment is one thing, the complexities of implementing sound environmental policies is quite another. The devil is in the details, and I fear this document has not driven out that devil. I will say though that the focus of the document so far does set a good basis for a Catholic approach to the environment. It at least sets in place the basis for a good discussion. I remain enthusiastic as I begin to read the next section.