Pope Francis asserts ‘right of the environment’ in speech to UN

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September 26, 2015

NEW YORK – Pope Francis asserted that the environment – as well as humanity – has rights, in a dramatic rethinking of the relationship between people and the earth at the United Nations on Friday.

Pope Francis delivers his address to the United Nations on Friday in New York.

September 26, 2015

NEW YORK – Pope Francis asserted that the environment – as well as humanity – has rights, in a dramatic rethinking of the relationship between people and the earth at the United Nations on Friday.

Pope Francis delivers his address to the United Nations on Friday in New York.

Francis told the UN general assembly that the environment should enjoy the same rights and protections as humanity.

“It must be stated that a true ‘right of the environment’ does exist,” Francis said.

The declaration gives nature far greater primacy in Catholic church thinking than before, deepening the traditional responsibility of humans to serve as stewards of the environment.

The justification, the pope said, was clear: humanity and nature were so inter-connected that threats to the environment inevitably rebounded, diminishing the rights and living conditions of the most vulnerable in society.

“Any harm done to the environment, therefore is harm done to humanity,” the pope concluded.

It was the first time Francis had explicitly said that the environment had a “right” that equated it to humanity.

In his 180-page encyclical on the environment, released in July, which laid out his thinking on the environment and humanity’s duty to it, Francis talked about the rights of individuals, the poor, and of future generations, but not of the earth itself.

The pope’s address, on the second leg of his visit to the US, was delivered as the United Nations prepares to adopt 17 sustainable development goals.

Those goals, while not explicitly rooted in environmental protection – were intended to promote less harmful forms of economic development.

“The misuse and destruction of the environment are also accompanied by a relentless process of exclusion,” Francis told the UN.

“A selfish and boundless thirst for power and material prosperity leads both to the misuse of available natural resources and to the exclusion of the weak and disadvantaged, either because they are differently abled (handicapped), or because they lack adequate information and technical expertise, or are incapable of decisive political action,” he said.

The pope’s encyclical on the environment called on the world’s rich nations to begin paying their “grave social debt” to the poor and take concrete steps on climate change.

As the encyclical made evident, the pope believes that the unrestrained capitalism of the current economic order is trampling upon the rights of the poor and the week, and destroying the environment.

Unrestrained capitalism encouraged what he called a “culture of waste” in which the poorest and weakest were seen as disposable.

But Francis went even further in his speech to the UN on Friday by expanding the notion of protection from humanity to nature.

Such a change in thinking – backed up by action – was crucial to protect the rights of humanity and nature, the pope told world leaders.

Sacrifice the environment, and wrongs against the weak and the poor were bound to follow, he said.

“Economic and social exclusion is a complete denial of human fraternity and a grave offense against human rights and the environment,” he said.

Francis returned to the theme with a warning that the large-scale destruction of biodiversity could “threaten the very existence of the human species”.

Quoting his predecessor, Pope Benedict, Francis said: “Man does not create himself. He is spirit and will, but also nature.”

At the conclusion of his 40-minute speech, he said: “This common home of all men and women must also be built on the understanding of a certain sacredness of created nature.”


Courtesy: The Guardian

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