Originally published at CNS BRANCHES on MAY 2, 2016
I had been wanting to write this post for a long time but hadn’t done so out of fear of being controversial. However, lately I have come to the realization that the only one whom I should please, and care about pleasing, is God, so I’m asking for guidance from the Holy Spirit as I’m writing this, hoping to follow His will.
So what’s with the controversy? For one thing, most of the time it seems like the only people that like veganism are already vegan, and that many of those who aren’t feel the constant need to attack it. On the other side, Laudato Si, which now that I’m reading it seems to align very well with the point of view that I have of the intersection between veganism and Catholicism, has created some sort of divide between those who identify as “liberal” or “conservative” primarily in the U.S., with both peoples allowing their religion to be shaped by their political stances first, instead of the other way around. Pope Francis said so himself: “It is time to rise above partisanship and controversy over climate change and heed the moral imperative to act now,” but he’s certainly not the first one to do so. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI also talked about the importance of caring for the environment: “A…key area where you are called to make a contribution is in showing concern for the environment. This is not only because this country, more than many others, is likely to be seriously affected by climate change. You are called to care for creation not only as responsible citizens, but also as followers of Christ!”  In order to answer to that call, I became vegan almost 7 years ago, though I’ve been learning more about the impact of that decision in the recent years.
Though there is not one reason why I’m vegan, there are probably too many to count, there are some that struck me more than others. At first when I was deciding whether to make that lifestyle change or not, I encountered many people who would tell me “but God put animals on Earth so that we could eat them!” Yet, as we can see in Laudato Si “it is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves” (LS, 33). I think that was one of the first steps for me in recognizing that the meat in my plate wasn’t just a “thing” to satisfy my palate, but that it came from a being that glorified God in its mere existence, which we can also see in the writings of St. Francis of Assisi that inspired this text and gave it its title referring to how God is praised through the beauty in His creation. Regardless of what God’s initial intentions were for when He first put animals on Earth, what the meat industry is doing today is causing terrible damage not just to the Earth, but to the most vulnerable of peoples.
The production of animal-based foods such as meat, dairy, and eggs, accounts for much of the deterioration that is happening today in the environment. The highest amount of greenhouse gases is emitted, not by cars or airplanes or even factories, but by animal products.  This industry is also a huge contributor to water shortages, since it takes about 53 gallons of water alone to produce an egg, and about 715 to produce a hamburger, in comparison to 1 for each almond , which concerned many people during the drought here in California. Many argue that perhaps, more humane meat would be the answer, but this would be at the cost of even more deforestation since more space would be needed for the animals to live and for their food to be harvested. I have to admit that I’m not a huge animal person (I know it sounds like an oxymoron coming from a vegan), but what really made me change my eating habits was seeing the way in which eating animal products affects others, not just me, or the animals themselves or the environment.
As it is stated multiple times throughout Laudato Si “the deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet: ‘Both everyday experience and scientific research show that the gravest effects of all attacks on the environment are suffered by the poorest'” (LS, 48). What does that mean? That climate change isn’t just a hoity-toity theory in the air about what may happen in a trillion years, but that it is something that is happening right now, something that is making the poor poorer, forcing them to relocate, or at times killing them. How? “Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture…and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited…changes in climate, to which animals and plants cannot adapt, lead them to migrate; this in turn affects the livelihood of the poor, who are then forced to leave their homes, with great uncertainty for their future and that of their children” (LS, 25).
The people cutting down trees and working in polluting corporations aren’t the only bad guys. We have to realize that much of the damage being done is caused by you and me, but we can make a change, if not for ourselves, at least for those who don’t have a voice.
 Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Saint John Paul II. "Statements by Pope Benedict XVI." Pope Benedict XVI and St. John Paul II. Catholic Climate Covenant, 24 May 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.http://www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/catholic_teachings/pope_benedict_XVI_st_john_paul_II
 Mohr, Noam. "EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence." EarthSave - Food Intervention Programs to Achieve Health Independence. Earth Save, Aug. 2005. Web. 28 Apr. 2016.http://www.earthsave.org/environment/
 Plotczyk, Lorelei. "U.S. Drought Or: How We Learned to Stop Eating Meat & Live Vegan." Vegan Publishers. Vegan Publishers, 2 July 2015. Web. 12 May 2016. http://veganpublishers.com/u-s-drought-or-how-we-learned-to-stop-eating-meat-live-vegan/
I’m writing this in response to a blog post I wrote targeting the Pope's views on ‘carbon credits’ and their ineffectiveness for solving climate change on a scale we need. I would like to start by saying that my previous analysis on market-based solutions being the only and best way to address the problems that our common home faces was incorrect. I think that the reason for that analysis being incorrect is because of the reference point used in the title of Pope Francis’ encyclical: Our Common Home. In titling his encyclical as such, the Pope identified and put forward the best solution we have for the climate crisis at hand. This solution is the sharing of a global world and the universal understanding of the interconnectedness of all people. This fundamental change in view is discussed in Laudato Si when Pope Francis “urgently appeal[s]… for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet,” and further charges that “we need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all,” as well as arguing that “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.” (LS, 14, 23).
This argument is based on understanding, interconnectedness, conversation, and complex systems. The basis of this solution is mutual understanding and compassion; the concern is implementation. As people of privilege we have a responsibility to act in other people’s interest. How do we actually practice this idea? From Laudato Si section 211, where Pope Francis pays particular attention to understanding and personal responses to the threat our common home faces, I have thought of 3 ways to be more mindful.
1. Use less, even though you can afford more
“A person who could afford to spend and consume more but regularly uses less heating and wears warmer clothes, shows the kind of convictions and attitudes which help to protect the environment.”
2. Reflect on mundane acts and think about how you can act thoughtfully everyday
“Reusing something instead of immediately discarding it, when done for the right reasons, can be an act of love which expresses our own dignity.”
3. Educate yourself so as to give you the chance to make the best choices possible
“Education in environmental responsibility can encourage ways of acting which directly and significantly affect the world around us, such as avoiding the use of plastic and paper, reducing water consumption, separating refuse, cooking only what can reasonably be consumed, showing care for other living beings, using public transport or car-pooling, planting trees, turning off unnecessary lights, or any number of other practices.”
It is easy to get caught in the mindset that as humans we have a predisposition to destroy and, particularly in America, to act individually and forget the fact that we’re all on the same team. Noam Chomsky once said “All over the place, from the popular culture to the propaganda system, there is constant pressure to make people feel that they are helpless, that the only role they can have is to ratify decisions and to consume .” Chomsky, as well as Pope Francis, however, know that this sentiment is not true. As humans we become helpless only when we have made up our minds that we are. In light of the climate crisis it is important to remember that we are not helpless, we are all on the same team, and we can all take steps to save our common home.
“The economy accepts every advance in technology with a view to profit, without concern for its potentially negative impact on human beings... Some circles maintain that current economics and technology will solve all environmental problems, and argue, in popular and non-technical terms, that the problems of global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth...[They show] no interest in more balanced levels of production, a better distribution of wealth, concern for the environment and the rights of future generations. Their behavior shows that for them maximizing profits is enough. Yet by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” LS, 109
In Laudato Si Pope Francis presents a fairly harsh critique on current economic thought and the ability of economics to adequately combat the impending environmental crisis. His points are quite valid: we are consuming far above a sustainable level of <1 Earth, and the capitalist ideal of unlimited growth is incompatible with a limited planet. Despite the Pope's criticisms, however, I strongly believe that economics can be utilized to adequately value and protect the world's resources. If we move away from current theories advocating for unrestricted consumption and production, economic models and systems can be used to better the environment. Through the application of externalities, sustainability incentives, and redistributive taxes, we can avoid market failures and increase equity in income and prosperity. Though economic approaches are not the only key to finding a universally beneficial solution, they must be a big component of any attempt to balance sustainability and production.
Through a moral lens, a human life is priceless. In economic thought, however, it must be assigned a monetary value. It is impossible to save every life and, considering the diminishing marginal returns of safety reforms as well as the limited supply of resources, some tradeoffs are necessary to maximize efficiency. For example, the EPA values a human life at $9.1 million as of 2010. By utilizing a similar system for the health of the planet, we can accurately assess the damage caused by various industrial activities. We must also consider the inherent value of environment resources, regardless of the direct profit to be made from their consumption. The happiness we experience in nature and the life-giving services it provides should not be taken lightly. Through a complete assessment of the value of the environment and of ecosystem services we can ensure that we take the most sustainable and efficient actions in production and conservation.
If we have a developed monetary value for the environment, we can correctly estimate the full extent of externalities. As environmental damage increases, each additional unit of damage should be valued higher to match increasing marginal damage to the planet. Through the use of taxation, pollution credits, and other additional costs to production, companies will lose their incentive to continue production at the point where marginal cost is equal to marginal revenue. If these are valued at an accurate level accounting for economic and environmental factors, this point will be at a sustainable level of production. The true cost to the environment and marginalized populations can be visualized and paid for. Income from taxation could be used to compensate those affected by damage, or fund research in sustainable technologies.
Economics can also be used to influence the environmental decisions of individuals. Although informing people on the consequences of their actions and promoting a spiritual environmental ethic are important components of the widespread mentality change that should occur, for some they will not be enough. While some people are informed and willing to incur the cost of inconvenience to be more sustainable, many are not. Through a deposit-refund system for more types of packaging, we could incentivize people to recycle and reuse. By implementing a consumption tax, we could create disincentives to waste. Clearly these would be incredibly difficult to actually achieve in our current political climate, but I can see no other long-term solution than economic incentives to create the behavioral changes that need to occur to prevent global environmental devastation.
Thumbing through the pages of Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’, I find myself alternating between nodding in support and shaking my head in disagreement. While the text is revolutionary in most concepts, it also holds up parts of Church doctrine that are outdated, and fails to take responsibility for past wrongs.
I was not surprised when the Pope related his “ecology of daily life” to maintaining a societal gender binary and ignoring the differences between biological sex and constructed gender. This topic, discussed entirely in paragraph 155, speaks of “valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity.” Aside from “learning to accept our body,” Francis also states that only through “the specific gifts of another man or woman” can we “find mutual enrichment”. Translated to more straightforward language, only heterosexual and cisgender people truly embrace the work of God the Creator.
With my frustration fueling me, I re-read the passage. In comparison to most of the encyclical’s appreciation for science, Francis’ comments on the transgender and homosexual community were unenlightened, denying the reality that non-hetero sexualities are as naturally occurring (although in lower frequencies) as heterosexuality. After I realized this, the light bulb turned on - what if I approached this section with a different lens, one that viewed the separation between feminine and masculine like a progressive person should: as psychological phenomena that are socially derived.
This method completely altered the understanding of the text. While reflecting on Pope Benedict XVI’s “ecology of man”, Francis uses the passage “he cannot manipulate [his nature] at will”. This is true, of course, for one’s identified sexuality must be respected so as not to harm or confuse themselves or loved ones. Further, his condemnation of “enjoy[ing] absolute power over our own bodies” can be interpreted to allow the term “bodies” include our minds, because surely the brain is a part of our body. Therefore, “to care for it and respect its fullest meaning” would mean to take note of the gut feelings, the very most natural awarenesses, of one’s gender and sexuality.
Like any good theologian would, I strive to read and interpret a text in an evolving manner, and apply the context of both its publication date and the current era. That said, it’s clear what Pope Francis meant when he wrote these words regarding a more integral ecology, or the way in which humans and our environment can become whole. However, the perception of the Laudato Si’ audience may be adjusted to better reflect our social climate, one that increasingly understands and loves transgender, homosexual, bisexual, and queer humans.
Francis says that we mustn’t “cancel out sexual difference because [we] no longer know how to confront it”. The way I see it, he’s right. Sexual difference - all forms and variations - should be accepted, and we must all learn to confront it with grace. Love for all creation, the most important lesson from the encyclical, should be extended to all natural phenomena, including sexuality.
Long before the encyclical Laudato Si was written by Pope Francis, western social and governmental forces set into motion a set of widespread economic beliefs that are likely now incompatible with true environmental reform, at least to some degree. The reign of the Soviet Union and political tensions of the Cold War left much of western society with a crippling fear of the word communism without much understanding of economic systems different from capitalism, while simultaneously extreme post WWII economic growth promoted an unprecedented lifestyle of consumerism. The extent of these fears are visible through the “red scare” perpetrated by senator Joe McCarthy, which left many suspected (though unproven) American communist sympathizers without jobs or passports. Some even faced jail time and highly publicized trials for unsubstantiated accusations. 
While these paranoias have largely died down, the Cold War’s effects are still present in modern American and western attitudes towards consumerism and economic policy. Many people were left with suspicion towards any economic system aside from laissez faire capitalism and trickle-down economics, as evidenced through the Reagan presidency and other economic policies and thought of the time. However, as evident in Laudato Si, combating global warming is a highly intersectional issue that requires analyzing various structural systems, including economic structures, and cannot solely be addressed on its own, or even at all within the context of an entirely unregulated market with its necessity of the environmentally devastating practice of extreme consumerism. (LS, 35)
Pope Francis discusses global economic inequality in chapter one of Laudato Si, noting how the world’s poor are often blamed for their economic situation and environmental problems due to a high birth rate. While Pope Francis acknowledges the difficulties of highly inflated populations, and further discusses sustainable population growth, he also states that “to blame population growth instead of extreme and selective consumerism on the part of some, is one way of refusing to face the issues. It is an attempt to legitimize the present model of distribution, where a minority believes that it has the right to consume in a way which can never be universalized, since the planet could not even contain the waste products of such consumption.” (LS, 35) Othering these populations and allowing them to take the blame for environmental damage only perpetuates western causes of climate change and allows for rampant and unregulated consumerism. Developed countries often cause harmful environmental damage in developing countries, with global consequences such as temperature increase exacerbating droughts and pollution in areas such as Africa and the Middle East. There are also localized problems within communities treated as single use resources at the end of the supply chain, and communities are devastated with economic and environmental consequences once a company leaves the area. (LS, 36-7)
It would be inaccurate to call Pope Francis a communist, especially due to the communist attitude towards religion, but it is fair to say he supports structural economic reform and behavior much different from our current system. Pre-Laudato Si, in a 2013 apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis stated that “[s]ome people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”  This confirms his thoughts on economics, and Laudato Si expands on economic policy as it relates to climate change, largely taking the same stance as in this apostolic exhortation. This indicates that Pope Francis has held the views expressed in Laudato Si for the entirety of his papal position. He also expressed that “working for a just distribution of the fruits of the earth and human labor is not mere philanthropy. It is a moral obligation. For Christians, the responsibility is even greater: it is a commandment.”  This shows the intersectionality between climate change and economics as evidenced in the encyclical. Pope Francis clearly supports economic change as a tool for stopping climate change, and as a society we must change our attitudes towards consumption and economic regulation to prevent climate change.
 "McCarthyism." PBS, 2006. Web. Accessed 19 May 2016.http://www.pbs.org/wnet/americanmasters/arthur-miller-mccarthyism/484/
 Huddleston, Tom, Jr. "5 times Pope Francis Talked about money." Fortune, 14 Sept. 2015. Web. Accessed 19 May 2016. http://fortune.com/2015/09/14/pope-francis-capitalism-inequality/
More than fifty years ago, with the world teetering on the brink of nuclear crisis, Pope Saint John XXIII wrote an Encyclical which not only rejected war but offered a proposal for peace. He addressed his message Pacem in Terris to the entire “Catholic world” and indeed to “all men and women of good will.” Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet. In my Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, I wrote to all the members of the Church with the aim of encouraging ongoing missionary renewal. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home (LS, 3).
In many ways, Pope Francis has revitalized and reinvigorated the papacy. Not the least of his efforts has been the recent encyclical Laudato Si which addresses “every person living on this planet.” This departure from the traditional manner of address has been the culmination of several generations of evolution. The first encyclical issued in 1740 by Pope Benedict XIV entitled Ubi Primum addresses the church leadership: “To Our Venerable Brothers, the Patriarchs, the Primates, the Archbishops, and the Bishops.” Other encyclicals such as Pacem in Terris issued by John XXIII in 1963 warning about the dangers of nuclear weapons address not only the bishops and clergy, but also all the “faithful of the whole world and to all men of good will.” Francis has now expanded his audience even further.
But does Laudato Si really address all the people of the world? It seems to me rather that Pope Francis speaks on behalf of the world’s poor and vulnerable and addresses, not them, but the true culprits of the “ecological crisis (LS, 101).” While Francis insists that these problems are caused by humans, he also points a finger at which humans are responsible. It isn’t the fault of society’s “disposable” (Ls, 45), but those of us living in unprecedented and unsustainable abundance. He rightly lays the blame at the feet of the First World.
This distinction is reflected in the man chosen to draft the encyclical: Cardinal Peter Turkson, from Ghana. Turkson’s role in writing Laudato Si is significant as it he seems personify those vulnerable populations which are disproportionately affected by climate change. Through him, the earth and the poor cry out and demand justice.
The document is not a mere criticism of capitalism however. As I understand the text, it never says capitalism is inherently bad. We must understand that capitalism is simply a means of producing goods. However, when paired with disregard for the needs and dignity of others and the seemingly uncontrollable desire to consume, then problems arise. Like any other tool, it can be used for good or for ill. I think Francis understands this and so does not condemn capitalism itself, but rather works to instill it with guiding principles and morals.
The document does not direct poor and vulnerable populations into action, but rather calls on the wealthy and powerful (by global standards), those who are responsible for the problems, to take up the challenge. This places the onus on us to fix the problem. This task must be undertaken carefully however. Laudato Siprimarily enjoins us to enter into dialogue with each other. Too often has the West sought to impose “solutions” without a clear understanding of the needs and desires of those who will be most affected and so they are often at best ineffectual and at worst harmful. This is what Francis wants to avoid and what the first world desperately needs to hear if humanity is to survive.
Standing at the top of a half-mile sloping driveway that winds itself down to a small farm and a snaking river, I stare at the sun making its way above the mountains. The sun halos a peak towering above the dry plateaus of the Southern Colorado desert terrain and shines through the tall native grasses, freshening the earth. Every morning I woke up at five to run down the only dirt road for miles. Every morning I had to stop and stare at this sight. The birds, the deer, and even the snakes were roused at this hour sharing in the endlessly awe-inspiring beauty that I was fortunate enough to bear witness to for these summer months. This reverence did not stop once the sun moved out from behind the mountains it refracted off so brilliantly; my prayer was only just beginning. Throughout the day I would plunge my hands into dirt, delicately pick suckering tendrils from tomato plants, have extensive conversations with goats, and lay down in the river to be granted solace from the harsh summer sun.
At the beginning, this was meant to be just a summer internship. Moving to this farm allowed me to be free of the watchful eyes of my parents. The independence I had tasted in my first year of college was too sweet to give away. It was an adventure I could tell my friends about to get such layman's responses as “cool,” “sick,” and “whoa, dude!” The cliches were abundant: girl from private Jesuit school ventures from her comfort zone to have a transformative experience that will change the way she looks at the world.
While I do attend a Jesuit school and am baptized Catholic, I was never one for church. When my grandparents came for holidays we would get dressed up and go to Catholic mass. There were few places where I felt more uncomfortable than within those walls. They echoed with a reverence that I did not feel privy. Even the murmurings of grace before meals made me squirm in my seat. Young, obstinate me had decided by second grade that religion was not for me, thank you very much. Once I acquired the vocabulary I self-identified as an agnostic, never once feeling at home beneath the roof of God. Yet, I find myself attending a Jesuit institution and reading Laudato Si, Pope Francis’ encyclical, for the third time.
I connect deeply with this document as a form of sacrament. It was not my loosely Catholic upbringing or my love for my Jesuit institution that brought me to this page. Instead, it is the Pope and his words that shake the very roots of my spirituality or my firm conviction of a lack of spirituality. Nature brings me peace where pews and hymns had failed. Pope Francis begs not just his constituency, but all humans to recognize such a radical concept. He wishes to take communion with animals, have a relationship with the earth, embrace a life of deep ecology. In the introduction of the encyclical the Pope writes that “Such a conviction cannot be written off as naive romanticism...if we approach nature and the environment without this openness to awe and wonder, if we no longer speak the language of fraternity and beauty in our relationship with the world, our attitude will continue to be that of masters, consumers, ruthless exploiters” (LS, 11). This worship of the earth is reminiscent of environmentalist thinkers such as John Muir with the added component of social responsibility. Reading these words, I realized that my days spent on the farm eating food I had grown for myself and sharing this swath of land with a community that recognized “the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity” was our own form of worship. As a Franciscan Friar, Keith Warner writes about his own experience living off the land, reflecting that “At a corporeal level I began to realize prayer was not a recitation of words or intention but a ‘living in relationship with.’”  This relationship is what converted my agnosticism into something spiritual.
Will I start going to church? No. Will I start praying? Probably not. I will take my Sundays to run on trails, my spare time to plant a garden in my yard, and dedicate my studies of environmental science striving for an ecology that includes humans. I will work to combat “the external deserts in the world [that] are growing, because the internal deserts have become so vast” (LS, 217). Devotion to the earth and the people who live in it can inspire “motivate, nourish and give meaning to our individual and community action” (LS, 216) to better our lives and the world around us.
 Warner, Keith D. 2003. “Taking Nature Seriously: Nature mysticism, environmental advocacy and the Franciscan tradition.” WTU Symposium. http://webpages.scu.edu/ftp/kwarner/Fran-TNS.pdf
“To manage the global economy; to revive economies hit by the crisis; to avoid any deterioration of the present crisis and the greater imbalances that would result; to bring about integral and timely disarmament, food security and peace; to guarantee the protection of the environment and to regulate migration: for all this, there is urgent need of a true world political authority… Diplomacy also takes on new importance in the work of developing international strategies which can anticipate serious problems affecting us all.” (LS, 116)
The United States and many other nations were founded on similar principles of sovereignty and freedom. Although some would vehemently oppose having the US be checked by a super-authority, I can see the benefits of establishing some institution with clear goals of bettering the world while maintaining the sustainability of continued human existence on the planet.
The US does not follow the precautionary principle, which leads to heavily favoring wealthy corporations and short term economic growth, and marginalizes the poor through externalities that may surface decades after the damage has begun. I firmly agree with the pope that if the entire world does not accept the precautionary principle, corporations will continue to flood the market with harmful products under the false cover of short term benefits. The pope addresses this issue by suggesting the creation of a world political authority that anticipates serious problems that will affect us all and develop international strategies to mitigate them.
This brings us to the important fact that no one is currently responsible for the health of the world and the human race. Each country is expected to maximize benefits for its own population, regardless of the potential net detriment to the global quality of life. It is obvious that this is not sustainable, nor the best strategy to address large global issues like poverty, hunger, and immigration. Establishing an authority with the world’s best interests in mind, through a transparent bureaucracy with legitimate political power (along with checks and balances), could very well begin a new era of human dignity, communication, and empathy (if not corrupted or abused).
An important distinction to make is that not only will “stronger and more efficiently organized international institutions” (LS, 175) be able to tackle serious global issues like poverty and climate change, but they will also push back against the influence that capitalist ideologies and unconstrained financial sectors have on policy and the direction of human development. This is very important since the key ideas of these sectors are maximizing profit and limitless growth; principles that are diametrically opposed to sustainable development and combating climate change. Combating immediate profit based mentalities, internalizing externalities, and making company policies and actions transparent will push us towards our goals, especially with governments no longer being influenced by monetary contributions.