Abstract: In June 2015, after much anticipation and a few leaks, Pope Francis released his encyclical entitled "Laudato Si': On Care for Our Common Home." "Laudato si'" means "praise be to you," a phrase that appears repeatedly in Saint Francis' Canticle of the Sun poem. The encyclical itself has been widely praised and widely reported, far more than one would expect from an explicitly religious document. The encyclical is breathtakingly ambitious. Much of it is addressed to "every person living on this planet," while specific parts speak to Catholics and others to religious believers generally. It surveys a sweeping range of environmental and social problems. Along the way, it relies on anthropology, theology, science, economic, politics, law, and numerous other disciplines.
Especially anthropology. The popular response often described Laudato Si' as a "climate change" encyclical. It's not: only five of the 180 pages specifically address climate change, about the same as the discussion of the noise and ugliness, crime, housing, and transportation that affect the "ecology of daily life." It is not really even an environmental encyclical, for the natural environment does not play the starring role. Rather, it is an encyclical about us. Francis contends that the natural environment suffers because we misunderstand humanity.
This Article examines the encyclical from the perspective of Christian environmental thought more generally. It begins by outlining the development of such thought, and then it turns to the contributions of the encyclical with respect to environmental anthropology, environmental connectedness, environmental morality, and environmental governance. As the article explains, Pope Francis is a powerful advocate for a Christian environmental morality but a less convincing advocate for specific regulatory reforms. His greatest contribution is to encourage more people, religious believers and non-believers alike, to engage in a respectful dialogue about how we can better fulfill our responsibilities to each other and the natural world that we share.
Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 1526
John Copeland Nagle
Notre Dame Law School