The following summary and discussion guide was developed by GCCM, drawing on the many excellent resources available now from the Franciscans, the Columbans, parishes, Jesuit Fr. Thomas Reese and other NCR commentators.

This chapter gives an analysis of the current situation, “so as to consider not only its symptoms but also its deepest causes”(15),  “It would hardly be helpful to describe symptoms without acknowledging the human origins of the ecological crisis. A certain way of understanding human life and activity has gone awry, to the serious detriment of the world around us.(101).

He asks us to look at our understanding of the causes of the ecological crisis and to consider what changes we need to make so that all might share in the benefits of technology.  He calls for dialogue to create an ethical framework of principles and behaviors, and suggests several areas for discussion and decision-making.

Technology gives “those with the knowledge, and especially the economic resources to use them, an impressive dominance over the whole of humanity and the entire world” (104).  Francis suggests we are enthralled with a technocratic paradigm, which promises unlimited growth; however, this paradigm “is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry beyond every limit.”(106)  A reductionism…affects every aspect of human and social life. Technological products create a framework which ends up conditioning our lifestyles and shaping social possibilities, but these are dictated by certain powerful groups that dominate economic and political life.  Those supporting this paradigm 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.”(107).

This mentality of domination by economics, technology, and financial wealth has led to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people and the most vulnerable populations as well as the domination of economics and political life”, keeping us from recognizing that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (109).  Francis sees that the problems of global hunger and poverty cannot be resolved simply by market growth. Wasteful consumerism offers an unacceptable contrast to dehumanizing privation. From this perception, Francis notes that the deepest roots of our present failures have to do with the direction, goals, meaning and social implications of technological and economic growth.  We must realize that our struggle to constantly accumulate novelties can lead to a superficial life (#106-114).

“Modernity has been marked by an excessive anthropocentrism” (116): human beings no long recognize their right place with respect to the world and take on a self-centered position, focused exclusively on themselves and on their own power.  God has given earth to us, and we must use it with respect for its original good purpose.  We are not called to mastery over the world, but to responsible stewardship. We are also God’s gift to one another. When we fail to acknowledge as part of reality the worth of a poor person, a human embryo, a person with disabilities, it is difficult to hear the cry of nature itself. We cannot underestimate the importance of our relationship with the environment, with others and with God. Pope Francis calls for a new synthesis capable of overcoming the false arguments of recent centuries (#115-121).

The Pope calls us beyond the logic of discarding, trashing, or a throw-away culture that justifies wasting environmental resources and human gifts, treating both the other and nature as simple objects and leads to a myriad of forms of domination, which give rise to crimes against each other, the earth and humanity. In this light, the Encyclical addresses two crucial problems of today’s world, 1) practical relativism:  seeing something as relevant only if it serves immediate interests can lead to environmental degradation and social decay and promote the “use and throw away culture.” (#122-123).  2) Work: “any approach to an integral ecology, which by definition does not exclude human beings, needs to take account of the value of labour” (124), because “to stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society” (128).  Pope Francis suggests that work understood in relationship to others is what gives meaning and purpose to our human activities. Further, the pope says that when our capacity for contemplation and reverence is impaired, it is easy for us to misunderstand the meaning of work.  Our lives need to have a balance of reflection and work. He encourages work as a means to express our human dignity. As such it should be a setting for rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God. Thus, helping the poor financially is only provisional; the poor need to be allowed a dignified life through work.  When the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines, this is not necessarily progress, he says; “it is imperative to an economy which favors productive diversity and business creativity”, and “civil authorities have the right and duty to adopt clear and firm measures in support of small producers and differentiated production” (124-129).   About human intervention in plants and animals, permissible when it pertains to the necessities of human life, he says a broad, responsible, scientific and social debate needs to take place, considering all available information and including those directly and indirectly affected. Technology separated from ethics will not easily be able to limit its own power (130-136).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Francis says, “We are all too slow in developing economic institutions and social initiatives which can give the poor regular access to basic resourc­es” (109).  Why does this happen?
  2. How has our development been lacking in human responsibility, values and conscience?”(105)
  3. Francis asserts that “by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion” (109). Do you think our progress has been adequate in this area?  Why or why not?
  4. Are there restraints that wealthy nations need to make to ensure that all can benefit? What restraints do I need to make in my own life? What restraints do we need to make as a global community?
  5. Francis argues, “To seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system” (111). What are the true and deepest problems of the global system in Francis’ mind?
  6. Francis calls for a broadened vision (112), “a bold cultural revolution” (114). What is your vision?
  7. Has your work been a setting for rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God?  How could you move in this direction?  How might more people be able to have and benefit from such jobs?  How would you see yourself promoting these values?
  8. Does your life have a balance of reflection and work?  How might it have more?
  9. As you reflect on the importance of dialogue with others regarding the human roots of the ecological crisis, how does your Christianity contribute to a fruitful dialogue?  Or, if you do not have a substantial foundation, how do you could you imagine developing one?
  10. Pope Francis is very concerned about the way we understand ourselves, our purpose and role, both in our lives and in our communities, caring for each other and our common home.  Do you think this is important?  Why or why not?
  11. Do you feel caught in a “use and throw away culture”?  Can you see ways out?
  12. How can we take into consideration how the development process of different items respected the employment of persons, the land, and the innate value and characteristics of plants and animals?


All of Creation is under threat as a result of human-induced climate change created largely by an over-consumption of and dependence on fossil fuels which is driven by an economic model that places profits over the common good. Of particular concern to Columbans is the centrality of extractive industries to the exacerbation of climate change as well as the impacts climate change have on access to safe water and healthy food.” – Columban Society Statement on Climate Change, 2014.