Katie Gerhartby Katie Gerhart


Catholics realize that the Pope is a man who is capable of wearing many hats other than the miter. He can be a peacemaker, a listener, a preacher. However, I never really thought of the Pope as being an environmentalist. Pope Francis’ Praise be to You: Laudato Si’ showed me that the Pope can be a figure of post-modernity whose goals stretch far beyond gathering spiritual followers to hear the Word of God. Indeed, Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ is an interreligious encyclical aimed at strengthening the relationship between humans and nature. My environmental studies coursework in college has taught me a lot about the essence of environmentalism, but never before in my curriculum have I come across a text that offers a solution to our environmental distress based on the principles of social justice.

In addressing global inequality, Pope Francis states that “The human environment and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation” (1.V.48). He regards humans and the environment as equal, yet separate. That is, humans and the environment have a symbiotic relationship in which the environment suffers the consequences of our “throwaway culture,” and we as a society suffer from environmental decay. Before we can begin to formulate an ultimate solution to our environmental problems, though, we need to change our societal mindset. Pope Francis states that society has succumbed to a “throwaway culture” and is the subject of a “technocratic paradigm,” which forces us to ignore our environmental reality. Plenty of people agree that our technological obsession, which lends itself to a “out with the old, in with the new” mentality, is detrimental to our progress as a society, but not enough environmentalists see this as the underlying problem of our earth’s ailments. Technology can be a great alternative to old, wasteful methods (like using email to send a letter instead of paper); however, it is not enough to simply follow the cultural trend without thinking of the implications of an individual action. In choosing to be constantly “connected” via social media, we miss intimate connections with the people physically in front of us. New York Times journalist Sherry Turkle cites that the growing use of technology has caused an overall decrease in empathy since 2000 (“Stop Googling. Let’s Talk,” NYT, 9-26-15). This means that the more people care about the screen in front of them, the less they care for each other. This is a crucial aspect of Pope Francis’ encyclical: we cannot begin to solve global environmental issues without first recognizing our societal decline and making an effort to create a socially just world.

How do our actions affect the environment and our society? Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’ aims to instill this question in our minds as we continue our daily activities. It is important to note that the encyclical is not a manual demanding drastic and immediate social change; rather, it is a text that offers suggestions for people of all faiths to foster a lasting, meaningful relationship with their neighbors, both natural and human. I recommend Laudato Si’ to any environmentalist who has lost even an ounce of faith in the environmental movement. Pope Francis is a champion of environmentalism who addresses our global environmental crisis honestly and accurately. Pope Francis gives hope for the solution to our environmental problems by reminding us of the impact we can make as a society. If we focus our attention away from the screen and toward each other and the environment, we can work together to better our lives.



Francis. Encyclical Letter Praise be to You Laudato Si’, on Care for Our Common Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2015. Print.

Turkle, Sherry. “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” The New York Times. 26 Sept. 2015. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.


Katie Gerhart is a student at Coe College double majoring in Environmental Studies and English. During the 2015–2016 academic year, she is working at Prairiewoods as an AmeriCorps intern.