The encyclical from Pope Francis this week marks yet another significant milestone in our planet’s march toward a global climate change agreement in Paris this December. The fact that the leader to more than 1 billion Catholics—roughly 14 percent of the world’s population—is urging action on climate change is undeniable evidence of growing support for an agreement that even global warming naysayers cannot refute.
In the 192-page draft circulating this week, Pope Francis openly blames global warming in part on "a model of development based on … fossil fuels" and calls for more renewable energy development instead, according to a Washington Post translation. Indeed, at 55 percent of the world’s Ecological Footprint, the carbon Footprint is the single largest driver of our planet’s ecological overshoot, which occurs when humanity’s demand on nature exceeds what nature can regenerate. Fortunately, many countries who already have submitted proposals for the climate talks in December are proposing major reductions in carbon emissions, though the International Energy Agency suggested this week they would not be enough to curb climate change.
In keeping with the name he took—St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of the environment who dedicated his life to the poor—the pope also notes how modern development has hurt not only the environment but also the poor. "The poor and the Earth are shouting," he eloquently writes.
It is heartening to see the Pope recognizes that ecological and social "approaches" must work together, the very premise of our latest work in rural communities in India that documents how greater resource security fuels lasting human development. This work confirms Pope Francis’ message: Development that undermines nature ultimately leaves the poor in a more vulnerable position. Pope Francis concludes: "Today we can’t avoid stating that a true ecological approach must always become a social approach, integrating justice in the debate around environment, so that we listen to the cry of Earth as much as we listen to the one of the poor."
He further notes the "disproportionate effects of climate change on poor populations, whose ‘livelihoods depend heavily on nature reserves,'" according to a Huffington Post translation. We couldn’t agree with these points more, which is why we advocate development that improves the conditions of humans as well as enhancing the natural capital those communities depend on.
Even before its official release Thursday, Pope Francis’ historic encyclical—the the first of its kind dedicated to the environment—seems to be accomplishing his intended goal: "In this encyclical," he writes, "I intend especially to engage in a dialogue with everyone about our common home."
We applaud Pope Francis for helping to fuel this global dialogue and noting that protecting the Earth should "unite the whole human family." To that we can only say, Amen.
Fun Fact: The pope knows much can happen in only seven days (Genesis 2:2), and so we wondered, how much would the world’s population need to reduce carbon emissions in order to move Earth Overshoot Day back on the calendar by seven days? We determined with a 5 percent cut in carbon dioxide emissions, we could move back Earth Overshoot Day a full week.
As a reminder, Earth Overshoot Day marks the approximate date when the world’s human population has used up all the nature that Earth can regenerate in a year. This year, Earth Overshoot Day will fall on August 13.
Want to become an Earth Overshoot Day partner or host an event? Contact Amanda Diep at firstname.lastname@example.org.
BBC News recently asked, How many Earths do we need?, in both a radio segment and online magazine article featuring our work. The BBC called Global Footprint Network President Mathis Wackernagel for an interview after a listener named Oscar in the United Kingdom asked about the origin of this statistic: If everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average American, we would need four planets to sustain itself. “It’s a fairly well-respected number used by an assortment of academics and environmental organizations,” notes BBC reporter Charlotte McDonald in the radio segment. Her detailed magazine piece includes this chart highlighting the Footprints of several countries:
To learn about the Ecological Footprint of other countries, download our free Public Data Package.