Pope Francis has released his encyclical on climate change, with Indigenous Peoples’ cultural and land rights as major factors both underlying the issues and in seeking solutions.
Indigenous Peoples’ spiritual connection with the environment makes common sense, the 192-page document implies.
“Many intensive forms of environmental exploitation and degradation not only exhaust the resources which provide local communities with their livelihood, but also undo the social structures which, for a long time, shaped cultural identity and their sense of the meaning of life and community,” the Pope wrote. “The disappearance of a culture can be just as serious, or even more serious, than the disappearance of a species of plant or animal. The imposition of a dominant lifestyle linked to a single form of production can be just as harmful as the altering of ecosystems.”
He goes on to outline something that sounds very much like consultation and prior, informed consent.
“In this sense, it is essential to show special care for indigenous communities and their cultural traditions,” His Holiness wrote. “They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principal dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them, land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values. When they remain on their land, they themselves care for it best. Nevertheless, in various parts of the world, pressure is being put on them to abandon their homelands to make room for agricultural or mining projects which are undertaken without regard for the degradation of nature and culture.”
Moreover, Indigenous Peoples hold one of the keys to a solution for the climate crisis, he said.
“In some places, cooperatives are being developed to exploit renewable sources of energy which ensure local self-sufficiency and even the sale of surplus energy,” the Pope wrote. “This simple example shows that, while the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in indigenous peoples.”
Pope Francis calls for a partnership between science and religion and suggests that the scriptures may have been misinterpreted when it comes to mastery over stewardship. He also links global warming, climate change and poverty, making social justice an environmental issue, as the Washington Post pointed out.
Read the full report, On Care for Our Common Home.