Naomi delivered the following remarks at a press conference introducing “People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course,” a high-level meeting being held at the Vatican this week to explore Laudato Si’, Pope Francis’ recently-released encyclical letter on ecology. The gathering will take place on July 2-3, and is being convened by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and the International Alliance of Catholic Development Organisations (CIDSE).
Thank you. I want to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and to CIDSE for hosting us here, and for convening this remarkable 2-day gathering that I’m very much looking forward to.
It’s also a real honour to be here supporting and indeed celebrating the historic publication of the Pope’s encyclical.
Pope Francis writes early on that Laudato Si’ is not only a teaching for the Catholic world but for “every person living on this planet.” And I can say that as a secular Jewish feminist who was rather surprised to be invited to the Vatican, it certainly spoke to me.
“We are not God,” the encyclical states. All humans once knew this. But about 400 years ago, dizzying scientific breakthroughs made it seem to some that humans were on the verge of knowing everything there was to know about the Earth, and would therefore be nature’s “masters and possessors,” as René Descartes so memorably put it. This, they claimed, was what God had always wanted.
That theory held for a good long time. But subsequent breakthroughs in science have told us something very different. Because when we were burning ever larger amounts of fossil fuels—convinced that our container ships and jumbo jets had leveled the world, that we were as gods—greenhouse gases were accumulating in the atmosphere and relentlessly trapping heat.
And now we are confronted with the reality that we were never the master, never that boss—and that we are unleashing natural forces that are far more powerful than even our most ingenious machines. We can save ourselves, but only if we let go of the myth of dominance and mastery and learn to work with nature—respecting and harnessing its intrinsic capacity for renewal and regeneration.