People concerned with the threat of radical environmentalism would be mistaken to assume that the Catholic Church’s upcoming Amazon Synod of Bishops, to be held in Rome in October 2019, is an internal affair dealing with pastoral matters. On the contrary, it will be a laboratory of ecological activism that promises, in the Vatican’s own words, to present a new social, economic, and political “paradigm” for Western civilization to imitate.
Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ of May 24, 2015 marked the first time in history that a Pope took sides in a purely scientific debate. Without references to any supporting studies, the encyclical defended the theory of man-made global warming. “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system” caused by “the great concentration of greenhouse gases…released mainly as a result of human activity.”1
Man-made global warming is not just a nuisance, he says, but an environmental catastrophe that threatens the very survival of the Earth and human race. Its underlying cause is the social and economic structures of modern, industrialized society. The cost of inaction is self-destruction. “The pace of consumption, waste, and environmental change has so stretched the planet’s capacity that our contemporary lifestyle, unsustainable as it is, can only precipitate catastrophes, such as those which even now periodically occur in different areas of the world.”2
Such a dire threat requires far-reaching measures. According to Laudato Si’, human society needs not incremental policies that alleviate one or another type of pollution, but a new ecological paradigm. We must break our old notions of economy, money, society, government, wealth, and man’s relationship with the Earth. In his words, we need a “new synthesis,”3 a “radical change,”4 and a “bold cultural revolution.”5 “Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it.”6
This new ecological paradigm, he writes, “needs to be a distinctive way of looking at things, a way of thinking, policies, an educational program, a lifestyle and a spirituality which together generate resistance to the assault of the technocratic paradigm.”7
Tens of thousands of scientists from around the world have raised serious doubts about environmentalist theories such as global warming. Although universities and the scientific establishment remain in the control of radical environmentalists, many scientists have demonstrated errors in green theories such as man-made global warming, the link between wealth and pollution, or even the role of carbon dioxide in the “greenhouse effect.” There is simply no “scientific consensus” regarding the nature of climate change and man’s role in it.
The Vatican, however, has put all its resources at the service of this green ideology. In April 2015, Pope Francis hosted an environmental summit titled “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity” in which the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Columbia University professor Jeffrey Sachs participated.
In July of that year, Pope Francis organized another conference, “People and planet first: the imperative to change course,” to which he invited Canadian feminist and far-left activist Naomi Klein.
For the third anniversary of Laudato Si’ in July 2018, Pope Francis hosted another environmental summit, “Saving our Common Home and the Future of Life on Earth,” inviting long-time American environmentalist activist Bill McKibben.
The biggest push for this ecological revolution, however, is likely to occur at the upcoming Amazon Synod in Rome.
Radical Environmentalism of the Amazon Synod
On October 15, 2017, Pope Francis announced a special assembly of the Synod of Bishops, scheduled to take place in October 2019 in Rome. It will involve prelates from Latin America’s Amazon region, which includes Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, French Guyana, Guyana, Peru, Venezuela and Surinam. Its theme is “The Amazon: New paths for the Church and for an integral ecology.”
The Vatican released a 16-page “Preparatory Document” on June 8, 2018, laying out the goals and framework for the Amazon Synod.8 Written by a counsel of 18 clerics and laymen presided over by the Pope, the document is a Green Manifesto which promises to present social, economic, and political solutions by drawing upon the “wisdom” of the Amazonian Indians.
Relentless Attacks on Modern Economy
Like Laudato Si’, the Preparatory Document declares that the Amazon is in a deep environmental crisis “triggered by prolonged human intervention.” The solution, it declares, “requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church” in which mankind “breaks with structures that take life and colonizing mentalities.”
Very high on its list of causes is the Western economy, based on private property, profit, and free enterprise. Without providing any footnotes or studies, the document declares that the Amazon rainforest and rivers suffer primarily from “expansive economic interests” with an “extractivist mentality.” Such people commit crimes against the environment such as “indiscriminate logging…contamination of rivers, lakes, and tributaries…oil spills, legal and illegal mining.”
The document makes no distinction between legitimate and abusive economic activity, nor does it give any specific examples. Rather, with one broad stroke it paints all modern farming, mining, and logging as illegitimate, even if they cause no damage to the environment. Condemnations against modern economy are all over the document. It attacks “neo-extractivism” and the “strong business interests that want to lay hands on [the Amazon’s] petroleum, gas, wood, and gold.” One of the worst offenders is agriculture, a pillar of the South American economy and primary source of income for many people in the Amazon region.
Even infrastructure such as “hydroelectric megaprojects” and “road construction” are abuses of the Amazon. Cities have harmed not only the environment but the Amazonian Indians and their culture. By encouraging the integration of the Indians, cities have “displaced” them and forced them to suffer “social inequalities” and endure supposed “relationship of subordination.”
The logical conclusion is that a poor, subsistence economy—like that of the Amazonian Indians—is the only moral one.
Elevating the Primitive Indian Lifestyle as the Ideal
How can mankind live a more ecological lifestyle? By imitating the Amazonian Indians, the document suggests. We must reject the “myth of progress” and the “dominant culture of consumerism and waste” which “turns the planet into one giant landfill.” Rather, we must re-appropriate the Amazonian Indian “heritage permeated by ancestral wisdom.”
What is this wisdom? It is “to live in communion with the soil, water, trees, animals, and with day and night.” Thanks to their primitive pagan religion, the document goes on to say, Indians “promote the harmony of people among themselves and with the cosmos.” Western man’s problem is his technology, culture, science, education, and art, which are obstacles to reaching this supposed state of perfection attained by the Amazonian Indians.
Such praise for the primitive Indian lifestyle overlooks the grim reality. Europeans and North Americans are often unaware of the widespread disease, poverty, tribal violence, lack of basic hygiene, and low life expectancy that is universal in Indian societies. Far from living “in harmony” with the Earth, Indian hunting and farming practices cause great harm to the water and soil. It is simply an illusion that Indian tribes live a type of paradise while Western peoples live in misery.
Environmental Sin, Repentance, and Conversion
The Amazon Synod will address environmental threats and solutions in terms of “sin” and “conversion.” Those people and societies who refuse to adopt a more ecological lifestyle are guilty of an ecological “sin.”
Quoting Laudato Si’, the Preparatory Document itself defines this new ecological “sin.” No longer an offense against God or the breaking of one of the Ten Commandments, it defines “sin” as any act against the Earth. “Already in the biblical stories of creation it emerges that human existence is grounded in ‘three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbor, and with the earth itself…These vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin.’” Without mincing words, the Synod fathers affirm that this ecological sin against the earth is “an offense against the Creator, an attack on biodiversity and, in short, on life itself.” [emphasis mine].
Although the document does not name specific acts as sins, its earlier condemnation of oil extraction, mining, and mechanized farming naturally leads one to believe that those activities are an offense against God. True repentance of one’s ecological sins goes far beyond cleaning up air pollution or recycling. “Integral ecology,” they write, “invites us to an integral conversion…Only when we are aware of how our lifestyles—and the ways we produce, trade, consume, and discard—affect the life of our environment and our societies can we initiate a comprehensive change of direction.
What exactly is this “change of direction” necessary for a true ecological “conversion”? The Synod Fathers give us a definition: “Ecological conversion means freeing ourselves from the obsession with consumerism.”
At a minimum, it is fighting “cultural and economic models” which have created “situations of injustice in the region, such as the neocolonialism of the extractive industries [and] infrastructure projects that damage its biodiversity.” Although not named, these “models” seem to be the free-enterprise economic system of the West based on private property and free initiative.
Our duty, they write, is to replace these models with a “new paradigm” in which “consumerism” is abolished. “A harmonious relationship with nature allows us to live a happy sobriety of inner peace…and a serene harmony that comes from being content with what is really necessary.” In other words, man should be content with poverty, a subsistence economy and the bare minimum of material goods to survive, just like the Amazon Indians. Such an economic system bears a great resemblance to socialism.
The goal of the Synod is not to address the environmental crisis of the Amazon region only. This new ecological paradigm “requires structural and personal changes by all human beings, by nations, and by the Church.” “It is necessary to overcome myopia, nearsightedness, and short-term solutions. A global perspective is required, going beyond one’s personal or particular interests, in order to share responsibility for a common, global project.”
For anyone concerned with the threat of radical environmentalism, it would be a mistake to ignore the 2019 Amazon Synod. Far from the treating of pastoral matters in an obscure corner of the world, it promises to provide energy and a path forward for the global environmentalist movement that until recently has found itself struggling to advance across the West.
- Pope Francis, Encyclical Laudato Si’, May 24, 2015, no. 23, http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
- Ibid., no. 161
- Ibid., no. 112
- Ibid., no. 171
- Ibid., no. 114
- Ibid., no. 23
- Ibid., no. 111