VATICAN CITY (CBS/AP) — In a sweeping environmental manifesto aimed at spurring concrete action, Pope Francis called Thursday for a bold cultural revolution to correct what he described as a "structurally perverse" economic system where the rich exploit the poor, turning Earth into an "immense pile of filth."
Francis framed climate change as an urgent moral issue to address in his eagerly anticipated encyclical, blaming global warming on an unfair, fossil fuel-based industrial model that harms the poor most.
Citing Scripture, his predecessors and bishops from around the world, the pope urged people of every faith and even no faith to undergo an awakening to save God's creation for future generations.
The document released Thursday was a stinging indictment of big business and climate doubters alike, aimed at spurring courageous changes at U.N. climate negotiations later this year, in domestic politics and in everyday life.
"It is not enough to balance, in the medium term, the protection of nature with financial gain, or the preservation of the environment with progress," he writes. "Halfway measures simply delay the inevitable disaster. Put simply, it is a matter of redefining our notion of progress."
Environmental scientists said the first-ever encyclical, or teaching document, on the environment could have a dramatic effect on the climate debate, lending the moral authority of the immensely popular Francis to an issue that has long been cast in purely political, economic or scientific terms.
"This clarion call should guide the world toward a strong and durable universal climate agreement in Paris at the end of this year," said Christiana Figueres, the U.N.'s top climate official. "Coupled with the economic imperative, the moral imperative leaves no doubt that we must act on climate change now."
Michael Brune, Executive Director of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club, said the Pope's message "shines a light on the moral obligation we all share to address the climate crisis that transcends borders and politics."
"This Encyclical underscores the need for climate action not just to protect our environment, but to protect humankind and the most vulnerable communities among us," he said.
The energy lobby was quick to criticize the encyclical's anti-fossil fuel message.
"The simple reality is that energy is the essential building block of the modern world," said Thomas Pyle of the Institute of Energy Research, a conservative free-market group. "The application of affordable energy makes everything we do — food production, manufacturing, health care, transportation, heating and air conditioning — better."
Francis said he hoped his effort would lead ordinary people in their daily lives and decision-makers at the Paris U.N. climate meetings to a wholesale change of mind and heart, saying "both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor" must now be heard.
"This vision of 'might is right' has engendered immense inequality, injustice and acts of violence against the majority of humanity, since resources end up in the hands of the first comer or the most powerful: the winner takes all," he writes. "Completely at odds with this model are the ideals of harmony, justice, fraternity and peace as proposed by Jesus."
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