Is It a Sin to Cause Environmental Degradation? Will Calling It a Sin Be Helpful?

Last week, Pope Francis announced that the Catholic Church was considering introducing into the Catechism “the sin against ecology, the ecological sin against the common home.”

My immediate question on seeing this statement was whether it would have any impact on the fight against climate change or other environmental degradation.  After all, the Vatican estimates that there are more than 1.2 billion Catholics world-wide.  If any significant percentage of them are moved by the Church’s pronouncements on this subject to work towards greater environmental protection, that would certainly be a good thing.

Here’s my concern.  I am not Catholic and I don’t know anything about the Catechism.  I do admire Pope Francis, particularly for his evident humility.  Unfortunately, not everyone is as humble as he.  I noted as far back as 2010 (and again in 2015) that the great sin of the environmental movement is self-righteousness.  I don’t know if that self-righteousness is as great a sin as ecocide, but I know that widespread self-righteousness among environmentalists is part of why there has been a backlash against environmental regulation.  For some reason, people don’t like to be called sinners if they express skepticism about environmental regulations.

As I said in 2010, many environmentalists are often their own worst enemies.  Don’t crucify me for saying it and I’m genuinely curious what the impact of the Pope’s statements will be.  Overall, I am still hopeful that it will be a good thing – but that’s much more likely to be the case if those who agree with the Pope receive the message with the same kind of humility that the Pope shows on a daily basis.

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