Pope Benedict XVI has been called the "green pope" because of his concern for the environment. Last year, he installed solar panels to generate electricity on roofs in the Vatican, and this year he added them to his home in Germany. Recently, the Vatican installed high-tech solar collectors to help heat and cool its buildings. He has also made the Vatican the first carbon neutral state through forests offsetting the Vatican carbon footprint.
"It's impressive they're actually doing what some people only talk about and (they) are doing it in a significant way," Mark Hopkins, director of the United Nations Foundation's energy policy program told Catholic News Service.
In his new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, the pope calls us to value nature as God's creation while rejecting any pagan or pantheistic view. "In nature," he writes, "the believer recognizes the wonderful result of God's creative activity, which we may use responsibly to satisfy our legitimate needs, material or otherwise, while respecting the intrinsic balance of creation."
This gift is not to be exploited for purely selfish ends, rather, "The environment is God's gift to everyone, and in our use of it we have a responsibility towards the poor, towards future generations and towards humanity as a whole." Thus, Benedict combines his concern for the poor with his concern for the environment.
In the encyclical he applies his vision to energy policy. Like the Obama administration, he argues for conservation and the development of alternative sources of energy.
"The technologically advanced societies [that is us] can and must lower their domestic energy consumption," he argues, "either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens." This ecological sensitivity should lead to the adoption of new life-styles "in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments."
Unlike most American politicians, he is also concerned about "countries [that] lack the economic means either to gain access to existing sources of non-renewable energy or to finance research into new alternatives." He complains that "some States, power groups and companies hoard non-renewable energy resources" and this "represents a grave obstacle to development in poor countries."
He calls for "a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them."
No American politician could say anything like this, but Benedict can and does because his environmental views are motivated by theology not politics. On September 10, he argued that people must "see in creation something more than a simple source of wealth or exploitation in man's hands." The gift of creation must be used "responsibly and respectfully, making it fruitful." For ultimately, we must see creation as "the expression of a plan of love and truth that speaks to us of the Creator and of his love for humanity, which will find its fulfillment in Christ, at the end of time."