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3. What does ‘Integral Ecology’ mean?

Integral ecology: everything is connected

Pope Francis calls for an integral ecology that sees the interconnectedness of environmental, economic, political, social, cultural, and ethical issues. Such an ecology requires the vision to think about comprehensive solutions to what is both an environmental and human crisis. Relationships take place at the atomic and molecular level, between plants and animals, and among species in ecological networks and systems. For example, he points out, “We need only recall how ecosystems interact in dispersing carbon dioxide, purifying water, controlling illnesses and epidemics, forming soil, breaking down waste, and in many other ways which we overlook or simply do not know about.” Nor can the “environment” be considered in isolation. “Nature cannot be regarded as something separate from ourselves or as a mere setting in which we live,” writes the Pope. “We are part of nature.”

Integral ecology is at the centre of Pope Francis’s encyclical. Ecological commitment and commitment to our human brothers and sisters, above all the poor, are held together in one vision. These two commitments are united as aspect of the one ecological vocation. Our response the crisis we face will need to be holistic, based on a broad vision of reality that involves not only plants, animals, habitats, the atmosphere, rivers and seas, but also human beings and their culture. We find inspiration for this kind of integration in St Francis of Assisi, in his love for the poor and his love for the other creatures of the natural world. From his very first homily as Pope, Pope Francis has made this same link clearly and strongly, calling us to protect creation, and to protect our human brothers and sisters, above those who are poor and excluded. In his new encyclical he writes: “Everything is interconnected. Concern for the environment thus needs to be joined to a sincere love for our fellow human beings and an unwavering commitment to resolving the problems of society” (par. 91).

An integral ecology involves love and respect for animals and plants, but also for human history, art and architecture. Integral ecology involves protecting the cultural treasures of humanity. In a very particular way it involves respect for the cultures of indigenous peoples: “They are not merely one minority among others, but should be the principle dialogue partners, especially when large projects affecting their land are proposed. For them land is not a commodity but rather a gift from God and from their ancestors who rest there, a sacred space with which they need to interact if they are to maintain their identity and values (par. 146).

The Catholic Social Teaching theme of integral ecology is becoming more urgent and important. Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’, on care for our common home, stresses that everything is connected. This means that our approach to ecology must be holistic. Ecology goes beyond care for the natural environment. It embraces the vast network of relationships between all that is. Integral ecology requires “an integrated approach to combatting poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.” (LS n 139)

“…genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.” (Pope Francis, Laudato Si’ n 70)

Celebrating Laudato Si and Measuring Integral Ecology

On the 24th of May, we celebrate Laudato Si Week. It was on this day in 2015 that Pope Francis signed the encyclical letter, Laudato Si. Every year, we celebrate this anniversary by calling for further action as it appears to become more and more relevant as the years go on.

The Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development have been working on a ‘Laudato Si Action Platform’ striving for a multi-year Laudato Si roll out plan. During the Laudato Si’ Special Anniversary Year (2020-2021), this program was launched and a public commitment was made from the part of various institutions to begin the 7-year journey to total sustainability in the spirit of Laudato Si’. This commitment is detailed in the document below.

Further to this, Laudato Si goals were developed with the aim to measure Integral Ecology in the spirit of Laudato Si. These goals are detailed on page 8 of the document below. I invite you to explore these goals and consider your school context. How might some of these goals be highlighted or integrated into school life?

Integral Ecology Reflection

Caritas Australia have recently launched their integral ecology reflection supporting schools and organisations to unpack and better understand what this means for us- both personally and professionally. You may wish to find a quiet space outside, take your shoes off and read this reflection.

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