The Pope’s legacy on peak oil and the environment

Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger (Pope Benedict the 16th) as the whole world knows has just resigned. He seems to have been one of the most controversial popes for a long time. His legacy will be discussed for many years. As a non Catholic I can kind of see why. He had been in the Hitler youth) and fought in the German army in the very end of the war (although he had no choice) and deserted his unit (although it may by then have ceased to exist). Very early on his papacy he made some negative remarks about the prophet Muhammad in a lecture. However, in recent years he seems to have been far less in the news and made efforts to build up better relations with both other branches of Christianity and other religions. He also made a very successful visit to the UK. (I went to the end of my road and watched him ride past in his pope mobile.) Probably the remaining controversy is brought about by the internal problems in the Vatican and the sex abuse scandals within the church. These are beyond the scope of this blog but I don’t think as an Anglican we can cast any stones… I also get the impression he was unpopular with ordinary Catholics. Personally I was neutral about him, although he went up in my opinion by resigning. (I think its sensible for people not to work until they drop, and what happened to the previous pope John Paul was tragic to see).

What from this blogs point of view is quite positive were his pronouncements on the environment and consumerism. I was also keen to see if Cardinal Ratzinger had made any pronouncements about peak oil. What I’ve found is really rather interesting. Pope Benedict produced an encyclical in 2009

Firstly on the environment Benedict said the following;

“Today the subject of development is also closely related to the duties arising from our relationship to the natural environment. 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. When nature, including the human being, is viewed as the result of mere chance or evolutionary determinism, our sense of responsibility wanes. In nature, 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. If this vision is lost, we end up either considering nature an untouchable taboo or, on the contrary, abusing it. Neither attitude is consonant with the Christian vision of nature as the fruit of God’s creation.”

This is a very strong statement and emphasises our responsibility towards future generations which is is easy to forget. The encyclical goes on to expand on this statement stating that we can see God in nature (with some biblical references such as Roman1v20 cited), but warning against making the natural world either more or less important than mankind.

The encyclical then goes on to talk about energy use. Firstly, it covers some of the injustice of unequal access energy resources between rich and poor countries and a warning this can lead to conflict. Pope Benedict’s solution;

“The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens.”

He goes onto say.

“This responsibility is a global one, for it is concerned not just with energy but with the whole of creation, which must not be bequeathed to future generations depleted of its resources.”


“One of the greatest challenges facing the economy is to achieve the most efficient use — not abuse — of natural resources, based on a realization that the notion of “efficiency” is not value-free.”

Benedict went on to link the environmental crisis to consumerism. There is more than I can cover here in the encyclical and its well worth a read. Did Pope Benedict mention Peak oil? Not per se but resource depletion and stealing from future generations is there in his teachings. In addition there are some strong statements on the environment. In 2008 the Vatican installed solar panels which provide about 20% of its electricity.

All the above doesn’t seem a bad legacy to me.






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