Pride, greed and selfishness are destroying the planet just as they destroy human lives, said Cardinal Peter Turkson.
However, with action inspired by good stewardship and solidarity, people can ensure that the earth is "a nurturing home for every man, woman and child in every country and in every generation," said the cardinal, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
Turkson, who oversaw work on a first draft of Pope Francis' upcoming encyclical on ecology, addressed the general assembly of Caritas Internationalis in Rome Thursday.
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Pope Francis is publishing the encyclical, he said, "not to enter into scientific and financial debates, but to remind the world that our choices are ultimately moral in nature," including when it comes to safeguarding creation.
"This is an all-embracing moral imperative: to protect and care both for creation -- our garden home -- and for the human person who dwells therein," the cardinal said.
"Without stewardship, the earth will be less and less habitable," Turkson said. And without solidarity, "greed and rivalry will wreak ever greater havoc."
The Caritas assembly, bringing together representatives from 165 national Catholic charities' organizations, included several sessions devoted to environmental degradation and, particularly, its impact on the poor.
Turkson told delegates that the church celebrates the advances in science and technology that help people live better and communicate more easily. But progress also has a "dark side" with "starkly rising disparities -- vast numbers of people excluded and discarded, their dignity trampled upon."
Too often, he said, "indifference, abusive treatment and the throwaway approach" apply both to the way people treat others as well as the way they treat the environment.
"Human beings are part of nature. From conception to the moment of death, the life of every person is integrated with and sustained by the awesome panoply of natural processes," he said. "This calls for a reciprocal response on the part of humanity -- to nourish and sustain the earth -- the garden -- that in turn nourishes and sustains us."
"Today, the ever-accelerating burning of fossil fuels that powers our economic engine is disrupting the earth's delicate ecological balance on (a) scale that defies comprehension," he said. "In our recklessness, we are traversing some of the planet's most fundamental natural boundaries."
The lesson Adam and Eve learned in the Garden of Eden -- that "pride, hubris (and) self-centeredness always are perilous, indeed destructive" -- is still true, he said.
All the good things God created are meant to sustain life, the cardinal said. The human response must be gratitude to God, safeguarding creation and sharing the goods of the earth.
"Scripture is unequivocal about this: the gift of the land is a gift for all," he said. "The global atmosphere, the oceans, the forests and other natural resources are common goods of mankind."
While care for the environment and solidarity with the poor are moral and ethical obligations, he said, they also have implications for technology, economics and politics.
"We need to shift away from an unthinking infatuation with GDP (gross domestic product) and a single-minded zeal for accumulation," Turkson said. "We need to learn to work together toward sustainable development, in a framework that links economic prosperity with both social inclusion and protection of the natural world."
The cardinal said that those who have prospered most from fossil fuel extraction and use are "morally obligated" to help find ways to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on people and the environment.
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