"Breaking New Ground"
The Reverend Monsignor Raymond Kupke of Seton Hall University in New Jersey said the pope is "breaking new ground" for the Catholic Church by taking an environmental stance.
"I think he's said more about our common responsibility for the planet than all the rest of the popes put together," Kupke told National Geographic News.
"It's a relatively new area of concern He's putting a biblical turn on it by reminding people that the opening lines of Genesis say that Earth is God's creation and his gift to us."
Gary Gardner is director of research at the Worldwatch Institute and the author of the book Inspiring Progress: Religions' Contributions to Sustainable Development.
He's also a practicing Catholic.
Gardner thinks the pope's emphasis on environmental conservation is a natural extension of Catholic theology.
"There's a long-standing theme in Catholic thinking: that there is an obligation for all of us to work for the common good," Gardner said.
"And I think he sees the common good as being threatened by environmental degradation and specifically climate change."
Details to Come?
While the pope has helped to highlight environmental concerns, he has not endorsed any specific actions.
"His is a general appeal to action," Gardner said. "I think he's a little bit hesitant to endorse any specific approach."
This makes sense, Seaton Hall's Kupke said.
"It would be difficult to just order all Catholics to stop using gasoline products. That would not be realistic. The pope's role is primarily motivational and inspirational."
Tom Baugh is a biologist with a degree in ecological theology and a member of the Religion and Conservation Biology Working Group for the Society for Conservation Biology.
Baugh's group promotes the idea that all religions should play an important role in spreading environmental awareness.
Messages like the pope's are a much needed step in the right direction, Baugh said.
"I would encourage all of the denominations to take a look at the environmental crisis that we face, and—if they are not already involved—to become involved and develop environmental initiatives within their faith positions."
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