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What is Integral Ecology?

Alice Carwardine  |  06 May 2020

Five years ago, Pope Francis published his environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home. One of the ideas that emerged from this landmark document was ‘integral ecology’. In this feature, we explore what this means, and why it’s so important to the way Catholics understand our relationship to God, each other and creation.

Often we can be tempted as Christians to see ourselves as separate to creation – that we, as human beings, are drawn to exist outside the messiness of the world, to live in God’s divine realm. However, this way of thinking can be just as harmful to ourselves and our world as cutting ourselves off from God. An ‘integral ecology’ sees ourselves as an important part of creation, helping realise God’s plan for this world. It also helps us understand how dependent we are on creation.

In the first chapter of Laudato Si’, Pope Francis writes about his namesake, St Francis of Assisi. There can be few better examples of an ‘integral ecology’ than St Francis: 

  • He was joyful, generous and self-giving
  • He lived in harmony with God, others and nature
  • He cared for creation
  • He cared for the poor and outcast


Integral ecology is concerned for the poor and marginalised as well as the environment in which we all live. It involves an understanding that the decisions we make affect not only ourselves, but future generations. It allows us to see ourselves in deep relationship with all of creation, and to see that all of creation is in a deep relationship with God.

Pope Francis makes clear the relationship between helping the environment and helping the poor. By choosing to do one, we automatically do the other. The poor will be the first to be impacted by severe changes in weather as a result of climate change. By reducing environmental degradation and reducing the impacts of climate change, the chance of increased poverty or displacement of those in affected areas becomes reduced.

From 16 to 24 May, Pope Francis announced a Laudato si’ Week, to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the encyclical. Communities around the world are being encouraged to see how they can better hear ‘the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.

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