As 200 of the world’s nations gathered in Africa this month for the latest unlikely attempt at hammering out some accord on environmental regulations, Pope Benedict XVI threw his weight behind the conference. 

“I hope that all members of the international community can agree on a responsible, credible and supportive response to this worrisome and complex phenomenon, keeping in mind the needs of the poorest populations and of future generations,” the pope said during a Sunday midday blessing. 

The pope’s support likely was welcome public relations fodder for conference organizers, and irksome to those — including not a few Catholic Americans — who are battling against some of the unsavory corollaries of the secular environmental movement, like population control pressure and roughshod treatment of individual and national rights. 

Pope Benedict has rightly been labeled “the green pope,” but his shade of green is not what most might expect, on either side of the issue. 

In fact, the pontiff has blazed a new trail through the thickets of the global environmental debate. Catholics would do well to pay attention; especially in a nation like ours in which some political candidates and pundits almost seem to have made it a badge of honor to dismiss environmental concerns. 

The predictions of climate scientists are indeed dire. Two U.N. reports before the conference said greenhouse gases have reached unprecedented levels in the atmosphere and that the globe therefore is likely to see more floods, more intense droughts and more violent wind storms. Of greater concern, the scientists expect the planet to continue to warm several degrees and cause a more unstable global climate, whether nations agree to some emissions controls or not. 

Even if one is inclined to take such predictions with a grain of salt, in most parts of the globe it doesn’t take a doctorate in climate science to witness that climate patterns are changing.  

“In fact,” said Pope Benedict, “it has become apparent that there will be no good future for humanity on earth if we do not educate everyone to a more responsible way of life for creation.” 

For the pope, caring for the environment is not simply a duty prompted by a desire to stave off potential global catastrophe — it is just the Christian thing to do; the truly human thing to do. 

In fact, in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, the pope says the only authentic way to promote the health of the environmental ecology is by focusing on the health of “human ecology.” 

“The decisive issue,” he said, “is the overall moral tenor of society. If there is a lack of respect for the right to life and to a natural death, if human conception, gestation and birth are made artificial, if human embryos are sacrificed to research, the conscience of society ends up losing the concept of human ecology and, along with it, that of environmental ecology. It is contradictory to insist that future generations respect the natural environment when our educational systems and laws do not help them to respect themselves.” 

This is a fitting focus for Catholic Americans in Advent. With society around us urging mindless consumption, we instead are called to a moral re-evaluation of our lives, relationships and priorities, gratitude to our Redeemer, and respect for the Creator’s imprint in all creation which, in the pope’s words, “leads to a better understanding of our true and deepest humanity.” 

Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.