In one of the most eagerly anticipated papal encyclicals in recent years, Pope Francis issued a biting critique of what he termed a “culture of consumerism,” holding it responsible for climate change and rising global temperatures. In the 184-page document released Thursday, Francis, who has made the preservation and care of the environment a hallmark of his papacy, called for “universal solidarity” in combating environmental degradation.

“A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases released mainly as a result of human activity. …A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system,” Francis wrote. “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”

In his encyclical -- a copy of which was leaked Monday in the Italian press -- Francis termed the present global situation “unprecedented in the history of humanity.” He also hit out at those who deny the science of climate change.

“Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions,” Francis wrote.

Reiterating the findings of several previous studies, the Pope said that the world’s poor would be forced to bear the brunt of climate change.

“Many of the poor live in areas particularly affected by phenomena related to warming, and their means of subsistence are largely dependent on natural reserves and ecosystemic services such as agriculture, fishing and forestry. They have no other financial activities or resources which can enable them to adapt to climate change or to face natural disasters, and their access to social services and protection is very limited,” he noted.

According to recent studies, as global temperatures rise, the accompanying rise in extreme weather events is expected to impact residents of low-income countries the most.

Rejecting the notion of mankind’s “dominion” over Earth, Francis also criticized the policy of carbon trading, which allows countries with higher carbon emissions to purchase the right to release more carbon from countries that have lower carbon emissions, in a bid to allow some countries to maintain their current “excessive consumption.”

“The strategy of buying and selling ‘carbon credits’ can lead to a new form of speculation which would not help reduce the emission of polluting gases worldwide. This system seems to provide a quick and easy solution under the guise of a certain commitment to the environment, but in no way does it allow for the radical change which present circumstances require,” the Pope wrote, in the encyclical.

Since records began in 1880, global temperatures have risen by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. And, over the last 100 years, the global average sea level has gone up by seven inches -- a phenomenon whose effect is already being felt by island nations in the Pacific Ocean and people living in coastal regions.

The Pope also seemed unimpressed with the hitherto “weak” global response to climate change. “The failure of global summits on the environment makes it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis wrote.  

Climate scientists and environmentalists have also criticized leaders of the G7 nations for failing to include binding emission-reduction targets, and for failing to detail concrete steps to achieve the promised “decarbonization” of the global economy by the end of the century.

What is needed, Francis said, is a “bold cultural revolution” that aims to recover values swept away by humans’ “unrestrained delusions of grandeur.

“The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” the Pope lamented. However, “all is not lost.”

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning,” he added.