The title of Chapter 4, paragraphs 43 through 52, promises that the text will take up the topic of the environment. But the chapter opens with an attack on the idea of rights as divorced from duties: “An overemphasis on rights leads to a disregard for duties.” Pieces of several arguments seem to be packed together in only a single paragraph, leaving the particular complaint a little unclear, but the general claim is a familiar one and hard to argue against: “The sharing of reciprocal duties is a more powerful incentive to action than the mere assertion of rights.”

The jump from there to population growth is not what one would expect—for this is a place where, according to opponents of Church teaching, duties to the environment obviously trump the rights of parents. Benedict’s tack here is to reject claims that population growth causes poverty, which he does ably, while calling for state policies that respect the centrality of marriage. What’s unclear, however, is what the argument is doing here—while mentioning nothing about the environmental implications of population or the clash of rights and duties? This is one of the paragraphs that most clearly shows the piecemeal construction of the document.

As is the turn to ethical business in the next paragraphs, 45 to 47. Benedict praises businesses in the “third sector,” standing between for-profit and non-profit companies: “they steer the system towards a clearer and more complete assumption of duties on the part of economic subjects.” And he calls for development programs in poorer countries, driven by international aid—while calling on international organizations to practise greater transparency. Note that it is here, in paragraph 47, that the word subsidiarity makes its first appearance. That’s a little late, for those who want to read the encyclical as primarily a full-throated defence of subsidiarity (though there is plenty more to come in the next chapter).

In the remaining paragraphs, the environment takes center stage. “Nature expresses a design of love and truth,” Benedict insists, returning to theme that had lain dormant for some while in the text. The argument switches back and forth between a demand for responsible stewardship and an attack on elevations of nature: “it is contrary to authentic development to view nature as something more important than the human person. This position leads to attitudes of neo-paganism or a new pantheism—human salvation cannot come from nature alone.”

And, with all this, paragraph 51 gives us a brilliant and biting statement of Catholic thinking:

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. The book of nature is one and indivisible: it takes in not only the environment but also life, sexuality, marriage, the family, social relations: in a word, integral human development.

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