With a poet’s lyricism, a former chemist’s precision and a pontiff’s moral thunder, Pope Francis recast humanity’s relationship with nature in stark ethical terms, hoping to spur a warming, filthy world to clean up its act ‘before it’s too late.’ In issuing “Laudato Si,” his much-anticipated encyclical on climate change, the pope took an extraordinary approach to an environmental issue often framed in the dry language of science. Francis’ teaching document is a melodic yet radical indictment, depicting a materialistic and wasteful society that is hurting the planet and its poorest people.

He challenges the world to stop pollution, to recycle and carpool and to do without air conditioning and makes it a moral imperative. “The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits and we still have not solved the problem of poverty,” he writes. The pope’s “marching orders for advocacy,” as the head of the US conference of bishops calls it, comes as the world nears make-or-break time for international climate change negotiations that start late this year in Paris.

“This is a seminal moment in world history because the pope now is the leading global voice on climate change,” said prominent Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, who has written both on the church and environmentalism. “The pope brings extraordinary clout connecting Christianity and humanism to the protection of natural resources.”

Francis said he hoped his paper would lead both ordinary people in their daily lives and decision-makers at the Paris UN. climate meetings to a wholesale change of mind and heart, urging all to listen to “both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has made the issue of climate change his top priority since taking the reins of the world body 8 and a half years ago, thanked the pope “for taking such a strong stand on the need for urgent global action.”

In some ways, the pope’s encyclical and its prayers serve as an invocation to the climate talks. Scientific data released Thursday backed up Francis’ concerns. The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released figures showing that last month was the hottest May around the globe in 136 years of global records.

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