VATICAN CITY - Pope Francis demanded swift action on Thursday to save the planet from environmental ruin, urging world leaders to hear "the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor" and plunging the Catholic Church into political controversy over climate change.
In the first papal document dedicated to the environment, he called for "decisive action, here and now," to stop environmental degradation and global warming, squarely backing scientists who say it is mostly man-made.
In the encyclical "Laudato Si (Praise Be), On the Care of Our Common Home", Francis advocated a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a "throwaway" consumer culture and an end to an "obstructionist attitudes" that sometimes put profit before the common good.
The most controversial papal pronouncement in half a century has already won him the wrath of conservatives, including several U.S. Republican presidential candidates who have scolded Francis for delving into science and politics..
His appeal, however, won broad praise from scientists, the United Nations and climate change activists.
At a news conference presenting the landmark document, Cardinal Peter Turkson, one of Francis' key collaborators on the document, rejected pre-publication criticisms by U.S. politicians. "Just because the pope is not a scientist does not mean he can't consult scientists," he said, adding with a sly smile that journalists write about many things after consulting experts.
Latin America's first pope, who took his name from St. Francis of Assisi, the patron of ecology, said protecting the planet was a moral and ethical "imperative" for believers and non-believers alike that should supersede political and economic interests.
The clarion call to his flock of 1.2 billion members, the most controversial papal document since Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae upholding the Church's ban on contraception, could spur the world's Catholics to lobby policymakers on ecology issues and climate change.
The Argentine-born pontiff, 78, decried a "myopia of power politics" he said had delayed far-sighted environmental action."Many of those who possess more resources and economic or political power seem mostly to be concerned with masking the problems or concealing their symptoms," he wrote.
Because Francis has said he wants to influence this year's key U.N. climate summit in Paris, the encyclical further consolidated his role as a global diplomatic player following his mediation bringing Cuba and the United States to the negotiating table last year.
Francis dismissed the argument that "technology will solve all environmental problems (and that) global hunger and poverty will be resolved simply by market growth".
Time was running out to save a planet "beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth" and which could see"an unprecedented destruction of ecosystems" this century. "Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals."