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By Cindy Wooden, Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — The degradation of the environment is a pressing moral problem that threatens peace and human life itself, Pope Benedict XVI said.

Pope, World Peace Day Graphic

Pope Benedict XVI, World Peace Day

“We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening around us, for the deterioration of any one part of the planet affects us all,” the pope said in his message for World Peace Day, Jan. 1.

Government policies, the activity of multinational corporations and the day-to-day behavior of individuals all have an impact on the environment, the pope said. While the future of the world hangs in the balance because of what people are doing today, the negative effects of pollution and environmental exploitation already can be seen, he said.

“Can we remain indifferent before the problems associated with such realities as climate change, desertification, the deterioration and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase of natural catastrophes and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical regions?” the pope asked.

Already, he said, the world is seeing the “growing phenomenon of ‘environmental refugees,’ people who are forced by the degradation of their natural habitat” to migrate in search of food, water and unpolluted air.

“It is becoming more and more evident that the issue of environmental degradation challenges us to examine our lifestyle and the prevailing models of consumption and production, which are often unsustainable from a social, environmental and even economic point of view,” the pope said.

In addition, he warned of the “actual and potential conflicts involving access to natural resources.”

“Protecting the natural environment in order to build a world of peace is thus a duty incumbent upon each and all. It is an urgent challenge, one to be faced with renewed and concerted commitment; it is also a providential opportunity to hand down to coming generations the prospect of a better future for all,” the pope wrote.

“Our present crises — be they economic, food-related, environmental or social — are ultimately also moral crises and all of them are interrelated,” Pope Benedict wrote.

Solving the crises will require people to work together and take responsibility for their individual actions, he said. Specifically, a solution will require “a lifestyle marked by sobriety and solidarity, with new rules and forms of engagement, one which focuses confidently and courageously on strategies that actually work, while decisively rejecting those that have failed.”