The Impact of the Environment on Human Health: A Vital Connection

Posted July 20, 2023

Human health is intricately connected to the health of the planet that we live on. A healthy environment contributes to overall well-being for all.  

Conversely, when the environment is compromised, it poses significant risks to human health. For instance, the burning of fossil fuels, which Pope Francis says in his Laudatos Si’ encyclical “needs to be progressively replaced without delay,” is linked to the degradation of our health. (LS 165)

Burning coal, natural gas, and oil releases small particulate matter into the air. When we breathe these particles, our lungs are affected, and asthma becomes more likely. Burning these fuels is also the main contributor to the warming of our planet.

In a warmer world, allergy seasons often start earlier and last longer. A warming planet is more prone to heat waves, such as the European heat waves that led to an estimated 61,000 deaths in 2022. A warming planet also has more extreme hurricanes and cyclones, which destroy homes and sanitation services, leading to the spread of gastrointestinal diseases that kill thousands. 

What to do? Divest.

Catholic social teaching clearly calls us to take action, and one of the most impactful actions we can take is to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Hundreds of Catholic institutions have already done so as a moral decision. It shows moral consistency and is a concrete act that, when taken by many, can help shift public moral code and encourage policy makers to seek concrete cleaner alternatives.

To get started, we invite you to check out “Divesting from Fossil Fuels”, a comprehensive online divestment guide offered by the Laudato Si’ Movement. You’ll find information about the Catholic underpinnings to divestment, stories of some institutions that have divested, and specific guides and tools to various parts of the process. An example process for dioceses, also useful for other institutions, can be found here

A commitment to divestment is a commitment to the health of our brothers and sisters.

What else? Take action in your daily life.

A surprising connection between fossil fuels and daily life can also be seen in our use of plastic. Plastic is made from fossil fuels, so our personal reduction of plastic use makes a positive impact. Tips to reduce plastic consumption and mitigate the damaging effects of plastic pollution on Earth’s oceans are available by visiting our Resources page and typing “plastic” in the “Search for resources” search bar. 


What other ways might you reduce your dependency on fossil fuels? Have you included them in your Laudato Si’ Action Plan?