At the root of our climate problem, writes Pope Francis in his ecological encyclical Laudato Si’, lies our human pride and arrogance. “The misuse of creation begins when we no longer recognise any higher instance than ourselves, when we see nothing else but ourselves.” Coming from a Catholic pope, such sentiments are hardly surprising. For centuries, Christian thinkers have railed against pride as the first and worst among the seven deadly sins. But Francis is far from alone in his view.

Many climate activists today, even though they don’t necessarily believe in a personal deity, share Francis’ diagnosis of our environmental worries. They too believe that our climate crisis is the result of arrogance and that we should show more modesty and humility in the face of nature. And they have their own story of the fall of man.

Once upon a time, humans were living in harmony with nature, enjoying her bountiful resources but respecting her limits. Back then we lived like an animal alongside other animals, keenly aware of our proper place within a larger ecosystem. But then along came the scientific revolution and, soon after that, the industrial revolution. By unravelling nature’s mysteries we gained mastery over her, and we began to treat her as an object to be mercilessly exploited. We turned, as a species, into planetary plunderers.

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