SYDNEY - Pope Benedict XVI said yesterday that mankind's "insatiable consumption" has scarred the Earth and squandered its resources, telling followers that taking care of the planet is vital to humanity.
The 81-year-old pontiff, appearing rested and in good form, gave his first major speech for Roman Catholicism's World Youth Day before adoring crowds who had traveled from 168 countries to see him in Australia's largest city.
As the sun set in the mild chill of the Australian winter, Benedict struck a theme that has earned him a reputation as the "green pope."
"Some of you come from island nations whose very existence is threatened by rising water levels, others from nations suffering the effects of devastating drought," the pope said, referring to global warming.
He noted that during his more than 20-hour flight from Rome to Sydney he had a bird's eye view of a vast swath of the world that inspired awe and introspection.
"Perhaps reluctantly we come to acknowledge that there are also scars which mark the surface of our Earth: erosion, deforestation, the squandering of the world's mineral and ocean resources in order to fuel an insatiable consumption," he said.
The crowd, some 200,000 young pilgrims gathered on a disused wharf on Sydney's harbor, waved their national flags and frequently applauded.
Seeking to inspire a new generation, he warned the young Roman Catholics that a society without unwavering values is bound to suffer confusion and despair.
He decried alcohol and drug abuse and condemned "the exaltation of violence and sexual degradation, often presented through television and the Internet as entertainment."
He told reporters during the flight from Rome to Australia that he believes the church in the West is in "crisis" because people feel they have no need for God. Yesterday, he warned the pilgrims of the threats from secularism.
"If God is irrelevant to public life, then society will be shaped in a godless image, and debate and policy concerning the public good will be driven more by consequences than by principles grounded in truth," he said.
It is all part of what he called a "poison" threatening to corrode the good in society.