Pope Francis today unequivocally declared that climate change poses a dire threat to our future and implored us all – citizens, elected officials, governments, organizations, corporations – to take immediate action to “regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”
The Pope, who worked as a chemist before becoming a priest, completely embraced the science connecting climate change to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.
“A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system…A number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen oxides and others) released mainly as a result of human activity.”
“The exploitation of the planet has already exceeded acceptable limits,” he continued. “The idea of infinite or unlimited growth…is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit.”
Pope Francis did not mince words in conveying his concern for the impact this attitude has had on Nature.
“The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth…Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years.”
The pope specifically drew attention to the effect climate change may have on future generations if we do not act now.
“What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up? The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.”
“Doomsday predictions can no longer be met with irony or disdain.”
He also expressed concern about shrinking access to safe drinking water, calling it a “basic human right” that millions of people already do not have.
Francis acknowledged that it is not only human beings that are threatened by climate change.
“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever…[We] must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”
The pope’s statement came in the form of an encyclical, one of the church’s most authoritative teaching documents, titled, “Laudato Si, or Praised Be: On Care for Our Common Home.” The document took more than a year to research and write and draws on the work of dozens of scientists, theologians, scholars expert in a variety of subjects, and the writings of previous popes, many of whom also raised concerns about pollution and the environment.
Pope Francis addressed his letter to “every person living on this planet,” reaching far beyond the globe’s one billion Catholics.
“I would like to enter a dialogue with all people about our common home…We need to strengthen the conviction that we are one single human family.“
“Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way…”
In fact, mirroring suggestions Moms Clean Air Force has long made, the pope urged people to take individual responsibility for their environmental impact by reducing their use of fossil fuels and minimizing overall consumption. “Simple daily gestures” like “taking public transit, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling,” will make a difference, he said.
However, he put his biggest emphasis on creating a new economic and political paradigm that does not sacrifice the environment we all share for the profits of a few.
“Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life.”
This position has drawn the wrath of climate deniers and conservative politicians. Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a leading climate change skeptic, wants the Pope to “stay with his job, and we’ll stay with ours.” Sen. Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate who is also a practicing Catholic, has called on Pope Francis to “leave science to the scientists,” ignoring not only the Pope’s own scientific training but the fact that 97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real, affected by human activity, and needs to be acted upon now.
Our Sunday Visitor, a weekly Catholic newspaper based in Indiana, called attacks on the Pope “venom-spewing, ideologically based commentary.” Not only is it wrong to “disparage, cast aside and belittle the leader of the Church,” an editorial in the paper said. “It is profoundly disrespectful” and “the wrong behavior for Catholics to be engaging in.” The head of the Vatican’s Academy of Science dismissed attacks on the encyclical, saying they came only from the “Tea Party and those who derive their income from oil.”
What Can You Do?
• Start the conversation in your place of worship. The Pope’s message is not intended for Catholics alone. Protestant pastors and Americans rabbis are also tackling climate change. For example, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center has called it “a crisis in God’s name” and likened the world’s largest energy companies and their production of carbon dioxide to the oppressive pharaohs of ancient Egypt. If you are Catholic, be aware that the Washington-based Catholic Climate Covenant will be sending “homily hints” to the U.S.’ 17,000 Catholic parishes to help priests incorporate the Pope’s message into their sermons this summer. The group is also planning media events with bishops in Iowa, California, New Mexico and elsewhere.
• Push back on criticism of the Pope’s message. The science is clear. But so is the right of any religious leader to argue in favor of protecting the environment. Both the Old and New Testament call for all humans to be caretakers of the earth and all God’s creatures. As the moral leader of more than a billion people worldwide, Pope Francis clearly has the moral authority to speak about protecting God’s creation, as do the leaders of other faiths.
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