Pope Francis wants us to “do everything in our capacity” to stop climate change – and specifically, to “limit global average temperature rise under the threshold of 1.5°C enshrined in the Paris Climate Agreement” because “Going beyond that will prove catastrophic, especially for poor communities around the world.”
In a compelling message released earlier this month, at the beginning of the five-week “Season of Creation,” Pope Francis reinforced his position as a stalwart supporter of protecting the environment at every level, but especially when it comes to our dangerously warming Earth.
The pontiff famously issued an “encyclical” in 2015 that called on “every person living on this planet” to take individual responsibility for their environmental impact by reducing fossil fuel use and minimizing overall consumption.
In the encyclical, 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.”
“Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age,” he said, “but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way.”
This year’s message coincides with the celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of Earth Day, which Pope Francis has designated a “Jubilee.” In honor of the Jubilee, the pope admonished us to remember that, “every thing is interconnected, and that genuine care for our own lives and our relationships with nature is inseparable from fraternity, justice and faithfulness to others.”
For Pope Francis, protecting the environment and safeguarding Creation are one and the same. “We have broken the bonds of our relationship with the Creator, with our fellow human beings, and with the rest of creation. We need to heal the damaged relationships that are essential to supporting us and the entire fabric of life.”
The leader of over a billion Catholics worldwide and an icon of Christianity also encouraged us “to remember that we are part of this interconnected web of life, not its masters. The disintegration of biodiversity, spiraling climate disasters, and unjust impact of the current pandemic on the poor and vulnerable: all these are a wakeup call in the face of our rampant greed and consumption.”
Francis is not the first pope to connect excessive consumption to pollution and climate change. Pope Benedict also observed, “the brutal consumption of creation begins where God is missing, where matter has become simply material for us, where we ourselves are the ultimate measure, where everything is simply our property.”
The current pope concurs. “Our way of life is pushing the planet beyond its limits. Our constant demand for growth and an endless cycle of production and consumption are exhausting the natural world. Forests are leached, topsoil erodes, fields fail, deserts advance, seas acidify and storms intensify. Creation is groaning!”
Pope Francis noted that in biblical times, during a Jubilee, God’s people were invited to “rest from their usual labour and to let the land heal and the earth repair itself.
“Today we need to find just and sustainable ways of living that can give the Earth the rest it requires, ways that satisfy everyone with a sufficiency, without destroying the ecosystems that sustain us.”
Pope Francis noted that COVID-19 has helped illuminate how our lifestyles impact climate change and pollution. ”In some ways, the current pandemic has led us to rediscover simpler and sustainable lifestyles,” he writes. “The crisis, in a sense, has given us a chance to develop new ways of living. Already we can see how the earth can recover if we allow it to rest: the air becomes cleaner, the waters clearer, and animals have returned to many places from where they had previously disappeared.”
But the pope also acknowledged, “The pandemic has brought us to a crossroads.”
“We must use this decisive moment to end our superfluous and destructive goals and activities, and to cultivate values, connections and activities that are life-giving. We must examine our habits of energy usage, consumption, transportation, and diet. We must eliminate the superfluous and destructive aspects of our economies, and nurture life-giving ways to trade, produce, and transport goods.”
Acknowledging the need to help the poor, Francis said that recovery packages being deployed to address the medical, social and economic crises created by COVID-19 must include regeneration packages that guarantee that global social and environmental goals are met.
“We also need to restore the land,” he said. “Climate restoration is of utmost importance, since we are in the midst of a climate emergency. We are running out of time, as our children and young people have reminded us.”
Speaking from Rome, Tomás Insua, executive director of Global Catholic Climate Movement, agreed. “Communities are reeling from the multiple impacts of the coronavirus, stronger storms and fires, and economic collapse. The combined cries of the earth and the poor remind us that our way of living is not working. We’re all urgently called to discover radically new ways of caring for creation and each other.”