One year ago this spring, Pope Francis released his landmark encyclical letter on ecology, Laudato Sí, which called upon all of us to serve as diligent stewards of creation. Pope Francis delivered this message with great urgency — and with good reason. Climate change is already having severe impacts around the world that prevent some people, especially the poor and vulnerable, from enjoying the goods of creation, which God intends for everyone. If we fail to take action, we ignore our moral obligation to protect human life, prevent suffering, care for the poor and leave behind a safe world for future generations.
One year after Laudato Sí, issued on May 24, 2015, I am concerned that our country has yet to fully reckon with this powerful message. While covering a host of ecological issues, Pope Francis points to the deepest cause of our societal problems: our disconnection from one another. We see this disconnection clearly in the issue of climate change: While the seas rise and diseases spread in a warming climate, we must remember that we share a common home and our lives are intertwined. Drought, water scarcity and violent conflict — whether here or abroad — affect people everywhere. In the words of Rev. Marin Luther King Jr., “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Pope Francis gives us the moral and spiritual framework to realize our interconnectedness and to do right by our sisters and brothers around the world and for future generations.
Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment echoes a long Christian tradition concerned with protecting creation, making him the latest such moral leader to point out that care for creation is deeply connected to the protection of human life. Precious lives are being lost already. Climate change is not a problem for the distant future — the World Health Organization estimates that climate change already causes more than 150,000 deaths annually through greater heat stress, malnutrition and spread of diseases.
My hope is that a year after the Pope’s encyclical, we may hear Pope Francis’ message anew and take inspiration from the individual and local actions that Catholics and other people of faith are already taking.
Here in the Archdiocese of Baltimore, we have taken new strides to responsibly care for our common home. In December, we entered into a power purchase agreement that will supply 20 percent of the archdiocese’s energy needs with solar power. This energy will come from over 17,000 solar photovoltaic panels in Harford County. The new solar panel system will allow our archdiocese to manage our energy costs and devote more funding to ministries. Just as importantly, it will also reduce our environmental impact and put into practice the values of Laudato Sí. Catholic schools throughout the archdiocese teach sustainability and conservation in their curricula and nearly two dozen have received the “Green School” designation from the Maryland Association for Environmental and Outdoor Education. And many Catholic parishes are engaged in practices from community gardens and management of stormwater runoff to energy conserving initiatives and use of “green” eco-friendly materials in building projects.
We Catholics still have more work to do, but the shift toward more environmentally conscious initiatives is well underway. I have seen firsthand how a tangible action, like a parish going solar, has a compounding effect: The solar panels are a wonderful conversation-starter and an invitation to greater reflection for each of us to discern how to better care for the gifts and resources we have received from God.
Our individual and local actions are critically important, but also ultimately insufficient given the immense urgency of climate change. We need to come together as a country to do the big things that we cannot do as individuals. For many years, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has urged our national leaders to address climate change. Riding the wave of Laudato Sí, we bishops became even more vocal this past year. Leading bishops called for strong national standards on carbon pollution from power plants, such as through the Clean Power Plan. Our leading bishops also urged Congress to allocate money through the Green Climate Fund to assist poor countries struggling to adapt to climate disruptions like water scarcity and crop failure.
Climate change is not an issue that is decades away; it is affecting us right now. And addressing climate change is a moral imperative for all of us. How well we uphold our obligation affects our brothers and sisters across the globe and will have enormous consequences for the health and safety of our children and grandchildren. With immense impacts facing our country and the world, climate change deserves a more prominent place in our national conversation.