Archbishop’s letter in city newspaper on the anniversary of Laudato Si’

June 12, 2016

Pope has called for action on climate

One year ago Pope Francis published Laudato Si’, his landmark encyclical on ecology addressed to “every person living on this planet” (3). It was arguably the most highly anticipated Catholic Church document in decades. We in the Catholic Church are marking its one-year anniversary at the same time as our nation is marking the full start of election season. Amidst the political campaigning, I would like to raise the need for dialogue about what is happening to our common home and invite an authentic sharing of ideas and solutions to the pressing problem of climate change.

Throughout Laudato Si’, Pope Francis reiterates the traditional teachings of the Judeo-Christian faith regarding ecology. He affirms that creation possesses inherent goodness and dignity that does not depend on human utility. He reiterates that humans are both a part of creation and set apart by God, who calls humanity to “cultivate and care for” the gift of creation (Genesis 2:15). Moreover, Pope Francis echoes recent Christian concerns – expressed by Saint John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, among others – that environmental degradation harms the life, health, dignity and common good of human persons and communities, especially those who are poor, vulnerable and marginalized. As such, he affirms the insight made by Saint Pope John Paul II in his 1990 World Day of Peace Message that “the ecological crisis is a moral issue” (15).

Animated by the Judeo-Christian vision of creation, Pope Francis sees that our common home is currently threatened by a host of challenges: pollution and waste, water sanitation and access, the loss of biodiversity, global inequality, decline in the quality of human life and the breakdown of society. In particular, Pope Francis, like Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, recognizes the reality of human-forced climate change, insists that “the climate is a common good” (23) and identifies climate change as a moral issue. In particular, he says that persons and communities have “differentiated responsibilities” (52) given their historical contributions to environmental degradation and the reality of a corresponding “ecological debt” owed by the Global North to the South (51).

Given the threat that climate change will soon become a runaway phenomenon with irreversible ecological and humanitarian consequences, Pope Francis especially emphasizes the urgency with which society must address climate change. In order to adequately tackle climate change, Pope Francis recognizes the need for individual and local actions. Based on the principle of subsidiarity, however – according to which the common good is to be protected and promoted at the lowest possible but highest necessary level of society – Pope Francis reiterates the explicit call of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI for climate change policies. In particular, Francis insists that “there is an urgent need to develop policies so that, in the next few years, the emission of carbon dioxide and other highly polluting gases can be drastically reduced, for example, substituting for fossil fuels and developing sources of renewable energy” (26).

Pope Francis understands the difficulty of enacting climate change policies in our day and age. He observes that “to take up these responsibilities and the costs they entail, politicians will inevitably clash with the mindset of short-term gain and results which dominates present-day economics and politics” (181). Additionally, he laments that “there are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected” (54) – a fact that we Americans know all too well in the age of Super PACs. Nevertheless, Pope Francis says that if politicians “are courageous, they will attest to their God-given dignity and leave behind a testimony of selfless responsibility” through policy efforts to care for our common home (181).

This election season, I therefore urge candidates for public office to exercise courage and moral responsibility by considering Pope Francis’ ecological vision and making tackling climate change a central part of personal and party platforms. Elected officials have a powerful role to play in caring for our common home. In the face of catastrophic climate change, I join in Pope Francis’ prayer that God would “enlighten those who possess power and money, that they may avoid the sin of indifference, that they may love the common good, advance the weak, and care for this world in which we live” (246).