Faith and the Environment

Pope Francis Encyclical on Climate Coming Thursday: What Do You Want it to Say?

As the world awaits the release of Pope Francis’ “Laudato Sii” (Praised Be) Encyclical on June 18th, there is much anticipation about what the encyclical will say and what it will mean to the broader global dialogue on climate change. Pope Francis is expected to expand on previous statements, approaching climate change as an ethical and moral issue that is now beyond debate in the scientific community. With degrees in chemistry, philosophy and theology, Pope Francis has illustrated numerous times his intellectual understanding of the disproportionate impact that climate change has on the poor, while also referencing that a central ethical principle of Catholicism is protecting the poor, caring for others and caring for God’s creations. When Pope Francis met with Earth Day Network president Kathleen Rogers on the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, April 22, he spoke to her about the impact of climate change on the poor. The soon-to-be released encyclical is expected to go farther—explicitly noting that those who have benefited most from the carbon based economy are those with the greatest responsibility to fix the problems they have created, using all of their resources, wealth, expertise, and knowledge to do so. If the pope’s encyclical is specific in its call put the brunt of action on the world’s wealthy—who will be called upon to individually reduce their consumption as well as lead political and technological solutions to climate change— the encyclical could make a tremendous impact. The 1.2 billion strong Catholic voice is important in the climate conversation. Catholic doctrine supports a life of “integral ecology” which calls for mutual respect in the relationships between humans and the Earth, understanding that individual actions have consequences. The belief that even small life changes can help the greater good is integral to combating climate change. Pope Francis realizes the importance of working together to save the Earth. Belief in nurturing the environment is not unique to Catholicism, and momentum is building for people of all faiths to come together now. For example, gaining inspiration in advance of the encyclical, over 340 Rabbis have signed a Rabbinic Letter on the Climate Crisis calling for vigorous action on climate to prevent further global changes. While Pope Francis is renowned for being a progressive pope, he is not the first Catholic pope that has believed in the science of climate change. US bishops wrote the first Catholic discussion of climate change and the energy crisis in 1981. Saint John Paul II discussed human—caused climate change in 1990 in a message to celebrate World Day of Peace, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI often insisted on the urgency of combatting climate change and the importance of sustainability. In 2001, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops also released a statement on climate change. This encyclical comes at an important time. Later in the year, the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) will take place in Paris, where world leaders will decide on a binding climate change treaty. The encyclical is an opportunity to converge on science and morals across faiths, nations, and languages. We want to know what you think! What do you hope the encyclical will say? And what impact will it have? Join the climate conversation! Marisa Barley, Intern