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Pope Francis Calls Attention to Climate Change as Moral Issue of Our Time

In the encyclical Pope Francis released on June 18, he called on the world to create “a new and universal solidarity” in response to climate change and stressed the need for the world to immediately act.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis stated. “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.”

Francis highlighted problems that will happen—and already are happening—because of climate change. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he declared.

The encyclical, found here, is a letter usually written to members of the Catholic Church by the pope. Famous encyclicals in history include Rerum novarum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 supporting both unions and private property, and Humanae vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 to denounce birth control and affirm the sanctity of life.

Daniel Blackman is a managing partner at Social Karma and worked with the interfaith community for the past decade on the issue of climate change. The Vatican invited him, along with other leaders, to Rome later this month for a series of events for the world to act on global warming. He told Firedoglake he agreed with the intentions of the encyclical as climate change is “the moral issue of our time.”

“The reality is climate change is real and it’s getting worse.” Blackman said. “There are vast arrays of environmental, social, economic and political challenges facing humanity. One fact that must be addressed is the disproportionate effects of global warming on the poor. Climate change’s worst impact, as Pope Francis says, ‘will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.'”

 

Blackman noted how he hoped people, not just Catholics, would take a “shared moral responsibility to address climate change.”

“I believe the protection of our planet, our home, is essential and not an option. Living harmoniously on the planet is our sacred right; protecting it is our moral obligation,” Blackman said.

The release of the encyclical, noted Blackman, would help in ensuring a strong deal at the U.N. conference in Paris later this year featuring nearly 200 nations coming together and creating an agreement.

“Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment will have a major impact in encouraging U.N. negotiations on global warming. In my lifetime, Pope Francis’ personal commitment to this issue is like no other pope before him and other faith leaders around the world should follow his lead. The biggest effect on the Paris negotiations will be the addition of a ‘moral element,’ a moral responsibility to climate change for many believers, and activists to hold on to,” Blackman said.

Blackman emphasized the importance of mobilizing to prevent global warming’s worst effects.

“As my colleague, the Reverend Gerald Durley, puts it, if we can’t breathe, if we have no planet, there are no human rights or environmental issues to resolve.  The organizing must begin with leaders with massive audiences and effective means of communication—the pope, President Barack Obama, interfaith leaders, heads of state and especially non-governmental organizations with active memberships,” Blackman said.

Reverend Durley recommended Blackman to be a part of a cohort to Rome.

“My reaction to the news was obviously ecstatic and, since I spent my early years in Italy, I was even more excited about the opportunity to return to a country that helped shape my future,” Blackman said.

Durley, a retired senior pastor who participated in the Civil Rights Movement alongside leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, wrote a piece two years ago about “why climate change is a civil rights issue”:

I do not doubt that we will succeed in addressing climate change. After all, we have only scratched the surface when it comes to solutions such as energy efficiency, renewable energy, and preparedness. But our success rests on the willingness of all of us—all races, creeds, and walks of life—coming together with a single purpose.

At one point, Pope Francis stressed the energy and spirit of young people around the world as an effective force to curb climate change:

Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.

Blackman referred to a Native American proverb—which goes “we do not inherit the planet from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”—as a reminder of what is at stake.

“If we are to believe and accept this as truth, then our children, the young men and women of the world, must be front and center throughout the conversation.  They must be educated, trained, inspired, thought of, but, most important, they must unconditionally have a voice and a seat at the decision-making table. We cannot shut the voices of tomorrow out of the conversations of today.  They must be on our boards, in our congregations, on our staff and they must have access to our politicians and business leaders,” Blackman said.

Blackman said organizing is an effective tool in following the encyclical’s message of urgency.

“Organizing begins, in my opinion, at the grassroots level. Unfortunately, in the United States, we are facing polarizing challenges that thwart efforts for inclusion and action; challenges such as the countless police shootings, the Charleston, South Carolina Church Massacre, and the concerns of the gay and lesbian communities. These civil and human rights challenges are very relevant, and have rightfully taken attention away from the ability to effectively address the very urgent crisis of climate change,” Blackman said.

 

 

The impact caused by climate change is expected to be so severe that climate migrants will move to developed countries. A Nature study in 2010, for example, found at least 6.7 million people from Mexico will be displaced because of global warming and move to the U.S. over the next 70 years. In general, millions of people around the world are expected to become climate migrants.

Moreover, a report in April found accelerated extinction rates of species on Earth will occur in the next few decades because of global warming. Pope Francis highlighted how immoral it would be for extinction to occur without much effort by humans to prevent it:

Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.

Pope Francis cited “insufficiently studied” impacts of noise pollution or nuclear energy. The latter’s inclusion is possibly because of bishops in Japan concerned with nuclear power after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

Japanese bishop James Kazuo Koda told National Catholic Reporter in late March how they urged Pope Francis to write about nuclear energy:

We are very clearly against the Japanese nuclear power plants. We asked the pope to say something about nuclear power plants in his forthcoming encyclical.

Pew Research Center released a poll on June 16 where 71 percent of U.S. Catholics said the Earth is warming. Although, only 48 percent said it was a “very serious problem.”

Still, 86 percent of U.S. Catholics view Pope Francis favorably, which is higher compared to Benedict XVI, his predecessor.

Creative Commons Licensed Image by Republic of Korea

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Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan

Brandon Jordan is a freelance journalist in Queens, NY and written for publications such as The Nation, In These Times, Truthout and more.