Category Archives: Climate Change

Blog: Ecology and Economic Justice – Preparing for the Pope’s Encyclical

Ecology and Economic Justice – Preparing for the Pope’s Encyclical

By Carolyn Burstein
June 10, 2015

On May 28, Father Thomas Reese, in this article in the National Catholic Reporter, predicted that Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical will insist that attempts to deal with the burden of climate change should not be borne solely by the poor.

Three billion of the seven billion people on earth are mired in poverty – and one-third of these, or over one billion people (two-thirds of whom are women) live in extreme poverty on less than US$1 a day. The other two billion live on about US$2 a day. And let us not forget that “poverty pockets” exist in both rich and poor countries.

Climate change compounds the problems because so many people in poverty are critically dependent on natural resources and have limited capacity to adapt to a changing climate. Think of the changes being experienced already in the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves, heavy precipitation and drought, to mention only a few climate change issues.

In general, people’s vulnerability is highest in the least developed (poorest) countries in the tropical and sub-tropical areas of the world, which have the fewest resources to cope with depletions occurring in fishing grounds and in agricultural areas. Not only do crop yields suffer, which could easily result in malnutrition, but higher prices are also a nasty outcome.

Livelihood sources are usually narrower and more climate-sensitive than for those who are not poor. Extreme weather events often cause extensive damage and substantial loss of life in a developing country; whereas the same type of event might cause only limited damage and few, if any, casualties in a developed economy. In addition, poor and vulnerable people may be forced to sell off their physical assets in periods of stress, thereby undermining the sustainability of their livelihoods.

A recent World Bank article provides an example of this latter problem, which is becoming more common over time. In eastern Africa, a herder who “loses one or two cows to famine amid a drought may feel he has little choice but to sell other livestock at very low prices – the only prices he can get – to keep his family fed. The family may survive the crisis, but they will have lost productive economic assets they relied on, assets that had paid for the children to attend school and were helping the family move out of poverty. The children lose the advantage of an education, the herder has lost an economic base to build from, and he becomes less likely to take risks that could increase his income. Escaping the poverty trap becomes more difficult, and the effects can extend for generations”

Indeed, climate change is a distinct obstacle to ending extreme poverty because those who are very poor have the fewest resources to adapt or recover quickly from shocks of any kind. They often live on the most vulnerable land because it is the most affordable, such as homes along creeks or rivers that flood or hillsides prone to landslides or farmland with limited water access. Where economic diversification is low, options for developing alternative livelihoods in response to climatic changes may be limited or even non-existent. Migration may be the only strategy available, and migration itself, as we have seen recently, can lead to potential conflicts.

And climate variability and extremes will worsen these conditions in the future. Even today, over 96% of disaster-related deaths occur in these countries.

Consider the devastating droughts in Syria and Africa (even California, certainly a developed area, though it, too, has pockets of poverty); these extreme weather events always hit poor communities the hardest.  The shrinkage of glaciers, thawing of permafrost, changes in the frequency and intensity of rainfall, shifts in the growing season, sea level rise, the emergence of insects, shifts in the distribution ranges of plants and animals in response to changes in climatic conditions – these are but some of the climate changes we are already beginning to experience.  As a matter of fact, climate change is a serious risk to poverty reduction efforts and threatens to undo decades of work in this area of development.

Climate change will reduce access to water, negatively affect the health of poor people, and pose a real threat to food security, especially in small food-importing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Poor people are often directly dependent on goods and services from ecosystems either as a primary or supplementary source of food, building materials and fuel. This makes them especially vulnerable to ecosystem degradation. These impacts are superimposed on existing vulnerabilities and threaten all aspects of development and poverty reduction efforts.

In addition to water scarcity, food insecurity, greater salinization due to rising sea levels, temperature-related health issues and a myriad of other problems, we must add the risk of potential conflicts, including social unrest and political instability, even wars over decreasing natural resources and mass migration. The UN report was cautious about sending the message that climate change causes war, but instead stated, “Climate change canindirectly increase risks of violent conflicts in the form of civil war and inter-group violence” [my boldface].

As we’ve stated several times in the course of this blog, climate change threatens efforts toward poverty reduction. This has been particularly true for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted by 189 nations in 2000 and that will expire this year. Few of these eight goals dealing primarily with poverty eradication have been actualized for many reasons (not just climate change, but this serves as a brake) and will be replaced with Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September 2015.

The SDGs will emphasize climate change adaptation as an integral and urgent part of the overall poverty reduction strategy. But nations’ acceptance of the SDGs will rely on an understanding of the twin approach ofadaptation and mitigation of greenhouse gases, the latter goal intended to be part of a universal agreement on climate change in Paris in December 2015 at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP21.

But funds from several sources will be needed to ensure that adaptation strategies in developing countries actually are transformed into effective poverty reduction and sustainable development. Realizing these funds has been a sticky issue in the past and real progress in decreasing poverty cannot be assured without the help of developed countries.

Many people have placed their trust in the moral authority of Pope Francis to convince the leaders of nations to assist those who are more vulnerable than they. Everyone seems to be awaiting the pope’s encyclical on the changing environment and his address in September to the United Nations Special Summit on Sustainable Development to transform the thinking and values of world leaders so that they are willing to work toward the necessary mitigation of greenhouse gases and to provide the funds to assist poor nations= in their progress in adaptation. Both the pope’s addresses are anticipated to place a heavy focus on the world’s poor communities, on inequality, human development and climate change.

It should not be forgotten that the pope’s engagement on these issues will provide an opportunity as well as an encouragement for faith leaders across religions to speak out about global climate change and should be a major boost to achieve strong agreement in Paris at the end of the year.

If, at this eleventh hour, we are to adequately manage climate change and take seriously our obligations of sustainable development, then we must avoid the consumerist society and its attendant “throwaway culture” rightly deplored by Pope Francis, which, unfortunately, we have also applied to the natural world, planet Earth. As Cardinal Peter Turkson (who wrote the first draft of the Pope’s forthcoming encyclical) said in his address at the April 28 conference convened by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences at the Vatican on the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development, “We need to shift away from an unthinking infatuation with GDP and a single-minded zeal for accumulation.”

Cardinal Turkson also said later in his address, “let us adopt the primary virtues of stewardship and solidarity.Without stewardship, the Earth will be less and less habitable. Without solidarity, greed will wreak ever greater havoc. But with stewardship and solidarity, we are sure to generate greater sustainability and greater security.”

Let us return for a moment to Thomas Reese’s excellent NCR article quoted at the beginning of this blog. He says, “The pope is a prophet, not a policy wonk… it is up to environmentalists, economists, business leaders and public officials to come up with concrete solutions to the environmental crisis we face… The pope’s encyclical will be his invitation to all of us to join in this conversation and this work.”

Blog: Promise of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Stirs Winds of Hope

Promise of Pope Francis’s Encyclical Stirs Winds of Hope

Sister Leanne Jablonski FMI, PhD
June 2, 2015

The angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing… through the middle of the street of the city. On either side…is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. (Rev 22:1-2)

News of Pope Francis’s upcoming environmental encyclical is stirring winds of hope. Our pope is full of surprises and challenges that inspire bold, prophetic action. Many speculate on content and what it will mean. How will the Vatican’s voice contribute to the United Nations environmental work and the year-end universal climate change agreement in Paris? What do we hope Pope Francis will say to Congress in September? What does each of us need to hear, and what actions can we take in response?

As both a scientist and woman of faith, excitement is an understatement of my anticipation of the encyclical. As the first rumors grew in crescendo, I even pinched myself—just to be sure I wasn’t dreaming. It seems we are really at a time like that of Anna and Simeon being presented with the Christ Child (Lk 2: 25-37)—seeing something in our day I wasn’t sure that I would ever see. Both in the environmental challenges of our time, and the coming together of many to strive for collective solutions. And as with Jesus in his day, the hope and promise of the incarnation—God with us—was borne into a world in dire need of the message and promise of change.

The impact of the encyclical is extending far beyond Catholics engaged in environmental concerns. A religious statement on the environment is drawing excitement from other Christian denominations and world religious traditions. It is seen as an opportunity for internal education of members as well as raising our collective voices for the integrity of all creation—and about the impact of our lack of care of environmental degradation on the economically poor and vulnerable locally and globally.

The secular environmental community is also buzzing. At the Ecological Society of America 100th anniversary meeting this August in Baltimore, scientists and faith leaders from diverse traditions will share in several sessions aimed at exploring how scientists and people of faith can collaborate to achieve justice together.

Why is an encyclical important?

Such an ecclesial event gives us the opportunity to have a great impact in our church and for our faith witness to environmental justice—the importance of caring for all of nature and addressing the huge global challenge of climate change.

  • It is an opportunity for our witness of faith and justice values and their application— to educate and engage others of diverse talents—both internally and externally, on a critical justice issue.
  • It is an opportunity to take action where we can as individuals, groups, communities—in local to global ways.
  • It is an opportunity to collaborate with other faith traditions and likeminded individuals to truly build a world of justice and peace—an environmentally sustainable future for all.

Through the lens of the encyclical, we can be inspired and empowered to action in each of our roles—from the level of the individual, our local communities, our networks of religious families and organizations—to a global impact.

My story and the importance of people of faith and scientists working together

I professed first vows as a Marianist Sister in 1982, and following the call to be a bridge-builder between science and faith communities, I then did graduate work in biology, and also religious studies work on this relationship, meanwhile watching the faith community begin to explicitly articulate environmental care.

I then specialized in climate change and plant ecology in my science doctoral work in the 1990s.

At global climate change research conferences, I witnessed firsthand the growing consensus of scientists on the reality of climate change, and the high statistical improbability that the higher temperatures and related events were merely due to chance. As scientists, our quest is ongoing, data is subject to rigorous review, and hypotheses are tested repeatedly. We’re good at facts and data and complexity. Yet, we’ve realized we can’t stand silent as we piece together vast environmental changes underway that human actions can shift. As scientists, we’ve gradually realized the importance of contributing to the public policy process from our science expertise, and of learning how to communicate what we know to the general public in understandable ways.

I’ve been inspired by the 1991 Open Letter to the Religious Community, where 32 Nobel laureate and other eminent scientists recognized common interests of the two groups and the need for both scientific and ‘sacred’ understanding: “Many of us have had profound experiences of awe & reverence before the universe. We recognize that what is regarded as sacred is most likely to be treated with respect. Efforts to safeguard planetary environment need to be infused with a vision of the sacred and as a universal moral priority.”

From this, The National Religious Partnership for the Environment was born (engaging the four major bodies that were nationally organized at the time: U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; National Council of Churches; Evangelical Environmental Network; and Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life).

Environmental Professor Gus Speth expresses faith engagement as critical in his 2007 statement: “I used to think the ‘big three’ were climate, biodiversity, and pollution, but after many years of work

I think pride, apathy, and greed are even bigger. We need cultural and spiritual transformation, and science doesn’t do that—the church does that.”

What wisdom can trees offer us for approaching the encyclical event?

In my own pondering I’ve often been drawn to think of the image of trees as a wisdom guide to the experience of this upcoming ecclesial event—in the richness of their spiritual symbolism (from Genesis to the cross to Revelation), their grandeur and longevity of the plant kingdom, and their universality. On a more personal note, their deep roots (with just as much biomass extended below as above ground) remind me that there is more to discover and know in my own identity and role in acting on behalf of all the earth’s creatures. I was well into adulthood and decades of science research conducted with plants before I realized I was following my lineage of peasant-farmers, and that my family tree name itself derives from the Polish jablon, which means apple tree. Perhaps each of us has these identity/awareness moments in our own journey.

Why are statements on environmental care particularly important at this time? Caring for all of creation, or earth stewardship, is part of ancient biblical teaching. When most of the population was rural or more directly connected with the agrarian seasons and rhythms because their family or cultural group was directly providing the food and shelter, there wasn’t as much need for explicit mention. And this care was implied in other principles of Catholic Social Teaching.

However, with the shift to the cities of the past century, there is greater need to be explicitly reminded of our roots and interconnections with the nonhuman world. Additionally, the discoveries in science over the past several decades—of understanding the origin of the universe, the functioning of ecosystems, and all the fields that contribute to the science of climate change—show our interconnection and reliance upon the components of the physical world around us.

I expect that in the encyclical, Pope Francis will guide Catholics to a better understanding of this opportunity to care for creation and our sisters and brothers. I trust that science will have informed the context of the encyclical. As the science has become clearer about humanity’s impact on the natural world, the Church’s voice has become clearer. Recent popes and the U.S. bishops have spoken on the need to address climate change and care for creation: Saint John Paul II and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI rooted care for the environment in the need for solidarity with other people and with God’s creation. Both popes warned about human contributions to heat-trapping gases and climate change, as did the U.S. bishops in their 2001 statement that called for prudent action on climate change.

I expect that Pope Francis will make a strong case for the moral issue of our call to care for the poorest and most vulnerable people among us, and will link this to forming solutions to confront climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which has issued assessments on the status of climate change over the past 25 years, has connected to the theme of global environmental injustice—enunciating that the poorest people are the ones least responsible for climate change and suffer its worst consequences. The basic human right of access to clean water, food and shelter is threatened by our planet’s warming, and with increased snowmelts, droughts, storm severity and frequency, we are seeing a disproportionate impact on areas of the world already challenged by food shortages, water procuration and heat-stress events.

Solving climate change protects God’s people. Whether it’s someone in Ohio suffering from asthma, someone in Quito suffering from a mudslide, or a Pacific Islander experiencing salt water intrusions destroying arable land, climate change hurts humanity. I imagine the encyclical will emphasize the important perspective of loving our neighbors, and connecting loving our neighbors with protecting them from climate impacts, including increased disease, extreme weather and food insecurity.

Science of ecology can guide us in finding our right relationships

We have, in a sense, lorded it over nature, over Sister Earth, over Mother Earth,” said Pope Francis on January 15. Our rightful place within creation respects and protects the interconnections of the vast web of life. The word ecology derives from the Greek oikos or house—the same root as the house churches of the Acts of the Apostles.

Our modern notion of our household has been expanded by science, however. We now know that the same molecules of air that we breathe are those inhaled and exhaled by the apostles and their ancestors. And Jesus and our founders and some characters with whom we might not like to be associated! In fact, the air from an hour of our community prayer will pass through the breath of every child born that year during their lifetime. There are no border crossings. When I reflect on this the world becomes smaller, more intimate. I’m more able to see that my actions and the actions of my local community can have impacts all across the globe.

This interconnection and interdependence apply also within the more local level of ecosystems. An ecosystem is a geographic area with all the living organisms present and the nonliving parts of their physical environment. It involves the processes of movement and storage of energy and matter through living things (plants, animals, microbes) and activities.

The entire ecosystem—be it woods, prairie or pond—is greater than the sum of its parts, and it functions as a whole, keeping a balance. As ecologists we have been studying ecosystem properties and the great benefits to humankind of free services—from purification of air and water to protection from floods, radiation, heat and erosion, to serving in pollination, seed dispersal and soil formation. Unfortunately, these services are not accounted for in our economic system of land sales, and take a great deal of time to restore when destroyed. This, in turn harms humans who are part of the whole ecosystem. As humans, we are intrinsically part of this natural world.

In our work at the Marianist Environmental Education Center (MEEC), we engage in restoration ecology to restore ecosystems and the relationships between land and people. Land service volunteers (one-time to regular) work with us, in conscious mutual service. Our planting native plants suited to the light and soil moisture habitats helps restore these services by attracting native insect  pollinators and other wildlife and by building up the soil, ultimately creating healthy and diverse ecosystems.

Land restoration and conservation must be a centerpiece of our response to climate change. Protected lands already provide habitats for 80% of the world’s protected species. Land conservation is also a proven strategy for removing carbon pollution—which drives climate change—from the atmosphere. In the U.S., natural lands already capture nearly 15% of our carbon dioxide emissions. Protecting more land will both expand this bank and preserve habitat. Conversely, when land is converted for development, more carbon is released and this increases the heat-trapping blanket effect of the atmosphere, which causes global warming. The land loses its ability to act as a carbon sponge. MEEC has been educating and taking action on climate change and energy issues, collaborating with the networks and resources of the Catholic Climate

Covenant, the Global Catholic Climate Movement, the Justice Conference of Women Religious and Interfaith Power and Light, to name a few.

I’ve been particularly empowered through Nuns on the Bus Ohio—with its vision of Moving Ohio with Passionate Voices for Justice. Our mission: Inspired by Jesus, motivated by Catholic Social Teaching, impelled by a vision of an interdependent creation, in solidarity with those at the margins, we network and advocate for a just and peaceful world. Our network of vowed religious women and laity was inspired by our participation in NETWORK’s national Nuns on the Bus tour through Ohio, and we are continuing the journey! We’ve discovered that collaboration among our diverse charisms, and between our often siloed Ohio cities, provides an important witness and support. We chose environmental concerns of climate change and energy as one of our two major foci. In the past year, we have been organizing and bringing the faith voice highlighting impacts on the economically poor and vulnerable through press conferences, letters to the editor, dialogues with elected officials, and educational events to address federal EPA Clean Air rules and Ohio renewable energy and energy efficiency policies.

Our unique niche—Exploring the gift of our charisms

In ecological terms, a niche describes the unique role of a species in its community—where it lives, and its interconnection with other species (e.g., what it eats/consumes and who eats it; what is fed or nurtured by it).

Analogous to this, is the richness of the charisms of our religious families— how the Spirit inspired our Saints and Founders to respond to the needs of the times—with particular gifts and approaches that resonated with the people and the needs, and contributed to the whole. The ecological encyclical and the environmental needs of our day are an opportunity for renewal and to be a lens for reflecting on the gift that each of our charisms can contribute, and how we might adapt them to today’s needs. Together, each of our charisms, like flowers and tree species, make up a beautiful garden of life.

My poem, “Prayer for Our Harmony,” emerged from praying with the earth from my Marianist charism on a 30-day retreat. May our nurturing work with the upcoming ecological encyclical bear much fruit for all of us who together make our common home, earth. In the spirit of joyful Pope Francis, in our earth-care may we echo the Psalmist as “lovers of justice” (Ps 89), as those who make justice their bliss.

Prayer for our Harmony

Mary, daughter of Wisdom
We, your family, are tired
We desire to be your living presence anew

Form us as your rain
Quenching parched souls with hope

Form us as your fire
Illuminating indifferent hearts with faith

Form us as your wind
Refreshing dusty minds with wisdom

Form us as your soil
Embracing all with compassion

In all these ways of life
Form us, so that

Your seed of justice sown deep within us will flourish
Bearing abundant fruit
Of peace and integrity

Joined together with all creation
We will once again sing in harmony

-Leanne Jablonski FMI 1.23.06

Marianist Sister Leanne Jablonski FMI, PhD is a plant ecologist, educator and pastoral minister engaged in climate science, faith and justice outreach regionally to nationally. She directs the Marianist Environmental Education Center; and at the University of Dayton is a coordinator in the Hanley Sustainability Institute and the Sustainability Energy Environment Initiative. (This article first appeared in NETWORK’s Connection magazine.)

Blog: What Can We Expect in Pope Francis’s Upcoming Encyclical on the Environment?

What Can We Expect in Pope Francis’s Upcoming Encyclical on the Environment?

By Carolyn Burstein
Mar 20, 2015

Ever since Pope Francis indicated that he would write an encyclical on the issue of the ecology/environment, expected to be completed in the summer of 2015, people around the world have been speculating about its contents.

Until recently, we have had only a few glimpses into what that might be. We certainly have Francis’s own public statements, of which there have been many, previous encyclicals on the environment by St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, statements by groups such as the USCCB, and the example of St. Francis of Assisi.

Now we can add those of two significant additional sources:

  • Cardinal Peter Turkson, the Ghanaian prelate and President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, whose Council wrote the first draft of the encyclical and has issued several reports on global destruction of the environment over the past several years
  • Leonardo Boff, the former Brazilian Franciscan priest, whose 1997 book, Cry of the Earth, Cry of the Poorfocused on the close connection between social justice and care for the environment.

Isn’t it interesting that a key environmental document will find its roots in thoughts of those from three largely-marginalized countries of the world (at least in the perspective of major world powers) – Ghana, Brazil and Argentina?

Cardinal Turkson’s March 3 lecture at St. Patrick’s Pontifical University in Maynooth, Ireland, is a primary signal of much of what we can expect from Francis’s upcoming encyclical. He titled it “Integral Ecology and the Horizon of Hope: Concern for the Poor and for Creation in the Ministry of Pope Francis.”

As one would expect from previous statements of this pope, Francis sees the issues of global inequality and the destruction of the environment as inter-related. Noting the precarious state of our planet as well as of people in poverty around the world, Turkson maintains that Francis will bring the perspective of Catholic Social Teaching to these significant issues. Under the rubric of “integral ecology,”

Four Major Principles

Cardinal Turkson notes four major principles that explore the relationship between care for creation, human development, and concern for people who are poor as reflected in the ministry and teaching of Pope Francis:

  1. The call to everyone to be protectors, a call that is integral and all-embracing. It is a vision of care and protection that embraces both the environment and the human person in all possible dimensions. Turkson quotes liberally from the writings of St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI to demonstrate the continuity of papal teaching regarding this issue over the past 30 years. The focuses of the two popes were different, but both, in encyclicals and in statements on various occasions consistently talked about the moral duty of Catholics to care for creation. One of the strongest statements by a pope was Benedict’s address to the Reichstag, Berlin, in 2011, when he said: “The importance of ecology is no longer disputed. We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly.” Each of the two predecessors of Pope Francis wrote prolifically about environmental issues, but neither devoted an entire encyclical to ecology nor made the inter-connections that are anticipated in Francis’s letter.
  2. Care for creation is a virtue in its own right. Even climate change skeptics who contest the findings of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have a profound obligation to care for creation, to develop and live an integral theology as the basis for human development and peace in the world. As Pope Francis said in his homily on February 9, “a Christian who doesn’t safeguard creation, who doesn’t make it flourish, is a Christian who isn’t concerned with God’s work, that work born of God’s love for us.” Turkson states that this second principle, based on the second creation account of the Book of Genesis, involves humankind in caring for the earth in a way that ensures its continued fruitfulness for future generations. Therefore, justice, in this context, is a relational term. We actually have a threefold relationship: with our Creator, with our neighbor, and with the natural environment in which we live. So when Pope Francis says, as he often has in the past, that we cannot save the environment without also addressing the profound injustices in the distribution of the goods of the earth, he is pointing to the fact that being a protector of creation, of people who are poor, is the sine qua non of being a Christian.
  3. Care for what we cherish and revere. Turkson acknowledges that scientific and economic understanding, international agreements, political regulations and even targets may be necessary tools for addressing poverty and climate change, but he indicates that Francis is more concerned that what are really needed are a moral conversion, a real commitment, and a change of heart, if the tools are to be effective. There have been numerous attempts in the past few years to implement international agreements on development goals, carbon emission targets and climate change limits, with little effect. One example, among many, is the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), most of which remain unfulfilled as global inequality continues to widen. The MDGs are to be updated to 2030 at the December 2015 Conference in Paris. While we see that international agreements are important, they are not sufficient to sustain change in human behavior. That is why Francis’s emphasis on the model of St. Francis of Assisi and on Catholic Social Teaching in this regard will be so meaningful. Michael Peppard, a Fordham University theologian, explained this third principle in the March 10 issue of Commonweal: “The twin problems of inequality and climate change cannot be addressed merely through secular institutions… The Catholic tradition, as a truly global community engaged in the quest for justice, is well positioned to bring about this conversion of heart through integral ecology.
  4. The call to dialogue and a new global solidarity. Undoubtedly, Pope Francis will emphasize that it is this change occurring in human hearts in which the good of the human person, and not the pursuit of profit, is the key value that directs our search for the universal common good. Michael Peppard seems right on target when he observes that these themes have been a constant in Francis’s pontificate. Even in his very first homily back in March 2013 he spoke about the need for care of people in poverty, the care for creation, and the horizon of hope.

The Importance of the Encyclical

If Turkson’s lecture this month is a harbinger of the encyclical we can expect from Pope Francis this summer, then we will have in one place the nexus binding his pontificate into a unified whole. Francis has endeared himself to many throughout the world for continually referring to solidarity with people in poverty and living this principle in his own life. At the same time, he has consistently linked ecological decline to the anguish of those who are poor and vulnerable. And he has frequently connected care for people in poverty and care for creation with Catholic Social Teaching.

The timing of the encyclical — summer 2015 — is significant because it is midway between the Lima Accord achieved in December 2014 and its finalization in Paris in December 2015. It was in Lima that, for the first time, 195 member-nations in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to make commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The mid-November 2014 deal that President Obama made with China to reduce its greenhouse gases gave needed momentum to the Lima talks. Francis’s encyclical on the environment should be published by July 2015 and one hopes that it will serve as a similar impetus to nations in Paris.

Francis will also be addressing the U. S. Congress in September 2015, and one certainly anticipates that global inequality and care for the earth will be primary issues for discussion and will serve as an energizing challenge to this country in its response to both issues.

While we hope that Francis’s efforts carry even more momentum for Paris than Obama’s did for Lima, theNational Catholic Reporter editorial staff maintained in early January that in Paris it will be a long, hard fight against vested interests in the fossil fuel industry and those who wish to protect the economic status quo.

On March 3, Vatican Radio cited the words of the British scientist, Sir David King who currently serves as the UK’s special representative on climate change. Asked about the role of Pope Francis on the issue of climate change, King said, “Pope Francis has already had an impact and in the run-up to the meeting in Paris I think his impact is almost immeasurable.”

Protecting Creation, People in Poverty, and Future Generations

Clive Hamilton, an Australian Professor of Public Ethics, reminds us that on several occasions, Francis has spoken of the way humans have greedily exploited the environment and contrasted that with the imperative to care for it responsibly in order to protect the interests of people in poverty and future generations. Francis has called for a new model of development, one that will respect the environment rather than degrade it, one not based only on self-interest. Hamilton wonders whether Francis is moving towards a position in which the earth becomes sacramental, indicating a channel for God’s grace. This belief is certainly not pantheistic nor does it seem likely that Francis will embrace Leonardo Boff’s belief that ultimately God is present in the world in the form of “energy” that is the Holy Spirit.

What is more likely is that Pope Francis will, with Boff, eschew the compulsion many humans have to turn always to a technological response on the principle that “if we can do it, we must do it.” The practical implication of the latter belief is that Francis will probably oppose those advocates of geoengineering who propose spraying the upper atmosphere with a layer of sulfate particles in order to reduce the amount of solar radiation reaching the earth, if cutting greenhouse gas emissions proves impossible to attain.

Pope Francis would tend to see such an illustration of geoengineering as an abdication of our responsibility to care for creation as well as an expression of human hubris that is tantamount to “domination of creation” rather than the loving care he calls for. What is more interesting is whether he will be forced to support geoengineering in this instance because of the dilemma of how climate change will affect people in poverty. All indications are that those with the least ability to adapt will be affected first and worst in any climate change scenario.

An Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report clearly states that people who are socially, economically and institutionally marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change. Poor rural communities, in particular, and those with limited access to land, modern agricultural inputs, infrastructure and education will be disproportionately affected.

John Abraham, writing in The Guardian in early January, noted that he had asked Michael Naughton, Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas in England, to give Francis’s perspective on the connection between care for people in poverty and care for creation. Naughton said, “Francis will no doubt, in his punchy and prophetic tone, draw our attention to a market system that too often treats the environment like a commodity in what he describes as a ‘throw-away’ culture. As he is never tired of repeating, the poor suffer the most from our ecological crisis. He will confront this ‘logic of the market’ with a ‘logic of gift’ that views the earth to be shared with all of humanity — a gift in need of great care and attention.”

It was clear that his environmental encyclical was foremost in his thoughts when Pope Francis visited the Philippines in January. A wide swath of the central Philippines was destroyed by a very powerful tropical cyclone, fed by warming of the ocean, in November 2013. While meeting survivors, the pope clearly showed not only his compassion, but also his understanding that the issues of climate change and human development are intertwined.

In a celebration of Sunday Mass in Manila where 6 million people gathered to hear the pope’s words, he said that God “created the world as a beautiful garden and asked us to care for it. Through sin, man has disfigured that natural beauty. Through sin, man has also destroyed the unity and beauty of our human family, creating social structures that perpetuate poverty, ignorance and corruption.” This statement is a good example of the interrelatedness of global inequality and care for creation, referred to above by Cardinal Turkson.

Eco-theologians globally of diverse faiths have drawn inspiration from Pope Francis’s efforts. Rabbi Lawrence Troster and Jeff Korgen write in their blog for the “Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions” that many faith leaders have articulated values deeply consistent with the themes that will probably be shared by Francis this coming summer and that they would do well to support his encyclical. Among the themes Troster and Korgen list are ones noted above, such as:

  • The earth is a gift from God and reflects divinely ordained beauty and order.
  • Human beings must act as the stewards and protectors of this order.
  • Those who are poor and excluded suffer the worst effects of pollution and climate change.
  • Nature’s destruction derives from a mentality of greed.
  • Harm to others caused by pollution is a structural sin.


It is clear that we have been entrusted by God to care for creation in all its variety, not just for our use but because of its intrinsic worth. We are mere custodians or stewards of God’s gifts to us and believe we must protect them for the future and willingly share them with the less fortunate among us. This belief means that everyone, especially members of the human family who are poor and vulnerable, deserve access to the gifts of creation that are necessary for life and human dignity. We decry human exploitation and the greed from which this behavior emanates. If we are sincere in our beliefs, we look forward to Pope Francis’s upcoming encyclical and will work hard in our respective jurisdictions to influence others to understand the implications of “integral ecology” and to act upon it.

Blog: Changes in the Congressional Cafeteria

Blog: Changes in the Congressional Cafeteria

Marge Clark, BVM
Apr 04, 2011

Oh, my! The United States has, for years, been facing a serious landfill problem. We are out of space to deposit more stuff that will be around for generations. Over the last few years, Congress has taken great strides to reduce garbage and to conserve energy. They have replaced as many lighting systems as possible with florescent bulbs, set up strong systems of paper recycling in offices, moved from paper to electronic communication and sharing of information – as much as possible. And, they moved from the non-disintegrating plastics and Styrofoam to biodegradable containers, flatware, etc. in the cafeterias. Great moves for the future health of the environment, including human health.

And then, today (4.4.11) I read in the Budget Tracker: In the House, the GOP killed a cafeteria composting program, replacing the biodegradable containers and tableware that Democrats had mandated with Styrofoam and plastic substitutes.

This raises for me a question coming frequently lately: Who wins in this; and who loses in this?

Blog: The Gulf Oil Spill Teaches Us Many Lessons

Blog: The Gulf Oil Spill Teaches Us Many Lessons

Maureen Book, NETWORK Intern
Jun 14, 2010

The crisis of the current oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has reminded us of the fragility of not only our technology, but also of our ecosystems. As our leaders continue to come up short in their efforts to staunch the flow, the fact grows ever clearer that this event will have wide-reaching and long-lasting effects on the health of the Gulf, its wildlife, and the surrounding communities.

Criticisms of every variety have been launched at officials of BP, President Obama, and anybody with a connection to the situation. There seems to be a consensus that we ought to understand the technology we employ, and that we ought to be prepared for inevitable failures. There is no excuse for the present helplessness in the face of this human-caused catastrophe.

But the spill should remind us also that safety regulations, contingency plans, and repair technology will never insulate us from the destruction that is inevitable when we operate without regard for the limits of our humanity and Earth. An economy that relies so heavily on staggering quantities of fossil fuels cannot be called “responsible.” Our relentless drive for production and consumption – even at the expense of communities and ecosystems – cannot be called “safe.”

The oil spill should teach us lessons about the practicalities involved in accessing natural resources, should lead to improved safety regulations, and should prompt the development of robust backup plans. But it should also lead us to question whether our present course can be sustained. As people of faith who reverence all of Creation, we ought to know that it simply cannot.