Acting on Climate: A Moral Imperative

Posted by Liz Schlegel
on July 21, 2015
Roman graffiti

Just over a month ago, Pope Francis released Laudato Si’: On Care for Our Common Home, a papal encyclical calling for a dialogue on the immense challenges facing the planet. In it, Pope Francis lays out his primary concerns about the climate crisis, and more importantly, his recommendations for action – not just by Catholics, but by “every person living on this planet.” Now, the Pope is meeting with mayors and governors from around the world to spur local action on poverty, urbanization, and emissions reduction.

 

The Pope heads a church that counts 1.1 billion followers around the world. While there are more Buddhists, Muslims, and non-religious peoples, there is no other religious leader who speaks so directly and forcefully to so many on issues of importance to daily life. His decision to take a stance on climate change, and to forcefully draw the connection between the plight of the poor and the environmental crisis now underway, is unprecedented in global religion.

 

There are some excellent analyses of the papal encyclical – some of the ones we’ve read include this round-up from The Guardian, this “thoughtful conversation” from GreenBiz, and a tougher critique from The Atlantic. While this is definitely a document written from a particular faith perspective, we can also recognize some universal themes that transcend any particular religion: that extraction of natural resources and environmental degradation are unsustainable; that the poorest are the most vulnerable and the least able to change the systems that are in place; that the actions nations have taken to date have not been enough.

 

At ISC, we are secular and non-partisan. We recognize religion and spirituality as powerful forces in the lives of humans, present since they first gathered to live in groups. It is central to our approach to be inclusive, to bring people together around the things that matter to them – whether it’s a shared faith, a shared place, a shared culture. And when people who are seen as leaders – local, national, or global – take a stand on issues that transcend “tribe,” we think it is important.

 

We are hopeful that this document will continue to spur awareness of the shared and difficult challenge we face as humans. We look forward to seeing other statements, from religious leaders and others, that inspire action and commitment from their communities of interest. And we agree with Pope Francis that humans have the power to make the changes that are needed:

 

Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start, despite their mental and social conditioning. We are able to take an honest look at ourselves, to acknowledge our deep dissatisfaction, and to embark on new paths to authentic freedom. No system can completely suppress our openness to what is good, true and beautiful, or our God-given ability to respond to his grace at work deep in our hearts. I appeal to everyone throughout the world not to forget this dignity which is ours. No one has the right to take it from us.