January 12, 2015

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The words Pope and Catholic Church may not often occur in the same sentence as climate change, but that is all about to change. This year is set to be a major milestone in humanity’s acceptance of our impacts on global warming as Pope Francis embarks on a mission to protect the planet.

Pope Francis has already stated that the greatest “sin” is destroying God’s Creation, and humanity’s contributions to climate change are doing just that.[i] Early last year, Pope Francis told a crowd in Rome, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” According to the Associated Press and The Guardian, these statements may soon grow into an official Church document called an “encyclical,” instructing the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to acknowledge human-caused climate change and act to fight it because doing so is essential to their faith.[ii]

Pope Francis in St Peter's Square © Alfredo Borba

Pope Francis in St Peter’s Square © Alfredo Borba

The imminent release of this decree is preceded by a five-day summit at the Vatican in May 2014 during which scientists, economists, philosophers, astronomers and other experts assembled to discuss ways for the Catholic Church to address climate change and sustainability.[i] Titled “Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Nature, Our Responsibility,” this joint workshop was held by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Pontifical Academy of Sciences council member and Scripps Institute of Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Dr. Veerabhadran Ramanathan co-led the meeting. Notable participants included Scripps oceanographer Dr. Walter Munk, Columbia University economist Dr. Jeffrey Sachs and marine researcher Dr. Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian.

In conducting the meetings in May, Dr. Ramanathan hoped to combine his optimism regarding climate change solutions with Pope Francis’ ongoing message of social justice.[iii] Participants explored issues involving human health and education in relation to finite natural resources such as drinking water and food stocks that are impacted by climate change. They also discussed the disconnect between science and policy change, particularly regarding climate change and biodiversity loss.[iii]

“In spite of compelling evidence of unsustainable changes to climate and biodiversity, society has been slow to act,” said Dr. Ramanathan. “The heavy price for this inaction will be paid by more than three billion poor people earning less than $2 per day.  We hope to understand why and explore pathways for sustainable development for all.”[iii]

2014 People’s Climate March in New York © Courtney Mattison

The Pope’s encyclical is expected to be released to the Church’s 5,000 bishops and 400,000 priests in the months following Pope Francis’ visit to Tacloban – the hurricane-ravaged city in the Philippines – next week.[i] This timing will be strategic leading up to the Pope’s presentations to the UN General Assembly in September 2015 and to world leaders at the much-anticipated COP21 climate meetings in Paris in December 2015. Pressure from the Pope to create a strong and effective climate action treaty during COP21 could result in key support from predominantly-Catholic countries for a global climate accord.

Stay tuned to missionblue.org for more news on this momentous call for action throughout the year leading into COP21!

By Courtney Mattison

Featured image (top): Pope Francis © Jeffrey Bruno / Aleteia Image Department


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