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June 23, 2015 | Pope’s Encyclical on Climate Change Could Change the World

The last time a Pope waded into to issues surrounding the sun and its role on shaping the earth, Galileo found himself accused of heresy and placed under house arrest. So when Pope Francis announced he would address climate change in his encyclical Laudato Si, we admit we were concerned.

As it turns out, we had nothing to fear. Weighing in at a healthy 91 pages, replete with footnotes, the encyclical — a papal letter sent to all bishops of the Roman Catholic Church — lays out a reasoned, scientific response to climate-change deniers. (In case you haven’t heard, the Pope is a former chemistry technician and is a Jesuit, a monastic order that has historically supported science. He even said solar could play a significant role in lifting poor nations out of poverty!)

We knew we were going to be OK after we read the powerful opening paragraphs. They’re long, but they are worth quoting in full (emphasis is the Pope’s):

  1. “LAUDATO SI’, mi’ Signore” – “Praise be to you, my Lord”. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1]                            
  1. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. Nothing in this world is indifferent to us.

 

“Burdened and laid waste.” What a powerful image to capture precisely the damage humans have done to the earth, sacrificing its sustainability for short-term gains. And coming from a man who helps shape the moral worldview of 1.254 billion Catholics worldwide, the encyclical could easily change the way climate change is discussed around dinner tables, boardrooms and governments.

In this remarkable document, the Pope also addressed the shortcomings of fossil fuels, and argued the time for them had passed:

  1. We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay. Until greater progress is made in developing widely accessible sources of renewable energy, it is legitimate to choose the lesser of two evils or to find short-term solutions. But the international community has still not reached adequate agreements about the responsibility for paying the costs of this energy transition.

 

And he specifically name-checked solar, out of all forms of renewable energy, as a path toward saving poor countries (i.e. those most at risk) from the ravages of climate change (emphasis ours):

  1. For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. At the same time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous level of consumption in some privileged sectors of their population and to combat corruption more effectively. They are likewise bound to develop less polluting forms of energy production, but to do so they require the help of countries which have experienced great growth at the cost of the ongoing pollution of the planet. Taking advantage of abundant solar energy will require the establishment of mechanisms and subsidies which allow developing countries access to technology transfer, technical assistance and financial resources, but in a way which respects their concrete situations, since “the compatibility of [infrastructures] with the context for which they have been designed is not always adequately assessed.”[128] The costs of this would be low, compared to the risks of climate change. In any event, these are primarily ethical decisions, rooted in solidarity between all peoples.

 

We particularly like the idea of solar-energy use as an “ethical decision.” It’s certainly one with which we wholeheartedly agree.

If you haven’t already, take time to read the entire document — it’s riveting. In the meantime, we applaud Pope Francis for taking a strong stance on this issue, even in the face of opposition from within his own Church. It’s a brave decision, and one that was long overdue.