“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.”
–Pope Francis, Laudato Si
Yesterday morning, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment.
Here is a quick summary, along with comments from Crystal Fey, program manager for the University of Wisconsin Sustainable Management program.
First thing’s first–what is an encyclical, and why is it a big deal?
Encyclicals are letters released by the Vatican to clergy members and laity of the Catholic Church. These documents are considered to be authoritative papal teaching documents, and this 184-page encyclical, called Laudato Si (“Praise Be” in English), was written by Pope Francis as a moral call to action to combat climate change and environmental damage.
Media coverage surrounding the encyclical has been extensive. Francis’s popularity is one reason, but also, his is the first papal document focused on the environment. It is expected to play a key role in the United Nations Paris Climate Conference in December and will likely be a point of debate in the 2016 presidential campaign, according to TIME.
What did the pope write about?
In Laudato Si, Francis–a trained chemist from Argentina–urged the world to
take concrete steps on climate change, saying failure to do so presents an undeniable risk to a “common home” that is beginning to resemble a “pile of filth.”
Politics, economics, and individual lifestyles need to change, he said, putting blame on the world’s wealthiest nations for their indifference to climate change policy. From Reuters:
Francis advocated a change of lifestyle in rich countries steeped in a “throwaway” consumer culture and an end to “obstructionist attitudes” that sometimes put profit before the common good.
In different ways, developing countries, where the most important reserves of the biosphere are found, continue to fuel the development of richer countries at the cost of their own present and future.
The TIME story about Pope Francis listed the top five points he made in the encyclical:
1. Climate change is real, and it’s getting worse.
2. Human beings are a major contributor to climate change.
3. Climate change disproportionately affects the poor.
4. We can and must make things better.
5. Individuals can help, but politicians must lead the charge.
Francis proposed a coalition between faith and science to fight climate change. From The New York Times:
Francis has made clear that he hopes the encyclical will influence energy and economic policy and stir a global movement. He calls on ordinary people to pressure politicians for change. But Francis is also reaching for a wider audience when in the first pages of the document he asks “to address every person living on this planet.”
… Above all, Francis has framed the encyclical as a call to action, imbuing environmental protection with a theological and spiritual foundation. He praises the younger generations for being ready for change and said “enforceable international agreements are urgently needed.”
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The official release of the encyclical was highly anticipated by religious figures, environmentalists, scientists, elected officials, and corporate executives around the world.
Advocates of policies that combat climate change hoped Francis “could lend a ‘moral dimension’ to the debate, because winning scientific arguments was different than moving people to action.”
Francis won praise from these advocates, scientists, and the United Nations.
It seems that for the time being, Francis has succeeded in getting the world to talk about climate change.
What does UW Sustainable Management’s program manager think?
Crystal Fey, program manager for the UW Sustainable Management program, has followed the story and provided her own insight on Pope Francis’s call for sustainability:
It’s exciting to see Pope Francis address sustainability issues such as climate change. Perhaps it will encourage more people to learn about the issues and engage in creating mitigation strategies.
Our program addresses both the causes and impact of climate change. Some areas of the world, such as coastal and island countries, will be more severely impacted by global temperature changes. The pope is right–poorer inhabitants of Earth will definitely see the consequences of a warmer world.
But things can and will change. For example, our graduates have studied the science behind climate change as well as sustainability in business. They have the skills to help companies cut down on waste and carbon footprints.
Every day, they are creating the change we need for a better world.
–Crystal Fey, Program Manager
Has Pope Francis’s encyclical sparked a global movement to fight climate change? We’ll find out in the coming months.