The Pope, the Climate and the Donald

October 12, 2017 by Denis Pombriant

The topic of climate change is suddenly so non-controversial that many of the world’s major religious leaders are in agreement—something has to be done. Ironically, much of the recent activity centered on the Paris climate conference held at the end of 2015 from which the general agreement, called the Paris Climate Accord, emerged. One of the disappointments and frustrations of the climate debate is that even when it’s over, it isn’t. But frustration and disappointment aside, how, one might ask can a world with over 7.5 billion people survive without some finality to its decision-making and some respect for scientific rationalism.

We know the story, told in an article in the New York Times, which is worth repeating,

“During Mr. Trump’s May visit to the Vatican, the pope gave him a copy of his 2015 encyclical letter, “Laudato Si,” which called for a human response to global warming, and top Vatican officials appealed to the president not to withdraw from the landmark Paris climate accord. Weeks later, Mr. Trump pulled out of the agreement.

It is fascinating to see the clarity and agreement among the world’s religious leaders on this topic. Pope Francis brought the moral implications of the evolving climate crisis home in Laudato Si’, his second encyclical, on 24 May 2015. It’s subtitled, On Care for Our Common Home. The letter is steeped in science, logic, and an understanding of economics, and reads less like the pronouncement of a religious authority than like something written by a person presenting the moral dimension of climate crisis in a frank, compelling manner to a sometimes-recalcitrant audience. Choosing to write about this dimension reflects Francis’s understanding that the climate crisis makes a difference to us all and that knowledgeable people are paying attention. Interestingly, Francis also notes that Catholic teaching about climate goes back many decades to other writings by his predecessors.

The Islamic Declaration on Global Climate Change notes that,

“The pace of Global climate change today is of a different order of magnitude from the gradual changes that previously occurred throughout the most recent era, the Cenozoic. Moreover, it is human-induced: we have now become a force dominating nature.”

Written before the Paris conference on climate in 2015, the declaration calls on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to recognize, among other things,

“…the need to set clear targets and monitoring systems and …the dire consequences to the planet Earth if we do not do so.”

The Jewish faith community has also weighed in on the issue. Notably, J. J. Goldberg wrote an article in The Forward titled, Why Climate Change Is a Jewish Issue—and the Pope is Right in support of Laudato Si’. Also, numerous organizations like the Jewish Climate Change Campaign are springing up. Its website states,

“Climate change is both a global crisis and an immense opportunity. It challenges us to live better and walk more responsibly on the Earth,” and asks, “How can we use the wisdom of Jewish teaching and the collective passion and ingenuity of the Jewish people to inspire a vision for the future? What changes can we make to help bring the resources of the Jewish people to bear on this issue?”

There are many other moral-voice examples, but our final one is A Buddhist Declaration on Climate Change promoted online by the Dalai Lama; readers are encouraged to sign the declaration to show their support. At the Rio Earth Summit, the Dalai Lama said,

“I believe that to meet the challenge of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. We must all learn to work not just for our own self, family, or nation but for the benefit of all humankind. Universal responsibility is the key to human survival. It is the best foundation for world peace, the equitable use of natural resources, and through concern for future generations, the proper care of the environment.”

It is sad that in some ways we need our foremost religious authorities to remind us of our responsibilities to the environment and to each other and unborn generations ahead of us. On the other hand though, humanity doesn’t begin to react to a crisis until things are far down the road. I think about Pearl Harbor or 9/11 as big wakeup calls to people who may have avoided unpleasant topics for as long as possible. Here we are again.



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