The Millennial's Pope Acknowledges Climate Change by Samantha Jakuboski, July 01 2015, 0 Comments

Although he has been in office less than three years, Pope Francis has already earned the reputation as being the “People’s Pope.” His compassionate and down-to-earth nature is evident when he drives through crowds in an open vehicle absent of bullet-proof glass, as he shakes strangers’ hands, kisses children and the sick on the forehead, and every night as he makes his way back home to his humble suite in the Vatican guest house, rather than the luxurious Apostolic Palace.

While I agree that Pope Francis is indeed the Pope of the People, I also view him more specifically as “The Millenials’ Pope.” It is true that at 78 years old, he does not exactly qualify as a Generation Yer. But, he has found a place in the hearts of many of my generation due to his humbling personality, his dedication to social justice and helping the less-fortunate, his willingness to take selfies, and his twitter savvy (he is the most influential world leader on Twitter!). Not to mention his attitude on many modern-day concerns. As the leader of a very conservative institution, Pope Francis’ tone towards homosexuals, women's rights, abortion, and divorce is one of the most understanding in the Church’s history.

To add to the 21st century matters that Pope Francis has touched on, we can now add environmental degradation and climate change. In a 184-page encyclical, Laudato si, released on June 18, Pope Francis acknowledges that climate change is real and due "mainly" by human activity, and how crucial it is that we, as an international community, work to improve the state of our environment.

Yes, Pope Francis may be the figurehead for the Catholic Church, and yes there are some Catholic doctrines spread throughout the encyclical’s six chapters, but overall, this letter has numerous scientifically-sound points that people of all faiths should be aware of. As Pope Francis wrote, climate change affects everybody—not just Catholics—for “the earth is essentially a shared inheritance.”

Climate Change and the Poor

Named after Saint Francis of Assisi, who lived a vow of poverty and served the poor in the 1100s (and who is also the patron saint of the environment), Pope Francis has a very strong devotion to helping the poor. (It is even rumored that he sneaks out in disguise at night to give the poor food and money!) Throughout the encyclical, he constantly traces environmental degradation and climate change back to their effects on these peoples. Loss of biodiversity and the range shifts of animals threaten the livelihoods of the poor in many parts of the world who depend on such resources to make a living, thus pulling them further into a life of poverty. Furthermore the rise in sea level puts many people living in nations' low-lying coastal areas, and who have nowhere to escape to, at risk.

When I think of the effects of climate change, I immediately relate it back to Hurricane Sandy’s extreme weather, since I witnessed firsthand the devastation it caused in my neighborhood. It was therefore interesting to read of the consequences climate change has on other societies, far from my own home. Again, it made me realize that climate change is affecting people all over the world and is a problem that the international community must work together to solve.

Recommendations for combatting climate change

In his encyclical, Pope Francis proposed strategies to combat climate change and environmental degradation. These include:

  • Respect and protect the earth’s organisms, and remember that we, as humans, do not have boundless dominion over the world and its creatures.
  • Reduce production, consumerism and waste. Live more sustainable and modest lives, free from excessive consumption. Pope Francis reminds us that material goods are not the keys to happiness.
  • Decrease growth in the developed parts of the world, so that resources can be allocated to developing nations.
  • Replace fossil fuels with cleaner and more renewable energy sources.
  • Negotiate and enforce international environmental agreements to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, a “lack of political will” is preventing such pacts, and it is only with such global cooperation that true progress can be made. It is important to stop thinking about profit, and to make decisions based on what is best for the environment.
  • Educate the public on climate change. Pope Francis pointed out that the most important form of education comes from the home, where parents set examples for their children. Environmental awareness is important in educating future generations about the importance of respecting and taking care of the earth.

The release of this encyclical proved that religion and science do agree on certain issues, even major ones like the state and future of our earth. With the Church and Pope Francis’ international fame and influence, this letter will hopefully promote the environmental awareness that is so urgently needed to convince the 1.2 billion Catholics worldwide, as well as people of all other faiths, to work together and live more environmentally friendly lives.

Picture Credit: Catholic Church England and Wales (via flickr) and available for use under the CC License

Author Bio:

Samantha is a rising sophomore at Barnard College, Columbia University. She hopes that through blogging, she can help change the way people view their actions in relation to the earth, encouraging them to lead more eco-friendly lives. Samantha also maintains an environmental science blog on Scitable, Green Science.