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Tuesday, 23 June 2015

In Praise of Pope Francis' Eco-Encyclical

I am not a Roman Catholic, but I've been pleasantly surprised by Pope Francis' papacy to date. Especially am I pleased by his eco-encyclical, Laudato Si' (Praised Be).

I have long been concerned about climate change; I've done what good, green consumers and citizens do.  I walked more and changed light bulbs.  I used less plastic.  I reduced, recycled and reused. Recently, however, I've discovered that personal actions, while helpful and important, are not enough.  It isn't enough to just change to an eco-friendly light bulb.  Climate justice requires a change in public policy and requires political leadership. Climate justice requires a whole shift in political and societal thinking!

Our United Church has had a lot to say about climate justice over the past 25 years.  Much of what we've had to say, however, has gone unheard and unheeded.  The World Council of Churches also has published tracts and treatises on climate justice, but they, too, have often gone unheard and unheeded.  However, I am pleased to learn that the world has heard what Pope Francis has to say about climate justice!

Reaction to the Pope's comments about climate justice has been swift.  There are those of us, including some political leaders, who are praising the Pope for his courage and his analysis.  There is, of course, criticism from the politically conservative and climate change deniers.  Many Republican presidential hopefuls are denouncing the Pope's encyclical, admonishing him to stick to the religious realm.

But if climate justice isn't a religious issue, I don't know what is!  Climate justice is the key issue of our day, and as it impacts justice, health care, poverty, income distribution, freedom and the common-weal, it is a religious issue.

Part of what I like about what the Pope said is that solving the climate change problem will take more than a technological solution.  It will take a change in public policy, putting a true price on carbon and eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel companies; and this will also include providing incentives for clean energy technologies.  Transportation will change, community planning, health care delivery, education and our sense of community will necessarily change.

But what will also be required is that we will consume less, that we will re-evaluate what growth actually means.  Is the economy, as most politicians suggest, the most important political issue?  No! The most important issue is the well-being of all citizens.  The most important issue is that life is precious--all life!

I leave you with a quote from Howard Zinn, which is what Pope Francis is about; Zinn said, "To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places -- and there are so many -- where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however a small way, we don't have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory."  (Howard Zinn was an historian, political scientist, and social activist, very active in both the civil rights movement and the anti-Viet Nam war movement. He has written numerous books.)