Climate Change is a Moral Issue

Communications Manager Giulia Crossley reflects on five messages from the Pope’s encyclical on climate change.

This week his Holiness Francis I released Laudato Si: On the care of our common home, in which he calls for a “bold cultural revolution”. In his first Encyclical, the leader of one billion Catholics lays down an unflinching message: the planet is in a mess, it’s our fault, and we all have a duty to fix it - from world leaders to the woman sitting in the JB office writing this blog. At 100+ pages it’s a comprehensive read and covers everything from resource scarcity, to poverty, big business and technology, to stewardship.

Here are five messages from the papal encyclical with accompanying quotes that resonated with me and the work we do at Julie’s Bicycle, which is centered on the idea that inspiration, understanding, and action are the keys to making change happen.

1. Climate Change is a Moral Issue

“Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”

The Pope’s statement about climate change focuses on the need to reconnect with the Earth, its resources and people on a moral, rather than a purely religious, level. He says destruction of the planet is wrong. Full stop. The simplicity of this message is perfect, particularly in appealing to those who feel overwhelmed by facts and figures or debates about carbon. The moral argument also succeeds because it works with the science, complimenting it, universalising it and adding a colossal beating heart. It’s not just that we can change, it’s that we should and we must.

2. People are the Solution

“Leaving an inhabitable planet to future generations is, first and foremost, up to us. The effects of the present imbalance can only be reduced by our decisive action, here and now.”

The encyclical paints a picture of over consumption, waste, destruction and greed. It doesn’t just discuss climate change but takes as a given that man is responsible, citing the “solid scientific consensus” to support the claim. Crucially though, we are also the solution. The Pope’s argument is that we have an inherent connection with each other and with nature, and that this is currently out of whack. The “imbalance” must be corrected by rejecting our current wasteful and polluting attitudes. This change is urgent, necessary, and entirely possible.

3. Leadership is Essential

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance.”

Laudato Si is about personal responsibility, but also about political obligation. Papa Francisco is in the rare position of having immense power and sway without being tied to specific political or geographic boundaries. This freedom is exploited to its fullest, allowing His Holiness to hit out at the failure of leaders across the globe to tackle climate change. He is particularly scathing of “special”, and “economic” interests, which he says consistently influence governments at the cost of the poorest in society. By taking this stance he is forcing world leaders to respond with action as well as words. You can read a selection of responses here.

Word cloud of Laudato Si: On the care of our common home, 2015

4. Timing is Everything

“What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

The timing of this encyclical has been carefully considered for maximum impact to allow the Pope and the general population to keep pressure on world leaders. The coming months are ripe with opportunities to further push the need for climate action. In September the Pope will meet with Obama and address Congress. In the autumn he will visit Cuba before speaking at the UN General Assembly. Then come December world leaders will meet for the significant COP21 climate talks in Paris, prompting campaigns around the globe.

5. We Need Everyone

“We must regain the conviction that we need one another, that we have a shared responsibility for others and the world, and that being good and decent are worth it.”

The most significant aspect of the encyclical is that it addresses “the whole human family”. It is rare for a Pope to step outside his community to address the world at large and is based in the recognition that for real change to happen, the world en masse must act.

The Pope’s call for unity is being taken up by religious leaders and humanists alike. More than 300 rabbis have signed a letter calling on Jewish institutions and individuals to divest from “carbon Pharaohs”. Imam Taha Hassane from Islamic Center of San Diego, has said Muslim leaders will “…stand with any leader, secular or spiritual, who is willing to speak out against [climate change].” The I’m a human being and I support the Pope campaign also invites us all to take the hand that the Pope has stretched out. He’s even got his own hashtag: #LaudatoSi complete with fan art.

Social media response to Pope's encyclical 2015

As the next few months unfurl we will see the true impacts of the words of Pope Francis. Laudato Si tell us nothing we don’t already know but it works to reframe the issue, appealing to the personal and universal, the emotional and rational elements of our being. Unrelenting and blunt, at times it packs a punch but the fundamental message is one of urgency, empowerment, inclusivity and hope.


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