Laudato si’, an encyclical letter by Pope Francis on climate change, makes a theological case for the protection of the environment. Subtitled, “On the Care of Our Common Home,” the encyclical calls upon Catholics to fight climate change, reject consumerism, and protect the planet.
The environment has long been an issue of urgency for many Catholics, as the Atlantic points out. For example, the encyclical takes its name from “Laudes Creaturarum,” a poem by St. Francis of Assisi that praises the natural world. In 1971, Pope Paul VI listed the environment as an area of focus in his apostolic letter Octogesima Adveniens, commonly known as A Call to Action.
In Laudato si’, Pope Francis is clear about the connection between the health of the natural world and the health of its people. “The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all. At the global level, it is a complex system linked to many of the essential conditions for human life.” He calls for a rethinking of our relationship with technology, remarking that: “We have to accept that technological products are not neutral, for they create a framework which ends up conditioning lifestyles and shaping social possibilities along the lines dictated by the interests of certain powerful groups.”
Although frank about the climate’s current condition, the encyclical is by no means despairing. Instead, it urges all people to rally together and implement solutions. “The urgent challenge to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change,” it states.
ThinkProgress reported on some of the specific approaches Catholic organizations have taken to answer Pope Francis’s call. For example, to reduce the environmental impact of energy consumption by church-affiliated buildings, parishes in San Diego and Camden, New Jersey, have added solar installations. The venerable St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City included geothermal energy in its restoration plan. These renewable energy sources are not only good for the environment, but they’re also cost-effective, freeing up money for mission and ministry.
Other Catholic groups have turned to advocacy and education as they heed Pope Francis on climate change. The Virginia Catholic Conference has advocated for legislation to fund coastal resiliency and mitigate flooding as a way to protect the environment and the lives of the people there.
Other Catholic groups are working to limit climate change’s impact on vulnerable people, especially the poor. The Catholic Climate Covenant, established in 2006 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, found that the Pope’s encyclical placed new emphasis on its work. The group focuses on how issues of climate change affect the lives of the poor, as changes to the growing season or to water supplies may have a profound effect on basic human subsistence. In a speech to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, Pope Francis made the connection clear: climate change contributes to hunger. Long-standing Catholic organizations including Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services are set up to support the vulnerable when they are faced with disasters like drought, famine, flood, fire, and storms—many of which are caused by climate change.
In mitigating the damage already done to the environment, the pope calls on each of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics to do something in the face of climate change. There are as many ways to do this as there are people on earth, and as time progresses more and more Catholic organizations and individuals will take impactful actions that care for our common home.