I’m not Catholic. Despite, perhaps, the best efforts of my grandfather. But I have been following news about Pope Francis, if you'll pardon the phrase, religiously.
This Pope has got my attention, and I am not the only one.
The latest reason why is Pope Francis’s recently released encyclical on climate justice, titled Laudato Si' (“Praise Be to You” in Latin).
For years, climate change was an issue for scientists and environmentalists. For years they have been waving their arms in the air, with increasing frenzy, to get our attention. They told stories about the shrinking ice caps and the sad polar bears, and showed us graph after graph, red and blue lines moving dramatically upward.
Years passed, wars happened, politicians had scandals, celebrities had babies, and we all did our part by recycling. But rather than disappearing, climate change became a climate crisis.
As the crisis escalated, we began talking about it as an economic issue, spurred on by rising costs of failing infrastructure amid increasingly unpredictable weather, and the reality that the future those scientists talked about is happening all around us.
The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund weighed in. We started to talk about green consumerism, green capitalism, green lifestyles. And during the infrequent times that climate change has entered the political arena in Canada, the discussion has been framed around economics there too. We’ve debated whether we can afford to take action, and if so what action is most politically feasible and what time frame is most economically practical.
None of this has gotten us as far, or as fast, as we need. And if climate change was solely a scientific or economic issue in the past, it isn’t any longer. People are dying. And increasing numbers of lives and species are at stake.
Pope Francis’s encyclical is shifting that conversation by naming climate change as a justice issue. It echoes and magnifices what campus divestment groups and grassroots climate justice groups have been saying all along. And for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, climate justice has become a moral crisis.
Whether it's politically convenient or not, climate change is happening right now. And the thing about a moral crisis is that no one gets to sit it out. We either act or we don’t, and both options are a choice. Both options reflect upon who we are as people, as institutions, as a country.
Up to now, many of us have stayed silent on climate change because we felt we didn’t adequately understand the science or the economics of it. Or because we are simply too busy, focused on other issues, or just trying to get by.
Many others have avoided getting involved out of fear of the political and economic change that addressing the climate crisis will require. A fear that is felt not just among those with power, but also among those without any, whose livelihoods feel unstable enough already.
Addressing climate change is the greatest moral challenge of our time. And it’s going to require us to face these short-term fears in the service of solutions that bring about a much greater good. It will call us all be braver, stronger, more compassionate people than our current political and economic systems assume us capable of.
In paragraph 205, Laudato Si' reads, "Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good.”
The Pope warns us that taking action doesn’t mean holding our breath for some future technological solution. Real policy solutions – massive public investment in clean energy, public transportation, improved community planning, and more – already exist.
And we can afford those necessary investments; the corporations, countries and people who have benefited the most from unrestricted pollution and a runaway wealth gap should be required to pitch in to fund the transition. And most of us can afford to pay a little bit more.
More than that, Laudato Si' clearly outlines that taking action means consuming less, and sharing more. It means redefining the good life for us and for future generations. The great opportunity of a moral crisis is that we may emerge from it as better people, more generous communities, and a more stable society.
I’m not Catholic, but I consider myself a person of faith. I believe in the possibility of a better world. And this Pope has got my attention.