Leave it to Pope Francis, a Jesuit trained as a chemist, who has only one lung, to breath new life into a tired global environmental debate.
It has been droning on for so long now that it has become background noise, easily drowned out in the din of the 24-hour news cycle. While the glaciers melt, and close to 2,500 people in India are killed by a heat wave that produced a 118 degree ambient air temperature, we’d much rather dissect the twists and turns of “Game of Thrones” in our air conditioned parallel universe. The brutality of a make-believe place is so much easier to cope with than confronting the cruelty that defines so much of our own real world.
What’s so powerful about the Pope’s Encyclical on climate change is that it does not flinch from doing so. Pope Francis challenges wealthy nations, who use the lion’s share of the earth’s fossil fuels, to take responsibility for the ecological impact of their consumption by becoming mindful of the collateral damage it does to planet’s atmosphere and the world’s poorest and most vulnerable populations. These are populations already feeling the impacts of global warming.
Several weeks ago, today’s Encyclical was presaged by Pope Francis’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which convened an inter-disciplinary conference of over 60 of the planet’s top scientists and thinkers under the banner, “Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity. the Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Humanity.” An open letter from the conference participants on the Pontifical Academy of Sciences website linked the trend of growing global income inequality and the planet’s continued reliance on fossil fuels, predicting that if current trends continue, we will see “unprecedented climate changes and ecosystem destruction that will severely impact us all.”
Here’s the bumper sticker take away: 55 percent of the available world’s energy is used by just 1 billion of the world’s 7.2 billion people. “Yet the negative impacts on the environment are being felt by 3 billion who have no access to energy,” the panel of experts asserted.
Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University was one of the panel’s participants. Sachs wrote recently that the group “included not only the world-leading climate scientists and Nobel laureates, but also senior representatives of the Protestant, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, and Muslim faiths.” He continued: “Like Francis, religious leaders of all the world’s major religions are urging us to take wisdom from faith and climate science in order to fulfill our moral responsibilities to humanity and to the future of Earth. We should heed their call.”