Earlier this month, Boston College hosted the “Our Common Home” conference in response to Pope Francis’ call to care for the environment articulated in his encyclical Laudato Si. Although the Boston College administration has been criticized for being apathetic and dismissive of both climate change and student groups concerned with environmental issues, hosting “Our Common Home” demonstrated a willingness to discuss these issues. In Laudato Si, Pope Francis calls for “a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet” and says,
“We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all. The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions.”
Conservative factions within the Church, particularly in the U.S., have been accused of having these attitudes and failing to appropriately respond to Francis’ call to action for the poor and vulnerable who are most affected by climate change.
One organization that has responded to Francis’ message is the Global Catholic Climate Movement, which garners support from Catholics all over the world, from the Philippines, to Kenya, to Argentina, to America, and aims at mobilizing Catholics to take action and pray for the ecological conversion Francis calls for. Their concern is based in Scripture and Church tradition, which says that we are called to be stewards of the Earth given to us by God.
One of the biggest concerns of the organization as well as Pope Francis is how climate change affects the poor whose livelihoods often depend on natural resources which are quickly being depleted and who cannot protect themselves against the elements. For example, pollution of rivers has destroyed fish populations and the livelihoods of fishermen, and due to rising temperatures, mosquitoes can now live in places where the communities are totally unprepared for malaria. Storms have become more frequent and intense, causing devastation around the world, particularly in underdeveloped countries such as the Philippines, which suffered Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 and Typhoon Koppu earlier this month.
Catholics are called to be in solidarity with their brothers and sisters in Christ and have particular care for the poor and vulnerable. Climate change is both a disease of the Earth and of the soul caused by overconsumption and turning a blind eye to the needs of the poor. The Global Catholic Climate Movement seeks to heal this disease through praying and fasting, educating the public about environmental issues, and mobilizing Catholics to join a collective voice demanding world leaders to care for our common home. Their petition, which Pope Francis endorsed, has over 200,000 signatures and will be presented at the U.N. Climate Summit in Paris in late November. It calls for a reduction in carbon emissions to keep the global temperature increase below 1.5 degrees Celcius above preindustrial levels. The movement is “inspired by Church teachings and guided by the virtue of prudence—understood by St. Thomas Aquinas as ‘right reason applied to action,’” and accepts scientific findings showing that climate change is being caused by humans and will continue to have devastating effects. Most importantly, like Francis, they have hope and believe that we have the power to save the environment.