Laudato Si

Now in his third year of the papacy, Pope Francis has been a rock star from the start.

He’s the first pope from Latin America, “home to an estimated 40 percent of the world’s Catholic population,” according to the New York Times. He’s separated himself from previous popes in his progressive stances, like formally recognizing Palestine as a state, implicitling softened the Church’s stance on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage, and made headlines when he washed the feet of women at a juvenile detention center. With a Twitter following of 6.3 million people (hey, @pontifex), Pope Francis has focused heavily on the plight of the world’s poor, peace in the world and reform in the Catholic Church.

This push for change continues with the recent release of church doctrine entitled “Laudato Si,” pressing for worldwide action on climate change. Says the New York Times:

He [Pope Francis] described a relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, for which he blamed apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness. The most vulnerable victims are the world’s poorest people, he declared, who are being dislocated and disregarded.

This is an encouraging sign, coming from one of the most widely recognized leaders in the world. Although he may not have direct influence in changing climate policies, bringing more pressure on state and corporate leaders to make drastic changes can only be a good thing. It’s a groundbreaking document too, pushing past just environmental concerns that I’ll focus on for the moment: “This pungency is what really distinguishes ‘Laudato Si’ from prior papal documents,” says NY Times opinion writer Ross Douthat. But is this pressure coming too late in the ballgame?

In December, delegates from over 190 nations will meet in Paris to reach a new global climate accord. Not since Kyoto in 1997 has a significant deal been reached. This will be a landmark moment for the 21st century, deciding if humanity is truly ready to recognize the massive burden they have been quietly ignoring. The stakes are dire, and not just in the developing world, as Pope Francis mentioned. It’ll happen right here in the U.S. “Between 1970 and 2000, the U.S. averaged about 2.3 billion person days of extreme heat each year. But between 2040 and 2070 that number will be between 10 and 14 billion person-days a year, according to the study,” says a new study in the scientific journal Nature. (Person-days are calculated by multiplying the number of days when the temperature is expected to hit at least 95 degrees by the number of people who are projected to live in the areas where extreme heat is occurring.)

I could go on and on about new studies that predict our future (and current) climate calamity, humanity’s prospective tumble toward chaos and how daunting the prospects are. To me, that talk takes away from the most important point to this issue: the time to take action is now. We’ve stalled for too long to keep diddling and Laudato Si is another reminder how badly we’re screwing this up.

As humans, we love feigning indifference, using our supreme self-assurance that our mental superiority will help us tackle the issue sometime down the road. Or, even better: we’re so superior that we know that there aren’t any problems at all! (giving the big evil eye to you, climate change deniers). This is most clearly seen in the one-on-one debates on television news outlets, pitting a scientist against a wacko who is positive that we’re making too big a deal out of this. John Oliver explains it much better than me and why it is so toxic in our society:

Like what we see from Pope Francis in Laudato Si, more of us are examining this issue seriously and thoughtfully, as a majority of scientists have been pleading for years. “Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others,” says Pope Francis. No matter your religion, the world is a gift that we each have inherited. It’s time we start doing something about it.


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