Pope Francis: We need to get serious about climate change and unfair economic systems

Here in Australia, we need to make a bigger contribution to the fight, given our abundant resources and expertise.

Pope Francis has repeatedly challenged us to “make some noise” about the issues of climate change, poverty and extreme inequality. He summarised his concerns in his social encyclical Laudato Si’: On Care for our Common Home’, which he signed on Pentecost Sunday, March 24, 2015.

This is not just any other document from the Pope. It is his signature document about how faith should be mobilising our hearts and energies to tackle these imminent threats to the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of people and even endangering the very life-support systems that sustain humankind and all God’s creatures. 

Francis is in no doubt about the “catastrophic” threats from climate change, and he reflects the overwhelming views of climate scientists. Laudato Si’ was launched in Rome on June 18, 2015, by one of the world’s most eminent climate scientists, Professor Schellnhuber, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

In writing this document, Francis drew from his personal involvement tackling issues of poverty and injustice in Argentina. In it he showed he is listening intently to leading scientists and economists about what needs to be done to ensure a better life for all people. 

Hence he released Laudato Si’ to bolster international support for the UN Paris Climate Conference held in December 2015, and to encourage all nations to endorse the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Soon after he spoke to the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2015 in New York, 193 member states voted to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Keep the action going from Laudato Si’

Francis continues to emphasise the importance of Laudato Si’, speaking about it in hundreds of talks and speeches, giving copies to eminent visitors and political figures and, in collaboration with other churches and religious traditions, urging everyone to focus on these issues as matters of utmost urgency.

He instituted a special Laudato Si’ week from May 16-24 each year to stimulate further action in implementing the document. Then he approved the ‘Seasons of Creation’ as a special liturgical period from September 1 to October 4, the feast of St Francis, to further highlight Laudato Si’ in liturgical settings, to organise events to raise awareness and a deep ‘ecological conversion’, while stimulating effective action on social and environmental issues locally and more widely.

Termed the child of Laudato Si’, the Amazon Synod that finished in 2019 dealt with the critical social and environmental issues threatening the Amazon rainforests and their peoples. Following extensive consultations over several years involving 87,000 people, all the bishops of the Amazon region met in Rome with Indigenous and other representatives. From this emerged their Final Document, which Pope Francis effectively baptised with his reply, Querida Amazonia. Embracing Pope Francis’s vision of “synodality”, the Synod envisaged an Amazon Church, with Amazon faces and cultures, helping preserve this vital ecosystem.

Further, Francis supported a special anniversary year running from May 24, 2020, to May 24, 2021, to promote discussion and action on the issues of Laudato Si’. If the Covid-19 pandemic allows, an international conference on the ‘Economy of Francis’ in Assisi is scheduled for November 19-21. To be addressed by leading economists and scientists, among others, 4000 advanced economics students, social entrepreneurs and businesspeople have also been invited to search for forms of capitalism that better serve all humanity.

Finally, Francis is promoting a seven-year program to expand networks of information and collaboration, moving purposefully to help remake our world to provide a sustainable and equitable future for everyone. To help stimulate and guide such efforts, the Vatican has produced a 227-page book, “Journeying towards Care for our Common Home: Five Years after Laudato Si’’. Launched in Italian on June 18 and still being translated, it resulted from extensive consultation with specialists, church networks and organisations about how to promote vigorous, urgent action to meet the hopes of Laudato Si’. 

It outlined many suggestions and practical responses in which everyone could be involved, expanding gradually into wider collaborative movements for ecological change. The book repeated Pope Francis’s calls to put a price on carbon to rapidly reduce greenhouse gases, and for the first time the Vatican formally urged divestment from fossil fuels. This unprecedented effort underlines how critical Pope Francis thinks is decisive action to secure future prosperity and peace.

Hundreds of thousands of school children around the world have been inspired by Greta Thunberg, as has Pope Francis, and they have joined in school strikes and street marches, influencing their families about reducing our carbon footprint.

Many schools and parishes, as well as businesses, are taking small steps, avoiding the use of plastics and reducing waste. Even some major oil and gas companies are transitioning into the production of renewable energy. Public opinion is largely convinced about the dangers of global warming, despite opposition from vested interests in fossil fuels.

Economic issues harder to tackle

It is more difficult to know how to respond to the economic issues of inequality and globalisation. Thankfully, most nations and many millions of people are doing what they can to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Pope Francis sees these as critical initiatives to abolish hunger and the worst poverty, save the environment and create a sustainable future. Recall that Laudato Si’ was written in concert with people designing the SDGs.

But we in Australia, with our abundant resources, specialised expertise and skills in many areas, need to make a much bigger contribution, bearing in mind that powerful global special interests will fight hard to maintain their excessive power and wealth. 

Francis is influenced by such leading economists as Joseph E Stiglitz that much in our current pattern of globalisation has been “rigged” so that the extremely rich become even richer at the expense of the great majority of people, and especially poorer people. 

“This economy kills,” wrote Pope Francis. Something is seriously wrong when a tiny number of people can own as much wealth as half the entire planet.

On August 19 Pope Francis said the world must find a cure for the terrible virus that has brought the world to its knees, but “we must also cure a larger virus, that of social injustice, inequality of opportunity, marginalisation and the lack of protection for the weakest”. 

Making a preferential option for the poor and marginalised “is not a political or ideological choice; it lies at the very heart of the Gospel”, Pope Francis said. It “is the key criterion of Christian authenticity”.

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Bruce Duncan is a Redemptorist priest and lectures in history and social ethics at Yarra Theological Union in Melbourne. He was one of the founders in 2005 of the ecumenical advocacy organisation, Social Policy Connections.

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