Lots of excitement in certain quarters of the Roman Catholic Church about Pope Francis’ forthcoming encyclical about the environment, but Protestants wonder where the energy was when Protestants beat the papacy to the punch.
First, what’s coming:
Vatican officials announced Tuesday that Pope Francis’ much-anticipated encyclical letter on the environment is now finalized and is being translated into various languages, with an expected release date sometime in June.
The announcement came during a Rome summit on climate change co-sponsored by the Vatican and the United Nations, headlined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Cardinal Peter Turkson of Ghana, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
An encyclical letter is considered the most important, and most developed, form of papal teaching. This will be the first-ever encyclical entirely devoted to environmental themes.
Next, the excitement:
Ron Pagnucco of the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University “would like to see Francis continue to use the concept of ‘solidarity’ in the encyclical, discussing what global solidarity means in regards to the environment.”
“Just as Catholic social doctrine teaches that no person exists without society,” said Vince Miller of the University of Dayton, “we need to also learn that our species does not exist without the rest of creation.”
“How climate change and related environmental issues connect with other important concerns, including war and peace, economics, and health care,” needs to be articulated in the encyclical, according to Tobias Winright of St. Louis University.
“It is very important to discuss the environment, conflict and peace,” Pagnucco agreed, since environmental degradation is a “threat multiplier.”
The relationship between the environment and the economy is especially important.
“Environmentalists are looking to the pope for continued linkages to poverty and impact of degradation on the poor,” said Catholic Climate Covenant’s Ellis. Jesuit Fr. James Keenan of Boston College would also “like to see the sustainability issues related to climate change woven into issues related to economic inequality.”
Environmental problems are also connected to racism, said Alex Mikulich of Loyola University New Orleans. And “it would be important to consider the connection between the desire to dominate the earth/cosmos and domination of women,” according to M. Shawn Copeland of Boston College.
One of the reasons environmentalists are embracing religion is because it is one of the few things that can motivate people to sacrifice their own self-interest for the sake of others.
David Cloutier of Mount St. Mary’s University calls for a “forthright confrontation with so-called lifestyle choices.”
“It’s all the choices we make that cause the per capita carbon footprint of the average American to be roughly twice that of most European countries, and that cause the insanity of California lawns and water-thirsty agriculture,” he said. “I’m all for better laws and structures, but until we stop expecting strawberries in February, spacious living quarters, and large SUVs, I’m not sure how those structures change.”
Likewise, Scheid said he hopes for “a critique of consumerism and a ‘scrap culture’ or ‘throwaway culture’ that uses and then discards as trash people, especially the poor, created goods, and the Earth as a whole. I hope he ties the preferential option for the poor and solidarity with ecological concerns.”
Grazer said he hopes the pope “will call upon the larger and more wealthy nations to lead and make the ‘sacrifices’ needed to make urgent progress regarding climate change, and in particular, helping the most vulnerable people and nations mitigate and adapt to climate change.” The pope “needs to call for much greater leadership on the part of wealthier nations and also for sufficient changes in personal and corporate life style, moving away from consumerism,” he said.
But Miller of Dayton University stressed that structural change, not just individual choices, is essential. “Our moral and Christian obligation is not simply to change our consumption as individuals, but to collectively build a culture/society/civilization that is sustainable,” he said.
It requires “a broadening of moral responsibility to care for creation from individual choice to the larger, structural, policy responses that are required to address the environmental crises we face,” he said. “Yes, greed is a problem, but environmental despoliation is cooked into the system we have built.”
Peppard agreed that “market processes are not morally trustworthy guides to long-term flourishing of the physical bases on which all life depends” because the markets are oriented “towards short-term profit and economic growth without a recognition of natural capital as a substrate of those developments.”
How people and governments respond to the encyclical will be critical. “The theology of the encyclical is important,” said Marian Diaz of Loyola University Chicago, “but the implementation or the lack thereof matters more.”
But Protestants have been there and done that. First came the National Council of Churches in 200friggin’6, almost a decade ago:
BE IT THEREFORE RESOLVED THAT THE NATIONAL COUNCIL OF CHURCHES IN CHRIST:
Expresses its deep concern for the pending environmental, economic, and social tragedies threatened by global warming to creation, human communities, and traditional sacred spaces.
Urges the Federal Government to respond to global warming with greater urgency and leadership and gives support for mandatory measures that reduce the absolute amount of greenhouse gas emissions, and in particular emissions of carbon dioxide, to levels recommended by nationally and internationally recognized and respected scientific bodies.
Urges the Federal, State and Local Governments to support and invest in energy conservation and efficiency, sustainable and renewable, and affordable and sustainable transportation.
Calls for business and industry to respond to global warming with increased investment in conservation and more efficient and sustainable energy technologies that are accessible, sustainable, and democratic.
Stands firmly with all of God’s children by urging that adaptive measures and financial support be forthcoming from government and industry to aid those directly impacted by global warming and in particular those least able to relocate, reconstruct, or cope with the current and pending impacts of climate change.
Calls on all Christians, people of faith and people of good will the world over to lead by example and seek active means whereby they may, individually and in community, quickly reduce their emissions of green house gas emissions and speak out for engagement by their elected officials on matters of global warming.
The basic task for all of the world’s inhabitants is to find ways now to begin to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of fossil fuels that are the primary cause of human-induced climate change.
There are several reasons for urgency. First, deadly impacts are being experienced now. Second, the oceans only warm slowly, creating a lag in experiencing the consequences. Much of the climate change to which we are already committed will not be realized for several decades. The consequences of the pollution we create now will be visited upon our children and grandchildren. Third, as individuals and as a society we are making long-term decisions today that will determine how much carbon dioxide we will emit in the future, such as whether to purchase energy efficient vehicles and appliances that will last for 10-20 years, or whether to build more coal-burning power plants that last for 50 years rather than investing more in energy efficiency and renewable energy.
In the United States, the most important immediate step that can be taken at the federal level is to pass and implement national legislation requiring sufficient economy-wide reductions in carbon dioxide emissions through cost-effective, market-based mechanisms such as a cap-and-trade program. On June 22, 2005 the Senate passed the Domenici-Bingaman resolution affirming this approach, and a number of major energy companies now acknowledge that this method is best both for the environment and for business.
We commend the Senators who have taken this stand and encourage them to fulfill their pledge. We also applaud the steps taken by such companies as BP, Shell, General Electric, Cinergy, Duke Energy, and DuPont, all of which have moved ahead of the pace of government action through innovative measures implemented within their companies in the U.S. and around the world. In so doing they have offered timely leadership.
Numerous positive actions to prevent and mitigate climate change are being implemented across our society by state and local governments, churches, smaller businesses, and individuals. These commendable efforts focus on such matters as energy efficiency, the use of renewable energy, low CO2 emitting technologies, and the purchase of hybrid vehicles. These efforts can easily be shown to save money, save energy, reduce global warming pollution as well as air pollution that harm human health, and eventually pay for themselves. There is much more to be done, but these pioneers are already helping to show the way forward.
Finally, while we must reduce our global warming pollution to help mitigate the impacts of climate change, as a society and as individuals we must also help the poor adapt to the significant harm that global warming will cause.
We the undersigned pledge to act on the basis of the claims made in this document. We will not only teach the truths communicated here but also seek ways to implement the actions that follow from them. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, we urge all who read this declaration to join us in this effort.
I understand that critics often blame Protestantism for encouraging modernity and lacking a sense of tradition, and once again Protestants seem to be out in front of Rome. But does 9 years count for establishing one’s traditionalist bona fides?