Commentary

Peace was a primary topic when Pope Francis greeted President Donald Trump last week at the Vatican, where they exchanged ideas for making the world a better place. The president called the meeting an "honor of a lifetime" and promised not to forget what the pope said.

At the end of the meeting, the pope presented Trump with gifts that provide insight into their otherwise-private conversation. The pope gave the president copies of his writings, including a copy of his encyclical, Laudato Si’, which calls for the protection of the environment and “care for our common home.” Pope Francis urged President Trump to be an instrument of peace.

Trump later said, "I leave the Vatican more determined than ever to pursue peace in our world."

While we cannot say whether the words "climate change" were mentioned during their meeting, we do know that any discussion about world peace must include climate change — one of the biggest disruptors of world stability.

I believe climate change is a potent prescription for world unrest. The droughts, storms, fires, and rising sea levels precipitated by climate change all lead to increased vulnerability, famine, poverty, migration, and conflicts. The phenomenon alarmingly affects developing nations that do not have the means to combat rising seas and severe changes in weather, but countries like the U.S. and Australia are negatively impacted, as well. Unmitigated climate change is predicted to reduce the income of an average person on Earth by roughly 23 percent in 2100, impacting our very livelihoods.

Pope Francis has acknowledged the direct link between concern for the earth, justice for the poor, and peace in the world. He urges the world to take better care of the environment. To echo His Holy Father’s words, “Care for creation is care for God’s gift to us, and it means saying to God, ‘Thank you, I am the custodian of creation.’”

The pope talks about environmental protections from a spiritual perspective — an understanding of creation as a holy and precious gift from God, to be revered by all. We should make it a priority to keep our air clean, our water pristine, and our land whole. Whether we understand environmental stewardship as a God-given moral responsibility or from an economic and military strategic viewpoint, the fact remains: Environmental instability is inextricably linked to economic instability and increased discord throughout the world. Climate change is a significant risk to both national and international security, and what we do (or don’t do) about it matters.

Whatever vantage point we come from, the conclusion is the same — when we strive toward a safe climate for future generations, and prioritize protecting land, I believe we provide a practical pathway to heighten our global stability and bring about more peace on earth.

As he reflects on the words of Pope Francis and reads the pope’s encyclical, my hope is that President Trump will see that delivering peace requires us to address the changing climate.

Unfortunately, the latest news is that President Trump is expected to back out of the Paris Agreement. But the president is also known to shift his decisions and change direction quickly. Until a formal announcement is made, we can only hope that such a break with almost every other nation’s priorities for global sustainability does not occur.

Cassandra Carmichael is the Executive Director of the National Religious Partnership for the Environment, an alliance of independent faith groups across a broad spectrum of religions including Catholic, Evangelical, Protestant, and Jewish, responding to environmental challenges through faith-based actions to Care for God's Creations. 

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