Creation Care

Tree Huggers, Tree Cutters, and the Challenge of Pope Francis

treegrowing

Image via /Shutterstock

“The task of cleaning up our environment calls for a total mobilization by all of us. It involves governments at every level; it requires the help of every citizen.”

Sounds like a liberal Democrat, right? Someone who has been using Pope Francis’s recent climate encyclical Laudato Si’ (“Blessed Be”) as a political bludgeon, wielded against “climate change deniers?” Nancy Pelosi, perhaps? Not quite.

With these words, President Richard Nixon concluded his plea to congress in 1970 to take action on behalf of the environment, stressing that this was “an urgent common goal of all Americans.” Nixon then gathered bipartisan support as he spearheaded the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, and inked 14 laws related to environmental protection.

To be sure, Nixon didn’t know what to make of environmentalists, once complaining that they wanted everyone to live like “a bunch of damned animals.” Still, when a 2012 poll asked 12 leading environmental groups to rank the three most environmentally-friendly presidents, Nixon came in second — behind Teddy Roosevelt, a fellow Republican.

Thousands March in Rome to Show Support for Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action

Rosie Scammell / RNS

Thousands march in Rome to show support for Pope Francis’ call for climate action. Photo by Rosie Scammell / RNS

The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.The interfaith element of the pope’s environmental message was reflected in the diverse range of religious leaders present.Religious leaders from across the globe led a “Many Faiths – One Planet” march to the Vatican on June 28, to show their support of Pope Francis’ groundbreaking environmental encyclical.

Organizers estimated a crowd of 5,000 people reached St. Peter’s Square to celebrate the pontiff’s tough stance on climate change, after parading through Rome under a canopy of painted banners.

When God Can Breathe, We’ll All Have Air

The past 12 months of violence against unarmed black bodies continues to draw national attention to the ongoing challenge of police brutality in the United States. Under the collective action call of #blacklivesmatter, activists and concerned citizens across the country challenge the ideology of white supremacy undergirding our criminal justice system and demand an end to state violence against black bodies. Yet the #blacklivesmatter movement is about more than an end to police brutality; it is call for the health, wholeness, and vitality of all black communities and a world in which black lives are no longer systemically and intentional targeted for demise. This includes an account of the physical environment in which black communities reside.

Inspiring an Ecological Conversion

Pope Francis writes, “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements, and talents.” And it is the combination of our talents that can alter the path of destruction we have traveled down for far too long.

Pope Francis paints the picture of this path all too well.

Why Pope Francis' Encyclical Gives Me Hope

Pope Francis, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis, giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

By choosing to focus on the plight of the poor and the groaning of the earth itself, Francis is tapping into something much deeper than denominational squabbles and political maneuvering. He is seeking to make an end-run around the tedious shouting matches of privileged contenders in pitched ideological battles. This is a pope, not of the pundits but of the people – and of the planet.

We’re all connected. Just as the body of Christ is one – despite all of our institutional and ideological boundaries – all of humanity, all life is one. We’re rooted together in the soil that feeds us, in the natural ecosystems that sustain our very existence.

The Earth Is Becoming a ‘Garbage Dump,’ and Other Unofficial Quotes from Pope's Encyclical

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Tony Gentile.

Image via RNS/REUTERS/Tony Gentile.

Pope Francis is throwing the full weight of Catholic teaching, and his considerable moral standing, behind the fight against climate change in an unprecedented papal document on the environment that immediately makes the Catholic Church a major player in one of the most important and contentious debates of the next generation.

A draft version of the 192-page encyclical, which will be officially published on June 18, indicated that Francis wastes little time with climate-change deniers or his critics on the right — many of them within the church.

Will the Papal Encyclical Bring the 'Francis Effect' to the Climate Debates?

Pope Francis portrait, DeepGreen / Shutterstock.com

Pope Francis portrait, DeepGreen / Shutterstock.com

Next week, Pope Francis is scheduled to release “Laudato Sii” (“Praised be You”), his eagerly anticipated encyclical (authoritative teaching document) on the environment.

I have never seen such excitement – and controversy – surrounding an encyclical. It speaks to the extraordinary global presence Francis has achieved in a relatively short period of time. This feels to me like one of those rare moments when the Message and the Messenger can combine to change the world in a very significant way.

If We Love Jesus, We Should Take Care of His Stuff

Image via Mopic/shutterstock.com

Image via Mopic/shutterstock.com

Why does caring about Jesus mean we should care for the earth? There are plenty of Old Testament passages about the lordship of God over all creation, but let’s limit ourselves, for the sake of evangelical argument, to Jesus. He cares about ecology because of his incarnation into creation, his miracles restoring creation, and his lordship over creation.

Empowering the World

ONE OF THE most destabilizing facts of the last five years is this: The price of a solar panel has fallen 75 percent. The engineers have done their job, and that offers many possibilities.

We usually look at what the developed countries are doing with renewable energy, such as the fact that there were days during summer 2014 when Germany was generating three quarters of its power from solar panels (Germany!). But the most amazing miracles—and it doesn’t really stretch the word “miracle”—are happening in the poorest places, where for the very first time lights are blazing on.

Take rural Bangladesh, where fossil fuel has barely penetrated  in the 200 years of its ascendancy in the West. There’s no grid—at night it just goes dark. Until the last few years, when low-cost solar panels and innovative financing arranged by groups such as the Grameen Bank have allowed the very rapid spread of solar panels. How rapid? As many as 80,000 new connections a month, which is far more than in the United States. Fifteen million Bangladeshis live in solar-powered houses already, and the government is hoping to have the entire nation hooked up by 2020.

That means that kids can study at night. It also means that families don’t have to waste as much as 30 percent of their income on kerosene. It also means that they don’t have to breathe those kerosene fumes, and that the black soot the lamps throw off won’t be melting glaciers. It also means that everyone can charge their cell phones, which are ubiquitous in Bangladesh. In fact, places like Bangladesh leapfrogged the whole telephone pole thing and went straight to mobile; now they’re leapfrogging coal and gas and going straight to solar.

Darn It!

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