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Pope Francis Talks Climate Change in Encyclical - June 21, 2015

 This upcoming December, the United Nations is scheduled to hold its Climate Change Conference in Paris, France. Already world leaders, activists, special interest groups, and more are preparing for this vital world-wide meeting to discuss and plan for the future of our planet and the impacts of our changing climate.
 
    This past week Pope Francis, Pope of the Catholic Church and Sovereign of the Vatican City, jumped into the global climate change conversation as well, releasing a 184 page papal encyclical on climate change, the environment and our moral obligations as worldwide citizens. The papal encyclical, titled “Laudato Si’,” or “Praise Be to You”, is a broad and encompassing document in which the Pope describes the relentless exploitation and destruction of the world wide environment and says apathy, the reckless pursuit of profits, excessive faith in technology and political shortsightedness are to blame. 
 
    The Pope is hoping that more than just Catholics or Christians listen to or read the encyclical, which was published in five languages and is being translated into more, saying his letter is addressed to every person living on this planet. “I would like to enter a dialogue with all people about our common home,” Pope Francis said. 
 
    “Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution of goods,” Pope Francis goes on to write. “It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day.”
 
    One of the biggest challenges with climate change is that it is a global phenomenon. This means that regardless of what country you are in, climate change will have some effects on where you live, your daily routine and more. It is exactly this inter-connectedness that Pope Francis talks about in his papal encyclical, especially focusing on the moral and social obligations more developed countries should have regarding climate change and its negative impacts.
 
    Pope Francis mentions that it is the moral obligation of developed countries, which have a much higher impact on climate change by producing more greenhouse gases, using more fossil fuel and developing infrastructure, to help those poor and developing countries which are impacted by the effects of climate change. These effects can include things like sea level rise, which reduces available land areas and can destroy infrastructure, more intense hurricanes and storms, which can end up costing millions if not billions of dollars to recover from, and droughts and more extreme weather patterns, which can significantly alter crop yields and growing seasons. 
 
    Developed countries as a whole were not the only ones put on blast in the papal encyclical; Pope Francis also called out big businesses, energy companies, short-sighted politicians, climate denying scientists, laissez faire economists, and indifferent or uncaring individuals as problems. Our care for the environment is intimately connected to our care for each other, Pope Francis argues in the encyclical, and we are failing miserably at both.
 
    "We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social," Pope Francis writes, "but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental."
 
    The Pope specifically criticized the importance we put on profit-seeking and the undue influence of technology on society, saying we should instead be focusing on the overall well-being of individuals and the planet as a whole. This kept with the Popes consistent message of those of means helping the poor and disenfranchised throughout the world. The poor may get a passing mention at global economic and environmental conferences, Pope Francis mentions, but their problems seem to be merely added to agendas as an afterthought.
 
    "Indeed, when all is said and done," the Pope said of the poor, "they frequently remain on the bottom of the pile." 
 
    While the Pope pointed out changes that need to be made, he also lauded achievements and advancements in many different fields, like medicine, science and engineering. Despite the praise, the Pope warns that “our immense technological development has not been accompanied by a development in human responsibility, values and conscience.” 
 
    "What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?" Pope Francis asks. "The question not only concerns the environment in isolation; the issue cannot be approached piecemeal.”
 
    The papal encyclical marks a significant milestone in the global climate change debate; this is first time any Pope has made a declaration about humans, the environment and climate change, that will be shared with the over a billion Catholics worldwide and many other non-Catholics. While Pope Francis certainly encourages everyone to read the encyclical, he is not naive enough to think that this is all that needs to be done. Following the release of the encyclical, the Pope is also planning a visit with Congress on September 24th of this year, his first visit to the U.S., to talk about climate change and more. 
 
     While there are a few actual solutions presented in the encyclical to our climate change problems, the Pope emphasizes the need for open and free discussions on the issues, and encourages everyone to think about what we need to change going forward. 
 
    “All is not lost,” the Pope wrote. “Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
 
Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program. 


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