It has been over a year since Pope Francis released his climate encyclical, Laudato Si, which recognized the dangers of human-caused climate change and the moral imperative to address it.
Since then, Catholic leaders have been guiding their churches to speak out and take action on climate change. Although the Catholic Church has a history of recognizing environmental problems, it was only last year that an encyclical has sparked more efforts to make changes.
Laudato si’ or “Praise be to you” in Medieval Central Italian is the second encyclical of Pope Francis. The encyclical has the subtitle “On Care for Our Common Home”. In it, the Pope criticizes consumerism and irresponsible development, laments environmental degradation and global warming, and calls all people of the world to take “swift and unified global action”.
The encyclical, dated 24 May 2015, was officially published at noon on 18 June 2015 accompanied by a news conference.
In January 2015, before the Pope’s climate encyclical, Catholics were already mobilizing for action on climate change when the Global Catholic Climate Movement or GCCM was founded. The Movement announced the certainty that human-made “climate change endangers God’s creation and us all, particularly the poor, whose voices have already spoken of the impacts of an altered climate.”
Late last year, researchers from 2 US universities found that 19 percent of American Catholics were “much more concerned about global warming” because of the Pope’s position on the subject, while another 34 percent were moderately more concerned. Researchers called this “The Francis Effect.”
In April, faith leaders of several different religious groups signed the Interfaith Statement on Climate Change, which demanded that nations ratify the Paris Agreement.
The Pope endorsed the petition and 900,000 signatures were delivered to French President François Hollande at the climate talks in Paris late last year.
In a two week long global initiative called ‘Break Free from Fossil Fuels’ this May, Catholics teamed up with other environmental groups around the world for demonstrations aiming to disrupt operations at power plants, pipelines and coal mines.
Here in the Philippines, Archbishop Ramon Arguelles of the Lipa Archdiocese led 10,000 people in a march to a local sports complex. Mass was held at the end of the march where Arguelles and other religious leaders called for an end to the reliance on coal. This was directly aimed at halting a 600-megawatt coal plant proposed to be built in Batangas City.
On June 5, a parish in Thailand planted 800 trees for a reforestation program in honor of the anniversary of the Pope’s encyclical. The parish’s priest there said the Pope had “opened a new dimension on the issues and brought a broader perspective, engaging the question with the eyes of spirituality and faith.”
This year’s Earth Day theme was ‘Trees for the Earth.’ Catholics highlighted the importance of tree planting and joined the goal to plant 7.8 billion trees in the next five years. Forests can act as carbon sinks by absorbing carbon dioxide and aid in mitigating climate change.
Over in Australia, four organizations publicly divested from coal, oil and gas extraction industries on the June anniversary of Laudato Si. The announcement was facilitated by the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change, which also released an open letter from several religious leaders urging those in public office to act on climate change in the wake of the Great Barrier Reef’s coral bleaching.
They said that their decisions were made after much careful consideration and in the knowledge that their decision won’t change things overnight.
In Queensland, Australia, 31 Catholic schools have switched to solar power. The pilot project has resulted in 250,000 dollars of electricity savings per year. The Vatican has responded, asking for Catholic schools around the world to make the switch to solar.
According to the designer of the project, the savings Catholic schools could see from lowering their electricity bills in the long term would “mean that money now spent on power bills can be put back into teaching.”
Pope Francis described man’s destruction of the environment as a sin and accused mankind of turning the planet into a “polluted wasteland full of debris, desolation and filth”.
Climate change is also contributing to the heart-rending refugee crisis. The world’s poor, though least responsible for climate change, are most vulnerable and already suffering its impact.”
The pope said the faithful should use the Holy Year of Mercy throughout 2016 to ask forgiveness for sins committed against the environment and our “selfish” system motivated by “profit at any price”.
Two key climate change indicators – global surface temperatures and Arctic sea ice extent – have broken numerous records through the first half of 2016, according to NASA analyses of ground-based observations and satellite data.
Each of the first six months of 2016 set a record as the warmest respective months globally in the modern temperature record, which dates back to 1880.
Are we still waiting for something more jolting to bring us to our senses and stop us from continuing our use of fossil fuels? What’s stopping us from shifting to renewable energy sources to save our Earth and us with it?