Laudato si’: The Catholic approach to climate change


Laudato si’ and climate change

            Climate change is, not surprisingly, the most controversial and politically charged issue in Laudato si’. It has been a source of heated debate and confusion especially in the American context. In this essay I will outline everything the encyclical Laudato si’ says on climate change and then compare and contrast with the latest scientific, technical and academic knowledge. For the sake of clarity, I will distinguish and analyze the statements on climate change under three divisions: science, policy, and politics and economics. These are artificial divisions since these issues are all interrelated, as the encyclical itself indicates, but they serve our analytical purposes.

[Note: I encourage the reader to glance at my two previous articles on Laudato si’ about hermeneutics and its proper interpretation, so that I am not misinterpreted on climate change, as I believe the Pope has been in many cases).

Introduction

Let me begin with a thought provoking – and provocative – quote that I believe gets at the heart of the debate on climate change: “Isn’t it a question of everything or nothing? To be quite frank, the Either-Or people seldom appear to practice their own severity. Their uncompromising attitude looks suspiciously like rhetoric.”

These are the words of Romano Guardini, the most quoted author in Laudato si’ and the Pope’s great inspiration for understanding the relationship between man and creation. However, these words are not from Guardini’s well-known critiques of modernity but rather from his more famous spiritual work, The Lord. The context of this passage is the Sermon on the Mount. Guardini is reflecting on Jesus’ demand to love ones enemies and on how difficult it is to fulfill this in practice. Faced with such a challenge, Guardini proposes taking small steps in the right direction. The quote above is the objection of the Either-Or people to Guardini’s solution: “But isn’t it a question of everything or nothing?”

Guardini then responds to his critics: “No, what the Sermon on the Mount demands is not everything or nothing, but a beginning and a continuing, a rising again and a plodding on after every fall”. My suggestion is that the path forward on climate change requires the same path that Guardini paves for the Sermon on the Mount – a genuinely Christian one. And this is exactly what Pope Francis has given us in Laudato si’. Let me explain.

            This curious parallel between climate change and the spiritual life is not original. The best book on climate change, by climate scientist Mike Hulme called “Why we disagree about climate change?”, makes this very point. Hulme argues that climate change is a very real threat but that to find a solution to this issue we need to explore how climate change can “bring the physical and the cultural, the material and spiritual, into a new realignment… a mirror into which we can look and see exposed both our individual selves and our collective societies” (2009, 357). This is also the central message of Laudato si’ with regards to climate change – a new realignment is needed: “the present ecological crisis is one small sign of the ethical, cultural and spiritual crisis of modernity…” for which we need “ecological conversion… whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (218).

Continue reading

Advertisements

How to read Laudato Si: intention, structure, form and content

Catholics who do not embrace the spirit of Evangelii gaudium will likely be confused by Laudato Si

            In my previous article I already pointed out the 3 salient aspects of Laudato Si: its prophetic style, invitation to conversion and Trinitarian theology. I was going to technically discuss climate change in Laudato si’ vis-à-vis the latest policy and science on the issue. But before I do that, now I find a more urgent need to explain the way one should read Laudato si’, given the amount of perplexed and negative responses (mostly by Catholics) in the media.

I find many of these reactions quite embarrassing for so many who call themselves ‘sons and daughters of the Church’; not primarily because they dissent from the Pope, but because of the (poor) reasons they give for doing so. There are many non-Christians who are able to read and interpret Laduato si’ in a much more open, nuanced and sophisticated way, in the same spirit in which it was written.

My central thesis in this article is that, for Catholics, embracing the spirit of evangelization as expressed in Evangelii gaudium is a prerequisite for understanding Laudato si’. Most Catholics who oppose Ladudato si’ do so because they have a very limited idea what it means to evangelize.

Continue reading

Laudato Si – Pope Francis’ encyclical for all people…

“Laudato Si” , Praised Be the Lord… for this much awaited encyclical. Creatio has been working for over a decade now to promote a truly Catholic environmental vision and practice. It is a message we have been trying to live and expecting to hear… Laudato si… Thank you Pope Francis. Read the full encyclical here.

I will follow this post with 3 other articles on: 1. The theology, structure and style of Laudato si’  2. Laudato si’ on climate change and 3. environment and evangelization in Laudato si’.

Below, my initial reflections on the encyclical:

Continue reading

Book review: “Energy, Justice and Peace”

Energy, Justice and Peace

Energy is perhaps one of the most overlooked global issues of our times. One of the reasons for our obliviousness is that we tend to take energy for granted. The alarm clock that woke us up this morning, the water that flowed from the tap, the food (energy!) we ate for breakfast which allowed us to be productive and perhaps walk, bike or drive to work all tend to go unnoticed. Everyone, rich or poor, needs energy for life – it is a basic condition for human existence. Often times, many great complex global issues such as poverty and climate change evolve in grand narratives that steal the sunlight of our attention and cast energy in their shadow. However, it is impossible to find solutions for global poverty and climate change without tackling the energy dynamics embedded within them.

The Holy See’s latest publication “Energy, Justice and Peace” places ‘energy’ in the sunlight. The book offers a rich, informative account of global energy and provides a clear and balanced proposal on how to move forward. Guided by the social principles of the Catholic Church, “Energy, Justice and Peace” incorporates a breadth of perspectives that include theological, ethical and philosophical considerations along with the latest economic, environmental, political and scientific knowledge. The outcome is a well-rounded account that cuts through controversial and polemic debates and rather offers concrete and positive ways forward on energy and its related issues.

Continue reading

Pope Francis and Evolution

The media uproar about Francis liberating the Church from creationism and sanctioning evolution has already passed and gone, but the idea has stuck. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that the Church has always taught what Francis said… even Time and the Washington Post got it right, with good articles.

What is interesting to me though, is the fact that Francis is able to get the message out. As distorted as the media narrative may be about Francis revolutionizing Church teaching, the point is that now most people care about what the Pope says. Continue reading

Catechesis of Creation – Guest Post: Tom Collingwood

A CRISIS IN CREATION

The current debates over environmental issues too often provide little in the way of a faith perspective for understanding and acting to address those issues. CREATIO is initiating with this introductory article a “Crisis in Creation” series to present a Catholic ethic for viewing nature.

CREATIO associates are a wide range of professionals from climatologists, theologians, clergy, outdoor educators, naturalists, biologists, farmers, physiologists and psychologists that reflect a diverse range of information pertaining to creation. We all have a common denominator in that, as Christians we seek the truth about environmental issues and practical actions to care for God’s creation. Most recently we delivered a symposium at the 2013 World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro on “Jesus and Nature”. As a follow up to that conference it was concluded that there was a need for an information dissemination vehicle to provide regular articles on a faith based ethic for the environment. Continue reading

An Atheist’s take on “spiritual but not religious”

Tom Shakespeare has an interesting article on the BBC, where as the atheist that he is, he proposes a critique of “spiritual but not religious” (SBNR) and humanism. For Tom, the informal beliefs and creeds of SBNR are even more impossible to embrace than those of organized religion. Humanism (no organized religion nor belief in anything) is even more empty. Since Tom’s self acknowledged scientism (“But I don’t want to be required to have faith in a supreme being or miracles or reincarnation, or any entity for which there is no scientific evidence”) does not permit him to believe in God, he proposes being religious but not spiritual. Religion offers community and connection, something deeply missed in modern life. Tom would like to have the benefits of religion but not really believe what unites everyone there in the first place.

While intellectually honest, this proposal does seem quite disingenuous at a deeper existential level. At the end of the day, can you truly build deep relationships with people who actually congregate there because of their belief in God?  Continue reading

The Overview Effect of Francis

This video pictures an important intuition, of the need of unity and wonder, which requires us all to rise above our limited and at times conflictive visions of reality. One world united. While the idea is beautiful and the video inspiring, we have a long way to go. How do we really forge this vision among the worlds leaders, let alone the worlds people?

Well, Pope Francis has a proposal. Continue reading