There is a line in the encyclical “Laudato Si’” that is as bold as the man who wrote it: “A spirituality which forgets God as all-powerful and Creator is not acceptable. That is how we end up worshiping earthly powers, or ourselves usurping the place of God, even to the point of claiming an unlimited right to trample his creation underfoot.”
When Pope Francis gave President Donald Trump a copy of his encyclical at the close of their 2017 meeting at the Vatican, it wasn’t so much a parting gift as a handbook on how to care for the planet. But the president was unmoved. Eight days later, he pulled the United States out of the Paris Agreement. Our international standing took a hit, but that is secondary to our country’s worsening carbon footprint.
The Paris Agreement, a product of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was a collective promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement put the 196 participating nations on the same path forward to offsetting environmental damages. Per the specifications of the agreement, each country would regulate and report on its own efforts to allay global warming. Calling the agreement “draconian,” Trump promised to broker a better deal for the United States.
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” the president said of his decision. Supporters praised his follow-through on a campaign promise, while detractors bemoaned such “short-sighted” vision. Pope Francis took to Twitter over the announcement on June 5: “We must never forget that the natural environment is a collective good, the patrimony of all humanity and the responsibility of everyone.”
The pope’s tweet is fair and founded. According to NASA, carbon dioxide levels are at their highest in 675,000 years. They also report that 16 of the 17 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Arctic ice is shrinking and polar ice is losing mass. Sea levels continue to rise. Derailing our commitment to healing our common home isn’t merely unwise. It’s unchristian.
What Would Francis and Francis Do?
If Saint Francis were alive today, he would surely promote an environmental agenda. In vegan footwear, biking from town to town, he’d preach the holiness of the planet and the creatures who fill it, perhaps tweeting lines from his “Canticle of the Creatures.” He’d be an advocate of organizations such as the Catholic Climate Covenant (CatholicClimateCovenant.org), which offers a trove of data and ideas for Catholics to pray on and consider.
Pope Francis, who references his namesake 15 times in “Laudato Si’,” knows that the world’s poorest have the most to lose when environmental efforts slow down or stop altogether.
“[Saint Francis] was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace,” he writes. Trained in science, the pope understands the delicate interconnectedness of our planet and those who share in its riches.
Since his papacy began, he has preached with passion and with purpose that environmental pollutants can stunt growth, slow brain development, even cause death. He warns that ongoing acidification of soil and water toxify our bodies; that rising carbon levels harm wildlife and agricultural resources. We are violating the very home God gave us.
The bushfires in Australia force us to consider our role in the calamity. Approximately 32,400 square miles, an area roughly the size of Indiana, have been burned since the fires began.
The planet isn’t infinite. It has a lifespan—as we do. And that is not fake news.