"We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the underprivileged, and at the same time protecting nature."
-- Pope Francis, Laudato Si (Praised Be), page 139
Pope Francis' encyclical, calling for immediate action on climate change, made worldwide headlines last week. In his teaching, the pope speaks of climate change as “a moral issue”, pointing out that the poor suffer the most from consequences of improper care of the environment even though “they have contributed the least to climate change". Earlier in June, a Rabbinic Letter on Climate Change was signed by 360 Jewish rabbis calling for vigorous climate action and "eco-social justice".
Meanwhile, there's been a flurry of action at the local level, where hundreds of churches, mosques and synagogues across the country have been installing solar panels or retrofitting their buildings to reduce energy use and cost. Local religious leaders have become some of the strongest advocates for renewable power and energy freedom, or "the right to “generate electricity from God’s free sunshine.”
This important piece by New York Times' Justin Gillis highlights the long overdue rise of these and other religious voices making the case that we have an urgent and moral obligation to take care of the poor while also taking care of the earth. Gillis points out "the pope’s encyclical is, in a sense, simply an exclamation mark on a broad shift in thinking that has been underway for decades and extends far beyond the Roman Catholic Church." Rest assured that reading this piece in its entirety will be time well-spent.
For an earnest young Christian named Ben Lowe, revelation came on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, in Africa. A relentless warming of the lake was reducing the catch of fish, the people were going hungry — and he had learned of scientific evidence that climate change was to blame.
For the Rev. Brian Sauder, who grew up attending a small Anabaptist church in rural Illinois, the moment came in a college classroom. Studying the fallout from environmental degradation, he learned of poor people who had to walk hours longer each day to gather firewood from depleted forests.
For both men, Christian duties that their upbringing had led them to regard as separate — taking care of the earth and taking care of the poor — merged into a morally urgent problem. “Why haven’t I ever made this connection before?” Mr. Sauder recalled asking himself.
It is a connection that many people of faith all over the world are starting to make.
The sweeping pastoral letter issued by Pope Francis on Thursday may prove to be a watershed, highlighting the issues of social justice at the heart of the environmental crisis. But the pope’s encyclical is, in a sense, simply an exclamation mark on a broad shift in thinking that has been underway for decades and extends far beyond the Roman Catholic Church.
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