Why is global climate change important?
People sense that we’re in trouble, as a species, and they want answers. But, more importantly, they want real actions. That sort of all-across-the-world public awareness around a threat (one that isn’t the result of military conflicts between nation states) has never truly happened before in our history as a species on Earth, but it’s happening now.
This is the basis of the moral cause of climate change, and why Francis’ encyclical has the potential to catalyze a great deal of action across the world when it’s issued.
So what is the encyclical likely to say? What is its basis, its foundation? And what right does a pope have to weigh in on what looks, on its surface, like a business and political issue?
[SEE: Political Cartoons on the Economy]
For starters, the pope is likely to use his letter to more than 1 billion Catholics to explain the basics of what climate change is in plainspoken language that makes the issue available and relevant to everyone, rich and poor, and explain why we need to care about it.
The atmosphere is like a blanket. It keeps the heat from the sun close to our planet. When people burn fossil fuels, they add more gases to the atmosphere. That’s like adding bulk to a blanket. More gases mean the atmosphere holds in more heat. The result is changes in the systems that sustain life. Rain is less predictable, deserts grow and even the chemical composition of the water in the ocean changes. The changes on our extra-heated Earth are what we call “climate change.”
But the pope will almost certainly explain why any of this matters to the church. As people of faith, Christians are called to love their neighbors. Because climate change harms our neighbors, we must solve climate change if we want to protect the people we love.
Christians are also called to remember our rightful place within creation. That rightful place is one that respects a vast web of life, and honors our responsibility to protect and defend the creation.
[READ: The Other Climate Change]
We need to transition to a clean energy economy.
Christians are also called to care for the poorest and most vulnerable among us, a theme that this particular pope embodies better than any in recent history. The poorest people are least responsible for climate change and most affected by it, and Francis will almost certainly make this a central focus of his encyclical. It is all too evident that large numbers of people in different countries and areas of our planet are experiencing increased hardship because of the negligence or refusal of many others to exercise responsible stewardship over the environment.
Fundamentally changing the way we use energy will have an impact on the economy. But the truth is that climate change itself is the greater threat. It’s easy to forget, but the natural world underpins everything we do. Climate change will disrupt every sector of the economy, from agriculture and transportation to energy.
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