The world’s attention turned to Paris on Nov. 13 when the City of Lights suffered from terroristic attacks aimed at ordinary people going about their lives in the usual ways. Our sympathies for the victims and our admiration for the resolve of the French people should move us to a greater respect for the value of human life and its fragility.
The world’s attention should be on Paris once again as the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is underway. This 21st meeting of the parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and 11th meeting since the development of the Kyoto Protocol is particularly important as the parties work towards a legally binding universal agreement on the climate.
Pope Francis has been particularly blunt in his support of the need for action. On his return from his journey to Africa, where the consequences of climate change increase the human suffering on a massive scale, the pope expressed that we are heading for “global suicide” if we do not act to reduce carbon emissions while there is still time.
Pope Francis is regarded by Catholics as the universal pastor, and he has exercised that role by drawing close to his flock in various parts of the world and by reflecting the world’s attention on him towards situations and places that do not always make the news or enter into our consciousness. We saw that in his visit to the U.S. this past fall when he visited a prison and a soup kitchen in addition to the halls of Congress and the UN headquarters. The pope’s 2012 visit to Tacloban in the Philippines following massive destruction from a typhoon has left indelible images in his mind and strengthened his resolve to draw as much attention as possible to the need for greater international cooperation in protecting and sustaining the Earth, our common home.
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Earlier this year, Pope Francis released an encyclical letter on the environment. Its release was anticipated by much of the media as entrance into a partisan debate on a contested political issue. Pope Francis, however, addressed the critical challenges facing the planet as a pastor and teacher. He has seen first-hand how the poorer nations of the world suffer disproportionately from the destruction caused by the wealthier nations’ development and consumption. He strives as a pastor and teacher to engage in a worldwide dialogue and plan for action for the preservation of our common home.
With his own backgrounds in science and theology, the pope naturally begins with the concept of the environment as a gift of the creator for the benefit of all. Yet he also engages non-believers with the scientific arguments for the necessity of action.
Along with the realistic hope that the good will and technical abilities of the global community can be focused on the common cause of the environment, the pope calls for the creation of educational processes for a new way of living that respects our common home.
The encyclical takes a positive first step in that direction, calling each of us to be conscious of the amount of energy and resources that we waste and to make the responsible changes that we can in our own lifestyles. But he also knows that governmental action on an international scale will be necessary to make a difference while it is still possible.
I will be praying for the success of the climate change conference and will be exploring ways to act locally for the common good of our environmental home. Please join me in that effort.
John Stowe is bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Lexington.