Despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, there is widespread public debate over whether or not humans are the cause of climate change. While those of all ages are concerned, younger generations have a particular stake in this conversation.
A recent poll found two-thirds of Millennials believe climate change is a serious threat while the number of non-Millennials who believe the same is 14 points lower. Even more, “an overwhelming margin” of Millennials claimed that if a presidential candidate denied the scientific validity of man-made climate change, the young voter would no longer consider voting for that candidate.
It is clear why young people are more concerned about the environment: Their future is at stake. Luckily, Pope Francis has a lot to say about it.
Pope Francis agrees that climate change is real.
In anticipation of the pope’s encyclical, Republican Presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush, among others, went on the offensive claiming that the pope has no place in politics or science. Pope Francis responded by addressing the controversy of climate change in the first chapter of the long document. Drawing on the most recent and popular scientific findings, Pope Francis unequivocally concludes that human beings contribute to climate change. He writes:
“Humanity is called to recognize the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it. It is true that there are other factors … yet a number of scientific studies indicate that most global warming in recent decades is due to the great concentration of greenhouse gases … released mainly as a result of human activity.”
Pope Francis doesn’t simply blame individuals for this tragedy, he acknowledges the social, political, and economic power dynamics that allow the wealthy to perpetuate and benefit from climate change while the poor continue to suffer the consequences.
Pope Francis has your back
Aside from climate change, Pope Francis points to other ecological threats facing humankind. Pollution, water scarcity, the loss of biodiversity, and the disproportionate effect that environmental degradation has on the poor are important issues affecting “our common home,” one way Pope Francis refers to the earth in the document.
As a faith leader, Pope Francis voices his moral responsibility to address environmental injustices in order to preserve our home for the future. He calls this “intergenerational solidarity.”
“The global economic crises have made painfully obvious the detrimental effects of disregarding our common destiny, which cannot exclude those who come after us. We can no longer speak of sustainable development apart from intergenerational solidarity. Once we start to think about the kind of world we are leaving to future generations, we look at things differently; we realize that the world is a gift which we have freely received and must share with others.”
Pope Francis explains that intergenerational solidarity is not optional, but rather a basic question of justice and human dignity.
Not all is lost, there is hope.
Past the generational divide, Pope Francis sees climate change as a human rights crisis, a violence against the poor, and a crisis that is daunting but not insurmountable.
Above all, Pope Francis’ writing is filled with hope: “Yet all is not lost. Human beings, while capable of the worst, are also capable of rising above themselves, choosing again what is good, and making a new start.”
He has good reason to hope. Pope Francis knows this isn’t a new fight, its one that many have fought before him. He acknowledges those who “tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest” in order to remind those new to the fight that they are not alone.
You have a responsibility to fight climate change.
Despite the progress, there is still a lot of work to be done. Pope Francis laments the “weak responses” in the face of environmental degradation and asks more from each of us.
More than anything, Laudato Si is a call to action:
“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it.”
While we can do small things to change our lifestyle and consumption habits, Pope Francis is calling us to something greater. The pope’s encyclical asks us to join in a shared responsibility for the common good, a responsibility that is inherently political. Pope Francis writes, “Young people demand change. They wonder how anyone can claim to be building a better future without thinking of the environmental crisis and the sufferings of the excluded.”
It’s time for everyone to take action.