This is a guest blog by Lonnie Ellis, a lay Franciscan and Associate Director of the Catholic Climate Covenant in Washington, D.C.
Pope Francis’s groundbreaking encyclical addressing climate change takes its name, Laudato Si’ (or “Praised Be” in English), from St. Francis’s Canticle of Creation. In it, St. Francis sees himself as kin with all of God’s creation.
Brother Sun and Sister Moon may have received top billing in the 1972 movie about the saint’s life, but we must also cherish our dear Brother Wind. St. Francis says Brother Wind is “serene,” and that God gives creatures sustenance through him. Pope Francis is grounded in this approach of honoring creation as a home that gives all of us what we need for flourishing lives.
Pope Francis begins Praised Be by outlining the signs of our irresponsible use of the goods of our common home. While “the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all,” (par. 23), he says our voracious consumption of resources and overreliance on fossil fuels is already resulting in disruption in the climate system and suffering for those most closely tied to the Earth.
Our moral imperative focuses on protecting the poor because, as Pope Francis says, “there is an intimate relationship between the poor and the fragility of the planet” (16). While the poor are hit hardest and earliest, we are all beginning to see increasing impacts on health, threats to livelihood, and incidents of violent conflict over resources.
Pope Francis calls on us to choose a sustainable development, one that honors people over profits and that protects the earth, serves the poor, and safeguards the interests of future generations. Greater support for renewable energy is a critical part of the solution, including increasingly harnessing the power of Brother Wind. In Pope Francis’s language, we have a pervasive “throw-away culture” that discards resources and people and consumes fossil fuels without end. This culture deals in death, while one that sustainably draws from Brother Sun, Sister Water, and Brother Wind is pro-life.
“We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay” (165), Pope Francis states. We can safeguard human life with clean energy. A greater use of wind energy could prevent 22,000 premature deaths and save $108 billion in public health costs annually, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Catholic Church, through organizations like the Catholic Climate Covenant, is taking a message of protection for our common home to our national leaders. Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami has been quoted in newspapers in the past several days asking presidential candidates hailing from Florida, Mr. Bush and Mr. Rubio, to take guidance from the encyclical.
The Miami Herald reported this challenge from Archbishop Wenski: “What the pope is saying is, ‘Let’s talk about this.’ And that requires — whether you’re Democrat or Republican or left or right — it requires that you transcend your particular interest or ideological lens and look at the issue from the common good.”
Next week begins a series of summer press events organized by the Catholic Climate Covenant. We start in Iowa, where Bishop Pates of Des Moines will issue a challenge to presidential aspirants on Thursday, July 2. He will call for a new dialogue about climate change—not a debate about whether we will act on climate, but a dialogue about how we will act and do right by our sisters and brothers around the world and future generations.
Pope Francis, and St. Francis and his Canticle before him, teaches us to take a look around to see both God’s goodness and the threats to God’s good creation. As we look to Bishop Pates articulating a moral message from a podium, we will see beside him a classroom in which students learn to enter the wind industry in Iowa. Above him we will see a wind turbine. Those turning blades will be a sign that God continues to sustain us through friends like our dear Brother Wind.