2015-09-29 12:20:00

Cardinal Turkson: Catholic institutions bring "moral framework" to climate change

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on Monday spoke at a conference on climate change being held at Boston College, a Catholic university in Massachusetts.

“What Catholic institutions should bring to the public square is a constant focus on the moral framework in which climate change arguments should occur,” Cardinal Turkson said.

“Catholic universities should help their entire community to think about shared responsibility, universal access to creation, common good, compassion and solidarity, and the grounding of all this in the equal human dignity of all persons,” he continued. “They should help their members and publics (faculty, students, staff and families) to see beyond the current dominant culture and to act consequently.”

He also spoke about the new Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’, saying it “calls to action at every level.”


The full text of Cardinal Turkson's lecture is below


Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons to Tackle Climate Change

Boston College, 28-30 September 2015

Sustainable Humanity, Sustainable Planet

Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson


Thank you for your warm welcome and for the privilege of speaking on the opening day of this important interdisciplinary conference entitled “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons to Tackle Climate Change”. Boston College has set itself the task of exploring the implications of Pope Francis's recent encyclical on the environment and climate change. I am delighted to talk with you about how his encyclical, Laudato si’, can shape the road to the 2015 Paris Climate Conference this December (COP21). It seems especially fitting to talk about the encyclical of the first Jesuit pope at a leading Jesuit university.

Your undertaking is courageous because, given the full embrace of Pope Francis’s vision, you need to reach far and wide but you also need to touch yourselves. This week’s important inquiry will prosper if the reflections and exchanges are grounded in shared civic values, based on competent scholarship and conducted in a transparent manner—all this in a generous Christian spirit of solidarity.

I will begin with a reflection on “common home.” Next I will set the views of Pope Francis on climate change and the environment within our Catholic tradition and explore how the encyclical is being received and how it can ‘make a difference’ in current environmental discussions. In Part 3, I will turn to practical action by Catholics and their institutions, including in this country. Simply put, how can America respond to the Pope’s call to action? I very much look forward to our exchange and pray for God’s blessing on the coming days dedicated to the ethical summons to care for our common home.

PART 1: The GLOBAL COMMONS of “Our Common Home”

You are probably aware of the broad vision of Laudato si’. Here are some of the main points:

·         humanity is not separate from the environment in which we live; rather humanity and the natural environment are one;

·         the accelerating change in climate is undeniable, catastrophic, and worsened by human activities, but it is also amenable to human intervention;

·         the grave errors that underlie our disastrous indifference to the environment include a throwaway culture of consumerism, and a naïve confidence that technological advances and undirected commercial markets will inevitably and automatically solve our environmental problems;

·         the two-fold crisis can be overcome, not by more of the same, but through changes arising from generous dialogue and fundamental ethical and indeed spiritual decision-making at every level.


The very sub-title of the encyclical, “On Care for our Common Home”, conveys an important conviction. Individual homes are not isolated, each on its own planet. They are located within a single, worldwide common home. The encyclical is about the implications of living together in a common home.

Boston is an ideal location in which to explore this notion. A most striking feature of the city is its large park, the Boston Common.[1] During the 1630s, its 50 acres were used by many families as a cow pasture. However, this “common good” lasted for only a few years. Affluent families bought additional cows, and this led to overgrazing. Fortunately, the common resource of this pasture land was rescued by a shared agreement limiting the number of cows to 70.

There are two lessons for our topic.

First, there is the over-grazing. The environmental degradation was not due to necessity but to excess. Overgrazing by the extra livestock of affluent families happened because of materialism, greed, consumerism, perhaps vanity. It was not due to concern for the poor. It did not embody ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ In the chapter called “Human Roots of the Ecological Crisis”, Laudato si’ points to such vices as sources of the depletion of the natural environment. When many act on private self-interest, it endangers the “common” home. The roots of the problem are the bondage of individualism and putting short-term gain above longer-term sustainability.

The second lesson is about decisions. A limit on use of the pasture was set. The Bostonians must have had a way of deciding and of making the decisions stick. Who did the limiting? How was the decision formulated, endorsed, implemented, enforced? Pope Francis calls most forcefully for responsibility, decisiveness and implementation. These are exactly what our common home needs, with the General Assembly deciding upon the Sustainable Development Goals and with the world’s nations converging on COP21 in Paris at the end of November.

Boston Common and over-grazing is a historical example of what has come to be known as the tragedy of the commons.[2] This expression can apply to all situations where the self-interested actions of one or more agents deplete a common resource. For instance, in Laudato si’ the Pope declares the climate and the atmosphere to be common goods “belonging to all and meant for all” (§23). The oceans and other natural resources should likewise be considered as a global commons and protected by an appropriate system of governance (§174). “The principle of the universal destination of the goods of creation is also applied to the global carbon sinks of the atmosphere, oceans and forests. In order to protect the poorest and to avoid dangerous climate change, these sinks must be prevented from overuse.”[3] Let me ask the same questions again: who is going to decide, fairly and squarely, and are the decisions really going to be carried out?



Pope Francis’ concern for climate change as a moral issue and his call for climate change policies are firmly rooted in traditional Catholic teaching. So let us briefly note the development of Catholic ecological ethics.

The Christian commitment to care for our common home is as old as Genesis itself. There, we read that all Creation is good (Chapter 1). Moreover, we are told that humanity is formed out of the “dust of the earth” itself and mandated by the loving Creator “to till and to keep” the earth.

Catholic Social Teaching since the Second Vatican Council has increasingly recognized that the care of creation is intimately connected to other Christian ethical commitments. In particular, environmental harm compromises the commitments to promote the common good and protect the human life and dignity of individuals—especially of the poor and vulnerable. Human-forced climate change is unequivocally a moral issue. Therefore the Church has called for public policies to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and assist those most affected by the adverse effects of climate change. Blessed Paul VI first articulated this teaching in 1971; Saint John Paul II elaborated it greatly in the 1990s, and it was further developed by Pope Benedict XVI. Throughout these years, individual bishops and episcopal conferences including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops spoke powerfully at national and continental levels.[4]

What has Pope Francis added? Beginning with his choice of a name, he has made concern for the poor and the planet a signature of his Papacy. Moreover, he has explicitly inserted his teaching and indeed leadership into the international political process trying to respond to climate change. Let us explore this in some detail.


A. Can Laudato si’ make a difference in global discussions of environmental issues such as at COP21?

COP21 will be a huge affair. The organizers expect 25,000 official delegates and another 25,000 participants with various interests. With so much going on, why should we expect Laudato si’ to cut through and be a major influence?

Primarily it is because of Pope Francis himself. Since his election in March 2013, he has repeatedly conveyed his deep and sincere care for people’s concerns and problems, especially of those suffering and excluded. As I said to a National Geographic writer some months ago:

“Just before the conclave, when all the cardinals gathered, we shared our views. There was a certain mood: Let’s get a change. That kind of mood was strong inside. No one said, ‘No more Italians or no more Europeans’—but a desire for change was there. Cardinal Bergoglio was basically unknown to all those gathered there. But then he gave a talk—it was kind of his own manifesto. He advised those of us gathered there that we need to think about the church that goes out to the periphery—not just geographically but to the periphery of human existence. For him the Gospel invites us all to have that sort of sensitivity. That was his contribution. And it brought a sort of freshness to the exercise of pastoral care, a different experience of taking care of God’s people.”[5]

People trust Pope Francis as a deeply caring person. For the sake of all, he calls for care, so that the marginalized can participate more fully in society, so that youth may find purpose in their lives and the elderly can end their days in dignity, so that the desperate victims of violence may reach a better life and not drown in their frantic flight.

This caring appears in Laudato si’. More than any other leader today, the Pope firmly links the issues of the natural world with those of the social world. He does so with “authority”, as the Gospels say of Jesus. So, millions “connect” with him and trust him.

The Pope speaks to the longing of people to be cared for and in turn to exercise caring. He brings the basic message of Jesus— “love one another, as I have loved you” (Jn 13:34, 15:12) —into the very heart of the world’s greatest challenges: to care for the poor and to care for the planet.

So Laudato si’ can help shape COP21 at several levels. First, it can nudge the negotiators and representatives to give greater weight to the real needs of many in each country. Secondly, it can impel the conversations and resolutions to reflect the indissoluble moral linkage between natural and social environment. Thirdly, it can convince decision-makers that the world is now ready for real action, as people express their assent to Laudato si’ in terms of political support for bold agreement and real action. Thus Laudato si’ can reduce the risk of non-agreement like in Copenhagen, and the even greater risk of a good agreement, as at Rio in 1992, which largely remained un-implemented.


B. What are the specific contributions of Laudato si’ to the negotiation of international agreements on the environment?

Laudato si’ is a formidable document. It may well make a robust contribution in the following three ways:

The first way is through the encyclical’s articulation of virtues and ethical principles that should shape negotiations about climate change policy. These are essentially taken from the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church[6] and include staples of Catholic theological ethics:

the virtue of prudence, that is to say “right reason applied to action” (cf. §186);[7]
justice, which gives each person his or her due as a child of God;
temperance, which moderates sense pleasures and consumption;
fortitude, which strengthens resolve against adversity;
a commitment to protect human life and dignity;
a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable;
solidarity, that is to say, a firm commitment to the common good;
respect for the common destination of created goods;
companionship, by which we act on the awareness that we are part of God’s creation; and
integral ecology, the innovative term that Pope Francis uses to name the ancient awareness that all of creation—both human and non-human individuals, groups and systems—are fundamentally interconnected.

These ten virtues and ethical principles can open up the negotiation and decision-making to the needed commitments at global, national and local levels; in their absence, I am afraid, Paris will reduce to “business as usual”.

A second way that Laudato Si’ can shape the road to Paris is appropriating the sorts of practical judgments which Pope Francis illustrates in the Encyclical.

He insists that the global north has been a disproportionate consumer of creation’s goods and contributor to ecological harm; therefore it must repay its “ecological debt” to the global south (§51).
He emphasizes the need to remove the influence of “special interests” from politics (§54).
He urges that countries not “place their national interests above the global common good” (§169).
He argues against an ideology that myopically cares only for economic profit, absolutizes technology and material progress, and discounts ecological concerns (§§36, 106-114, 118, 187-191).
He advocates for investment practices that consider the ecological costs of transactions (§§42, 183).
And he asserts 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).

Thus, from the dozen traditional virtues and principles, Pope Francis derives concrete and relevant recommendations. The negotiators and decision-makers at Paris are urgently encouraged to do likewise.

A third way that Laudato Si’ can catalyse an international climate change agreement is via the actions of others whom it inspires and guides. Speaking at the World Meeting of Popular Movements earlier this year, Pope Francis recognized that justice often requires prudent political action from elected officials.[8] At the same time, the Holy Father recognized that it is often not enough to simply rely on well-known or high-profile leaders for action. “The future of humanity does not lie solely in the hands of great leaders, the great powers and the elites,” he said. Rather, “It is fundamentally in the hands of peoples and in their ability to organize. It is in their hands, which can guide with humility and conviction this process of change.”

This suggests that the 50,000 representatives who gather for the COP21 need more than to hear the Pope’s views on virtue, ethics and application. A successful COP21 will require the message of Laudato si’ to be complemented by pro-active, organized efforts of citizens who echo the Pope’s message in the halls of power and demand courageous action by leaders on behalf of our common home.

C. How is the Pope’s message being received?

Let me begin with a comparison. In the middle of the last century, cultural historians, social scientists and policy-makers were trying to understand the sad legacy of slavery in the United States and the plague of racism. They had different insights to offer, different solutions to propose, and these were taken up by political and cultural leaders, too. But when Martin Luther King Junior declared “I have a dream” in August 9163, he somehow said much much more. He translated comprehension into conviction, conviction into commitment, commitment into willingness to act and even to risk.

Similarly, the Pope’s climate change encyclical expresses a passionate vision of our current predicament and aims to inspire groups and institutions to come to terms with the depth of the climate problem and to act collectively and justly.[9]

Elected politicians, public servants, research scientists, educators, business and religious leaders, shapers of culture and public opinion, are playing important roles in shaping humanity’s response (or lack of response) to the environment. In Laudato si’, the Holy Father does not shrink from naming the ideological distortions and pragmatic errors that have brought the world to the very difficult decisions facing us today. Nevertheless, neither pointing an accusing finger nor wagging it in condemnation will lead to change. Instead, it will be by “seeing” afresh and by reflection; it will be by honest self-questioning and conversion; it will be by dialogue and only by dialogue. These are clearly the attitudes and convictions that set the Pope apart and have all leaders of all stripes looking to him for what everyone says is missing but no one admits to lacking: moral leadership!

The environmental “tragedy of the commons” affects those directly involved, and climate being global, it also affects all the bystanders throughout the world. But it can be overcome. Instead of following narrow, reductionist or short-term imperatives, we must adopt the imperative of care. Instead of maximizing greed and power, we can target what is best, that is, the optimum: the level of consumption that is enough to satisfy our needs and leave an adequate supply for all others. I believe that world leaders and citizens are learning to receive the Pope in this way—not as just another leader seeking to outdo all others, but as an exemplar of the imperative to ‘love one another.’

I trust that millions of people have listened to the Pope’s message with open minds and hearts. His message is fresh because it applies our deepest spiritual beliefs to our greatest challenges. I have little doubt that the message is getting through to most people in most places, and his visit to the United States brought it home to the American people and, I hope, the majority of its economic, political, cultural and religious leaders too.

D. What is the role of Catholics and their institutions?

Catholic institutions are committed to seeing farther and deeper, to looking beyond the current popular and conventional positions. While they may have strengths in science and economics and so on, their Catholic uniqueness is to be “experts in humanity.” This means openness to all dimensions of the human—without reducing the human to only a few aspects. What Catholic institutions should bring to the public square is a constant focus on the moral framework in which climate change arguments should occur. Catholic universities should help their entire community to think about shared responsibility, universal access to creation, common good, compassion and solidarity, and the grounding of all this in the equal human dignity of all persons. They should help their members and publics (faculty, students, staff and families) to see beyond the current dominant culture and to act consequently.

The third paragraph of Laudato si’ recalls that St John XXIII’s Pacem in terris was addressed to all people of good will, but now, more than 50 years later, Pope Francis needs “to address every person living on the planet” (§3). The degradation of both the natural planet and the human world cannot leave anyone indifferent; no branch of science, no form of wisdom including culture, religion and spirituality (cf §63), should be neglected. Though not addressing Catholics alone, the Pope hopes that Catholics in their varied contexts will be especially attentive and take the lead. Let this not be an issue left to someone else, for the survival of all is at stake!


In discussing how Laudato si’ can influence the path to Paris, it is important to include the relationship between faith and public life.[10] Traditional Catholic teaching emphasizes that faith is not a private matter that can be compartmentalized apart from the “non-religious” aspects of life. Rather, the fullness of faith should inspire every aspect of individual and communal life, and inspire all efforts to make the world more loving and just. Since public policies are one instrument by which to transform the world, and since both persons and institutions have a civic responsibility to participate in public life, it follows that Catholics must bring their faith to bear on political matters. This seems especially so in the United States, where the First Amendment to the Constitution protects citizens’ freedom of religious expression.

When someone objected to Laudato si’ saying, “I don’t get economic policy from my bishops or my cardinals, or from my Pope. … I think religion ought to be about making us better as people, and less about things that end up getting into the political realm,” I called the comments unfortunate, a very unhappy distinction. “What is morality about, if not about our conduct, our decisions, our conscience, and the choices we make? And we don’t make those choices in a vacuum.… Morality has to do with the decisions and choices we make in certain concrete situations, including economic situations.… So I would wish that we stop making this artificial separation between moral issues, theological issues, and business issues” and indeed environmental issues like climate change.[11]

Given the public nature of faith and the responsibility for Catholics to exercise what the U.S. bishops call “faithful citizenship”,[12] Pope Francis has sought through Laudato si’ to shape the discourse and negotiations leading up to COP21. The Holy Father timed the release of Laudato si’ so as to contribute to Paris, and throughout the encyclical he emphasizes the need for an international climate change agreement. Addressing the U.S. Congress (23.09), the Pope quoted Laudato Si’ to “call for a courageous and responsible effort to ‘redirect our steps’ (§61), and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” And to the United Nations General Assembly (25.09), he said: “We cannot permit ourselves to postpone ‘certain agendas’ for the future.” These are rather gentle words expressing very forceful reminders.

Despite the call of the Catholic Church for public policies in response to climate change as a moral issue, the world has failed to mitigate rising global greenhouse gas emissions and to provide sufficiently for those impacted by this reality. The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide today is nearly fifty parts per million higher—roughly 15% higher —than when Saint John Paul II first addressed climate change in 1990.[13]

Some nations, communities and individuals are already committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions. Promising grassroots, municipal and business efforts towards this end are underway. But to arrest global warming is a global challenge. So at COP21, nations will hopefully agree on binding enforceable plans to keep the global temperature from rising more than 1.5 or 2.0 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Take Tuvalu for example, a group of nine tiny islands in the South Pacific. No point of their land is higher than 4.5m above sea level. Climate change could see the islands swamped by rising sea levels. Alone, Tuvalu can do nothing to save itself. Two days ago, at a Holy See-sponsored event at the United Nations, the Tuvalu foreign minister pleaded eloquently that global temperature be kept from rising any more than 1.5 degree Celsius.


What about the role of the United States? Pope Francis encouraged American leadership on this issue—at the political level, in terms of supporting an agreement to stop climate change; and at a personal level, to develop those deep-rooted ecological virtues necessary for healing, protecting, and preserving our planet – in other words, ecological conversion (the expression of St John Paul II, treated in LS §§ 216-221).


At the White House, Pope Francis ended with these words: “I would like all men and women of good will in this great nation to support the efforts of the international community to protect the vulnerable in our world and to stimulate integral and inclusive models of development, so that our brothers and sisters everywhere may know the blessings of peace and prosperity which God wills for all his children.”

The Pope is calling on America to honour its traditions and founding principles. There is a great stream of environmental reverence in American sensibility and thought, going back to the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman. In the early 20th century, President Theodore Roosevelt championed the idea of “conservation”.

The U.S. is also renowned for the decency, selflessness, and generosity of its people. It is one of the top countries in the world for charitable giving. It is built on a tradition of welcoming the migrant and offering everyone a fresh start. Pope Francis made this connection immediately in his White House address: “As the son of an immigrant family, I am happy to be a guest in this country, which was largely built by such families.”

The U.S. is also founded on a strong tradition of natural rights, emphasizing the dignity of every human being. Deeply respectful of religious liberty, it does not seek to banish religion from the public square. Indeed, many of the great social justice movements in this country have religious roots. I am thinking of the abolition of slavery; Martin Luther King’s campaign against institutionalized racism; Dorothy Day’s “passion for justice and for the cause of the oppressed”; or how Msgr. John A. Ryan used Catholic social teaching to influence President Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In practice, the U.S. has often been willing to take the lead in solving important global problems. I am thinking about the Marshall Plan after World War II, and the commitment to global solidarity through institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. I am thinking of President Kennedy’s brave efforts to build peace when the world seemed at the brink of a nuclear war, or of President Reagan’s goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

Today, American leadership is more needed than ever, specifically to help solve the crisis of climate change. This may well be the most important challenge of the 21st century. It calls for global dialogue and leadership. It is a moral issue of the highest order. No country can solve this problem alone, nor can the poorer ones without much help. The threat to our common home requires common solutions. It requires strong international agreements to phase out harmful carbon emissions and move instead to renewable energy. This is a central message of Laudato si’.

Yet the Encyclical is also grounded in realism. It does not shy away from naming the impediments to action, and it delves into the human roots of the environmental crisis. Pope Francis is strongly critical, not of capitalism, but of an ideology or “magical conception” of the market, as he puts it—because he knows the market alone cannot solve problems like social exclusion or a degraded global climate. As I said to Caritas Internationalis in May 2015, “Corporations and financial investors must learn to put long-term sustainability over short-term profit, and to recognize that the financial bottom line is secondary to, and at the service of, the common good.”[14] This is not a sentimental or naïve abstraction. Just this past week, we have the example of a major manufacturer hiding its impact on the environment—on all the people of the world—for the sake of profits. No, the market left entirely on its own is not automatically good.[15] It needs moral leadership, both from within and outside its precincts.[16]

Pope Francis is critical of the “bondage of individualism” and a culture of instant gratification that gives the immediate individual wants higher priority than the longer-term needs of many. He is critical of the “technocratic paradigm” which sacrifices morality on the altar of economic efficiency, and which places profit as the exclusive economic goal. He is critical of the myth of “infinite or unlimited economic growth”, based on the false belief that there is an infinite supply of the earth’s resources.

In some circles in the U.S., we can see traces of this excessive individualism, this belief in the liberating power of the market, this exaltation of technology and progress. We see evidence of short-term-ism—the politician subject to the electoral cycle, the business executive or investor putting short-term financial return over long-term sustainability. We see some public figures creating a dichotomy between economic issues and moral issues, forgetting that—as Pope Benedict XVI said—“every economic decision has a moral consequence”.

And internationally, negotiations leading up to Paris have at times been hampered by the “positions taken by countries which place their national interests above the global common good”[17] that Pope Francis sees as contributing to the failure of previous international summits.

Yet I am confident that America can tap into the very best of its moral foundations and traditions, and play a strong leadership role in overcoming this crisis. I know there is a lot of good work going on already. The Environmental Protection Agency has announced the Clean Power Plan that will reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants—and Pope Francis explicitly praised President Obama for his efforts to reduce air pollution.[18] Additionally, the U.S. has pledged $3 billion to the international Green Climate Fund that will enable lesser-developed nations to mitigate and adapt to climate change.

We also find progress at the local level. In July 2015, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences convened a meeting of the world’s mayors, and climate change was at the top of the agenda. It was gratifying to hear about the efforts of America’s local leaders to reduce carbon emissions and move to a more sustainable future, in places like New York and California.

But we need more progress. Much more. Stopping climate change is not just a job for politicians. Every single citizen has a stake in this.

Laudato si’ has given a tremendous boost to Catholic advocacy and efforts are being made to disseminate its teaching. In this country, the Conference of Catholic Bishops continues to advocate for a national carbon pollution standard. The bishops also urge the U.S. Congress to fulfil the nation’s commitment to the international Green Climate Fund. Internationally, bishops and Catholic development organizations continue to press nations for a just, science-based international climate agreement in Paris.

I know that the Catholic Climate Covenant is doing great work in supporting the advocacy of the U.S. bishops on climate change both domestically and internationally. Specific efforts include writing letters, signing petitions and visiting lawmakers’ offices around a national carbon pollution standard, the Green Climate Fund, and COP21 in Paris.[19] Additionally, Catholics are urged to form Creation Care Teams in their parish and work with their pastor to integrate Laudato si’ deeper into parish life. In conjunction with these efforts, I would strongly encourage people to write letters to the editor of their local newspaper urging that lawmakers support the bishops’ climate change advocacy positions. This is important with respect to a national carbon pollution standard, since the strength of an agreement at the Paris Climate Conference will partly depend on the commitments of the United States to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Internationally, the Global Catholic Climate Movement has organized a petition to international leaders urging that they support an international climate agreement that “drastically cuts carbon emissions and aids the world’s poor in coping with climate change impacts.”[20] The petition has been endorsed by Pope Francis and can be signed online any time prior to the December Paris Climate Conference. On the multi-religious front, Religions for Peace has a global “Faiths for Earth” campaign, which is calling on all believers to promote the transition a hundred percent renewable energy by 2050.

Ultimately, I believe that America can marshal its best resources to solve the climate challenge and protect our common home—its creativity, its ingenuity, its willingness to tackle practical problems, its spirit of hard work. But also its core values like compassion, human rights, sense of solidarity, and commitment to the global common good. America has risen to such occasions before; it can do so again.


I have challenged you my patient audience with a great deal of material. I hope to have presented you with useful materials for your work ahead:

tools that arise from the comprehensive and morally-grounded vision of human and natural ecology of Pope Francis;
tools found in the writings of other Popes and in Catholic Social Teaching;
tools produced by the ongoing experience and innovation of courageous leaders and activists who focus on the common destiny of all nations and peoples, and on a shared engagement instead of insistence on being an exception to worldwide conditions.

Laudato si’ calls to action at every level. As a New Englander wisely commented recently, “We know what we need to know about the causes and consequences of our actions. What we don’t know is how to stop ourselves …”[21]

The great threat to our world now is carbon compounds in the atmosphere. Fifty years ago, when Pope Paul VI addressed the United Nations, it was nuclear bombs. Yet the message still applies—humans need to pause and reflect on the perilous effects of our actions.

In his address to the United Nations last Friday morning, Pope Francis quoted the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI: “For the danger comes neither from progress nor from science; if these are used well they can, on the contrary, help to solve a great number of the serious problems besetting mankind. The real danger comes from man, who has at his disposal ever more powerful instruments that are as well fitted to bring about ruin as they are to achieve lofty conquests.”[22]

Yes, “the real danger comes from man”, and equally the two-fold solution as summarized in my title, “sustainable humanity, sustainable planet.” Let us courageously take up the challenges of sustaining humanity and caring for our common home, the beautiful Planet Earth.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Common

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons

[3] Ottmar Edenhofer and Christian Flachsland, "Laudato Si’: Concern for Our Global Commons", ThinkingFaith

[4] Catholic Climate Covenant, "Climate Change Teaching & Resources," Catholic Climate Covenant, http://www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/catholic_teaching (accessed September 21, 2015).

[5] Cardinal Turkson quoted in the August 2015 National Geographic magazine, “Will the Pope Change the Vatican?” by Robert Draper. p. 56-57

[6] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Washington, DC: USCCB Publishing, 2004).

[7] Thomas Aquinas, The Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas, trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Second and Revised ed. (London: Burns, Oats & Washburne Ltd., 1920), II-II, 47.8.

[8] Pope Francis, "Speech at World Meeting of Popular Movements," Vatican Radio, http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2015/07/10/pope_francis_speech_at_world_meeting_of_popular_movements/1157291 (accessed September 21, 2015).

[9] Robert J. Brulle and Robert J. Antonio, “The Pope’s fateful vision of hope for society and the planet,” Nature Climate Change 5 (October 2015), 901. www.nature.com/natureclimatechange

[10] Michael J. Himes and Kenneth R. Himes, Fullness of Faith: The Public Significance of Theology (Mahwah, New Jersey: Paulist Press, 1993), 4-25.

[11] http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/06/18/top-cardinal-says-jeb-bush-is-wrong-about-the-link-between-faith-and-politics/

[12] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship: A Call to Political Responsibility from the Catholic Bishops of the United States (Washington, D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011).

[13] National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, "Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide," National Oceanic

& Atmospheric Administration, http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/ (accessed September 21, 2015).

[14] turkson_speech_at_caritas_general_assembly_2015

[15] “Neo-classical economics and selfish notions of utilitarianism are driving the globalized economy. Those approaches are destined to fail as they have no brake to discourage humanity from consuming, populating, or polluting enough to harm the life support system of our planet. As they take lives for proprietary gain, neo-classical economics and its decision tool, cost-benefit analysis, work to increase humanity’s foreseeable risks. We should reject the theory and its tools. We need to search for ways to control rather than follow neo-classical economics. We need a careful discussion about the needed changes and their timing.” John William Draper, “Why Law Now Needs to Control Rather than Follow Neo-Classical Economics,” Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper Series Research Paper No. #15-27, http://ssrn.com/abstract=2661651

[16] Responding to Pope Francis’s call for decisive action on climate, the C.E.O. of Siemens declared, in the name other major companies like PepsiCo, Walmart and U.P.S., “Corporations have a responsibility to address the causes of climate change before it is too late… We have the technologies, we have the business cases and we have the responsibility. Now all we need is the commitment.” Joe Kaeser, “Addressing climate change pays off,” International New York Times (22 September 2015), 6.

[17] LS § 169. Pope John Paul II called them “forms of exaggerated nationalism and economic interests” in “Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation” (Message for World Day of Peace, 1990), 9. https://w2.vatican.va/content/john-paul-ii/en/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace.html

[18] “You are proposing an initiative for reducing air pollution. Accepting the urgency, it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation…. To use a telling phrase of the Reverend Martin Luther King, we can say that we have defaulted on a promissory note and now is the time to honour it” (23.09.15)

[19] Catholic Climate Covenant, "Advocate," Catholic Climate Covenant, http://www.catholicclimatecovenant.org/act/advocate (accessed June 30, 2015).

[20] Global Catholic Climate Movement, "Sign the Catholic Climate Petition," Global Catholic Climate Movement, http://catholicclimatemovement.global/petition/ (accessed June 30, 2015).

[21] https://global.oup.com/academic/product/climate-change-and-society-9780199356119?cc=us&lang=en&# Bill McKibben, author of The End of Nature and Schumann Distinguished Scholar, Middlebury College

[22] http://w2.vatican.va/content/paul-vi/en/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations.html

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