Why the Pope’s Encyclical Was So Transformative

My new thoughts on the Pope’s Encyclical are in The Nation! Check it out.

A Moral Case for Climate Action

Pope Francis

Pope Francis greets his admirers in Saint Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Reuters/Alessandro Bianchi)

On June 18, Pope Francis released his encyclical on the environment and climate change, calling for urgent climate action. In it, he makes the religious and moral argument for addressing the climate crisis, emphasizing the need for “technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels” to be “progressively replaced without delay.”

The encyclical aligns the Catholic Church with the grassroots climate movement, not with institutions that produce and ignore crisis. “Particular appreciation is owed to those who tirelessly seek to resolve the tragic effects of environmental degradation on the lives of the world’s poorest,” he writes. “Young people demand change.” This is the wisdom of a leader who understands that the choice to confront the climate crisis now lies with the people. Institutions will follow.

Pope Francis also demonstrates how influence should be used in a time of crisis. With privilege comes the responsibility to advocate for the people who power has silenced. This message is shared by the fossil fuel divestment movement, which calls on prominent individuals and institutions to convert their privilege into heroic moral leadership. Pope Francis understands: He has even recruited Nation columnist and author Naomi Klein to join his efforts. His call to action and recognition of grassroots organizing will give activists far greater leverage to push Catholic institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

The pope lives what I call the “radical now,” demonstrating how power and politics must be challenged in the name of what we love. He’s not waiting for the future, nor are we.


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