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Pope Francis' hope for our poor earth

  • 11 December 2015

Twenty years ago I was hopeful that countries would take strong and sensible action to address climate change, just as we had in 1987 when we faced the major depletion of the ozone layer. The following years slowly erased this hope.

The Church did not do enough to stem disappointment. While bishops and popes made significant statements, particularly from 1990 onwards, and Benedict XVI was dubbed the 'green pope' by National Geographic, serious action on the ground was limited, and Church teaching hamstrung by the failure to recognise clearly the intrinsic worth of God's Creation.

The Church needed to affirm that the worth of the rest of universe was not dependent on humanity: 'stewardship' alone was not going to provide sufficient grounds for the needed changes.

By 2010 I was resigned to devastation. But Pope Francis has provided me with a ray of hope. He wants us to take action — urgently. The appeal in his June encyclical, Laudato si', rings out with 'urgent ... urgently ... urgency!'

These are not just words. He has been throwing all the resources he can muster behind the encyclical. He talked it up a lot in public long before it was published. His twin academies, of science and social science, were brought into play. (Note that the 75 members of the Pontifical Academy of Science count 21 Nobel prizes among them, with 'also-rans' of the calibre of Stephen Hawking.)

This new aspect of Catholic social teaching is addressed to all people of goodwill. It was launched on 18 June by an atheist climate scientist; a professor with a background in economics, finance, business and commerce; the top Orthodox theologian on ecology, who is also an archbishop; a teacher familiar with human and environmental degradation as well as signs of hope; not to mention an African cardinal.

It asks us, together, to recognise and acknowledge the immense challenge we face.

This letter on our 'common home', our sister Earth, was launched early so that it could have maximum effect on two critical international meetings in 2015. The Pope did not sit back to see what happens, but the day after he spoke to the US Congress in Washington, he wanted to speak to the September United Nations summit meeting for the setting of new sustainable development goals until 2030.

His other major target was the Paris Conference on Climate Change.

By declaring 'the Lord rejoices in all his works' (Psalm 104 verse 31),