Faith and our climate: How one document is catalyzing the future of climate change.

Image by Marina Steffensen.

Image by Marina Steffensen.

“Change is the law of life. Those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” - John F. Kennedy

It is hard to deny that the world and the environment are changing, and rapidly. Around the world, we are seeing the impacts of human existence on the climate, the landscapes, and the survival of many of the environments that make the areas in which we live unique and special. However, even in the face of scientific results, there are still those that choose not to believe in the influence of human beings on the environment. But this denial is shifting.

June 18th, 2015 marked a dramatic step forward in the fight against climate change. On this date, Pope Francis released his Climate Encyclical, a letter to the people that discusses moral issues or matters of faith. Unlike other encyclicals, which are normally addressed to members of the Catholic Church, this 184-page document is addressed to every living person on the planet, and is a call to action. All of a sudden, an encyclical became the topic of simultaneous debate and acclaim worldwide.

Within the document, the Pope addresses key issues in the climate debate. The following quotes are just some of the powerful messages the Pope delivered to the world:

"The Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth. In many parts of the planet, the elderly lament that once beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish."

"Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last 200 years."

“Climate change is a global problem with grave implications: environmental, social, economic, political and for the distribution for goods. It represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day”

"The idea of infinite or unlimited growth, which proves so attractive to economists, financiers and experts in technology ... is based on the lie that there is an infinite supply of the earth's goods, and this leads to the planet being squeezed dry at every limit."

"The climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all.”

"We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental…There can be no renewal of our relationship with nature without a renewal of humanity itself.”

- Pope Francis, Climate Encyclical, June 18th, 2015

The Encyclical provides “an uncommon intersection between science and religion, and comes ahead of highly anticipated climate talks set to resume later this year in Paris”.  Naomi Klein was quoted on the subject has even described this as an unusual stage.  “A Papal Encyclical is generating almost as much excitement than a Beyoncé album - complete with prelaunch leaks and a global media frenzy”.

On June 23rd of this year, Adjacent Possibilities, along with For Our Grandchildren, hosted an intergenerational dialogue in Toronto, Ontario, to learn about the Pope’s ground-breaking announcement and the growing global momentum to address climate change. Hosting a panel of experts from a variety of backgrounds, this panel of individuals discussed their views on the document, their interpretations, and most importantly, how to catalyze change and move the human race away from destructive consumerist habits that are a detriment to the natural world.

Image by Scott Baker, Adjacent Possibilities.

Image by Scott Baker, Adjacent Possibilities.

The Climate Encyclical was under much debate even long before the documents were released. Dr. Dennis O’Hara, Associate Professor, Faculty of Theology, University of Toronto’s St Michael's College commented that, “to have people talk about an encyclical is unusual, but to have you talk in anticipation of what might be there is really quite extraordinary…but that says something important about the Pope as well as the topic”.

Risa Alyson Cooper, Executive Director of Shoresh Jewish Environmental Programs and who also helped establish the Kavanah Garden, says, “to see Pope Francis talking about a full value system approach to dealing with climate change is incredibly powerful and inspiring”. She said that the one thing that spoke to her profoundly about the encyclical was that “the social, the economic, the agricultural aspects are all interrelated, and that we need to have checks and balances to ensure we are creating a just and equitable society for all”.

"Nobody is suggesting a return to the Stone Age, but we do need to slow down and look at reality in a different way…What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?” - Pope Francis, Climate Encyclical, June 18th, 2015

Rev. Andrea Budgey also added that, “there needs to be a graciousness in our relationship with the earth, in our relationship with the other people and beings that inhabit the earth…As long as we are thinking about prosperity as some king of ideal, as a kind of endlessly receding goal towards which we are growing, I think we are going to end up with the kind of problems that Pope Francis describes”.

Image by Marina Steffensen.

Image by Marina Steffensen.

As a kid, I loved to skip rocks. I was never very good at it, and it mainly involved just watching the rocks drop straight into the water. But there was something special about the moment the rock hits the surface where the smooth untouched surface suddenly starts moving and expanding, creating ripples upon ripples as it moves outwards. This ripple effect can be applied to human activity and the influence of change makers - the continuing and spreading results of an event or action.

“We are at the brink of change right now”, said panelist Atiya Jaffar, “In Paris this December, the world’s leaders are going to convene for the most important of international climate negotiations in this world’s history[…]We are at a point where we have all sorts of advocates, where we’ve told this story repeatedly, in order to actually see things move forward it’s time for us to mobilize, it’s time for us to convene, it’s time for us to really communicate that inaction on climate change is unacceptable[…]It’s important to communicate in the lead up to Paris that we the people are ready for meaningful action”.

September marks a transition: A transition from summer to fall, the beginning of new adventures, and a new start to the school year. This is also the beginning of change for the views and efforts to deal with the coming changes to our and climate and to the world. So, let’s use this September to bring about change, and be the change we want to see in the world. After all, as Dr. Stephen Scharper said to the panel, “This is our cause, our story, our urgent appeal that the Pope is inviting us into”, so we must act accordingly.

Image by Marina Steffensen

Image by Marina Steffensen