Pope Francis and climate change: Thoughts from a Catholic environmentalist


It’s not often that my Catholic faith intersects with my work communicating about international climate change issues.

That’s changed now that Pope Francis is expected to release a statement of official church teaching this summer on the environment and climate change. It’s making headlines again this week, as the pope convenes a summit on climate change.

Known as an encyclical, it’s expected to reflect on Catholic teaching as it applies to the world today, and focus on the moral obligation to protect creation and humankind – especially the world’s most vulnerable people. 

That Pope Francis – dubbed the “rock star pope” – will make such a statement on environmental protection is not surprising to those familiar with his and the Catholic Church’s position on the environment, the latter of which has long taught the importance of humans taking care of the Earth.

Caring for Earth part of our faith

The encyclical will formally be on “ecology,” with climate change playing a central role.

Climate touches everything, including people. Pollution that causes global warming also triggers asthma. Warmer temperatures mean crops and people’s livelihoods are jeopardized, while diseases such as West Nile and Lyme disease spread. Sea-level rise means people lose their homes.

These effects can still make climate change seem unrelated to the faith, far in the future and overwhelming. But Pope Francis is calling on us to see that it’s none of those.

Similarly, when I taught Sunday school to young children, we didn’t address the complexities of Catholic theology. We focused on Catholics’ belief that God provided humans with nature and its animals, trees and air for us to enjoy and protect.

The poor feel brunt of climate change

As an environmentalist, I’ve helped bring attention to my Environmental Defense Fund colleagues’ work with people who are feeling the impact of climate change first-hand.

In Brazil, the country with the world’s largest Catholic community, indigenous groups are already experiencing changes in the Amazon’s rainfall and river levels, fire patterns and climate systems they used to depend on for growing crops. And in India, farmers and rural women are already experiencing weather events consistent with a changing climate.

We know there are solutions to climate change. The United States and the world made important advances on climate and energy in the past year, and we believe we can stop the rise in greenhouse gas emissions and see them begin to decline in the next five years.

Timing of pope’s document critical

The encyclical is a call to action for all of us to read the document and think more deeply about our relationship with the world. It asks us to consider what we can do – personally, in our community and parish, at the state and national level, and internationally.

The release of the encyclical comes in advance of international climate negotiations in Paris this December, where countries will seek to build an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.

By staking out the Vatican’s position on climate change, the pope is telling the world that protecting the environment is not a niche issue – it’s a human, personal and moral issue.

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Jennifer Andreassen

Jennifer Andreassen

Jennifer is Communications Director for our Global Climate Program. Working closely with a team of attorneys, economists, and scientists, she leads communications and media strategy around the Global Climate Program’s work to curb climate change. Jennifer has handled EDF’s communications around the United Nations climate talks since 2009.

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I think we should wait until the Pope publishes his thoughts and not per-emptively put words in his mouth. The only thing we know is that the climate is controlled by God not man.

97% of scientists and millions of pages worth of research papers agree that mankind is causing our planet to die. Arguing that climate change is not real is like arguing that balloons aren't full of air

Franciskus, I like your style, and I follow your growing popularity, and I know you have the heart and values that are going to change the world for the better. We aren't gonna take it anymore. We, the people, aren't toys for the world to play with! We all are humans and the world should look up to us! The world should be in favor of us, and not against people!

Thank you, Pope Francis, for loving all of us.

Wow, from an environmentalist nonetheless. Let's see what Pope Francis has to say in his encyclical. Science has proven that man is not responsible for climate change. God controls the climate and nature. Catholic doctrine of course requires us as humans to take care of Creation. It does require responsibility in keeping our water and air clean. But anything that causes the Catholic Church to be involved in the politics and science of those with an unproven agenda is quite frightening. Sustainability is an evil word requiring government and UN control of private property. Tenth commandment Thou shall not covet.
Where next?

It is interesting that GAH and Mary Faith assume that the theological position that God controls nature and climate means that human activity cannot affect nature or the climate. What about free will? If humans can affect nature by making our water and air "dirty," as Mary Faith admits, they can affect our air by adding greenhouse gasses to it. Perhaps the real reason that some people deny climate change is that they advocate free market capitalism without any regulation and without any concern for the common good and the poor, something Jesus would have rejected out of hand.