The Pope, The Planet, and Protecting the “Right of the Environment”

Speaking at the United Nations, Pope Francis raises the bar for our moral obligations to the natural world.

image via wikimedia commons

Speaking before the United Nation’s General Assembly on Friday, Pope Francis issued a surprisingly strong call to action for the gathered global leaders, urging them to take concrete action against climate change. It is an issue, he exclaimed, which “can threaten the very existence of the human species.” Francis made a point to laud the U.N.’s 2030 Sustainable Development agenda, and offered a framework for addressing both the specifically theological, as well as universally moral, need to protect the planet: Not only should we do so for the sake of our own self preservation, but to not would, in fact, be a violation of what he deems the “right of the environment.”

This is how explained what he means:

First, it must be stated that a true "right of the environment" does exist, for two reasons. First, because we human beings are part of the environment. We live in communion with it, since the environment itself entails ethical limits which human activity must acknowledge and respect. Man, for all his remarkable gifts, which "are signs of a uniqueness which transcends the spheres of physics and biology" (Laudato Si', 81), is at the same time a part of these spheres. He possesses a body shaped by physical, chemical and biological elements, and can only survive and develop if the ecological environment is favourable. Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity. Second, because every creature, particularly a living creature, has an intrinsic value, in its existence, its life, its beauty and its interdependence with other creatures. We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it. In all religions, the environment is a fundamental good (cf. ibid.).

The phrase “right of the environment,” is likely to become one of the most memorable lines from Francis’ speech, if not his entire papal reign. With it, the Pope has re-framed the debate around climate change, global warming, and environmentalism, unambiguously declaring that our obligation to protect the planet is equal to our obligation to protect our fellow human beings. For Francis, the two are one and the same.

In fact, this is far from the Vatican’s first time framing environmentalism in moral terms. What seems different here is Francis’ ability to galvanize support for the issue by universalizing his message to resonate beyond the Church, and personalize it to those who might otherwise only be able to grapple with Climate Change in the abstract. As he told the General Assembly: “Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity.” It’s a simple, straightforward assessment, but when spoken to a governing body infamous for efficient inefficiency, Francis’ message comes across as a refreshing burst of urgent honesty, rather than political grandstanding.

The Pope’s speech, which ran upwards of twenty thousand words, also touched upon the issues of refugee rights, and the obligation to care for the poor and less fortunate within our communities. Citing previous Popes, and various theological teachings, Francis presented a cohesive worldview in which our charge to treat one another, and our planet, with care and respect, all stem from the same divine source.

That, ultimately, may be the true strength of the Pope’s United Nations speech: In a time when we remain divided by political, national, and religious issues, he offered in this instance a uniquely universal message, urging us to see past differences in order to make this world a better, more just place for us all.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

Millions of people in over 150 countries across the globe marched for lawmakers and corporations to take action to help stop climate change on Friday, September 20.

The Climate Strikes were organized by children around the world as an extension of the of the "Fridays for Future" campaign. Students have been walking out of classrooms on Fridays to speak out about political inaction surrounding the climate crisis.

"We need to act right now to stop burning fossil fuels and ensure a rapid energy revolution with equity, reparations and climate justice at its heart," organizers say.

There's no doubt the visual images from the marches send a powerful message to those on the ground but especially those watching from around the world. GOOD's own Gabriel Reilich was on the scene for the largest of the Climate Strikes. Here are 18 of the best signs from the Climate Strike march in New York City.

Keep Reading Show less

September 20th marks the beginning of a pivotal push for the future of our planet. The Global Climate Strike will set the stage for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, where more than 60 nations are expected to build upon their commitment to 2015's Paris Agreement for combating climate change.

Millions of people are expected to take part in an estimated 4,000 events across 130 countries.

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet
via Apple

When the iPhone 11 debuted on September 10, it was met with less enthusiasm than the usual iPhone release. A lot of techies are holding off purchasing the latest gadget until Apple releases a phone with 5G technology.

Major US phone carriers have yet to build out the infrastructure necessary to provide a consistent 5G experience, so Apple didn't feel it necessary to integrate the technology into its latest iPhone.

A dramatic new feature on the iPhone 11 Pro is its three camera lenses. The three lenses give users the the original wide, plus ultrawide and telephoto options.

Keep Reading Show less
via I love butter / Flickr

We often dismiss our dreams as nonsensical dispatches from the mind while we're deep asleep. But recent research proves that our dreams can definitely affect our waking lives.

People often dream about their significant others and studies show it actually affects how we behave towads them the next day.

"A lot of people don't pay attention to their dreams and are unaware of the impact they have on their state of mind," said Dylan Selterman, psychology lecturer at the University of Maryland, says according to The Huffington Post. "Now we have evidence that there is this association."

Keep Reading Show less